LAKE CRYSTAL — Jeremy Munson has been on a roll over the past few years.
A successful businessman, Munson grew from a local farmer to the chair of the Blue Earth County Republican Party and, last year, the chair of the 1st Congressional District GOP.
When former Rep. Tony Cornish resigned from his legislative seat in November, Munson thought it was time to take his grass-roots experience to St. Paul as the newest representative of House District 23B.
"I think it's important to have good representation for the district from someone who has a good agriculture background, a good business background and who is being impacted by government in a similar way as many people in our district," Munson said.
He has lived in the area for more than 10 years. His wife grew up in the area while Munson is a Brainerd native. After graduating from the University of Minnesota with a with a business degree, Munson spent a year in New York working in the financial sector before he and his wife, Kelly, moved to here in 2003.
Munson and his family became farmers, and he eventually opened the Minnesota Hops Company in 2013. At the same time, he started to become more active in the local Republican scene, starting in 2007.
The Lake Crystal businessman believes his experience as a local GOP official helps set him apart from his competitors as he's worked on local conservative platforms for years.
"You give a lot of speeches and presentations to people, discuss the issues with voters," he said.
Munson thinks health care is still the largest issue lawmakers need to tackle, especially for farmers in District 23B who still have to buy health insurance on the individual market.
In recent years, Minnesota's individual health insurance market plans have skyrocketed, leaving farmers and small-business owners paying tens of thousands of dollars in premiums and deductibles. The Munsons made the difficult choice to go without health insurance this year when they realized they'd have to pay $37,000 before their insurance kicked in.
"My wife and I said, 'We're going to be renegades,'" he said. "We're not going to do it."
Munson sees price transparency as a potential solution to cutting medical costs and insurance costs by association.
"People deserve to know the cost of an appointment or the cost of tests and procedures," he said. "So price transparency will drive competition among clinics."
Cutting costs, increasing fiscal responsibility at the state level and creating friendlier tax environments are also priorities for him if he's elected. He said he is also committed to protecting Minnesotans' gun rights the same way his potential predecessor, Cornish, did.
Though the GOP controls the Legislature this year, Munson is confident he can reach across the aisle if need be. He was raised in a DFL-supporting family, so he's familiar with reaching political agreements at the (dinner) table.
"We all want the same thing," he said. "We want access to affordable health care, we want great education for our kids and opportunity. We want a vibrant economy, you know. We want to take care of the people who need help. We just have different paths of getting there."
Munson faces competition not only from DFLer Melissa Wagner and independent Nicholas Schmitz but from within his own party. Though Munson won the District 23 endorsement last month by more than 75 percent of the vote, St. James Republican Scott Sanders filed to run for office as well, which set up a Jan. 29 special primary.
Though Sanders has said he wants to give thousands of Republican voters a voice in such a tight special election, his refusal to abide by the party's endorsement has some local Republicans, including Munson, concerned.
As Munson puts it, more than 200 delegates and alternates went to the District 23 endorsing convention last month as part of the party's process to choose a candidate. Those people generally know how political issues have affected the district, and their endorsement shouldn't be taken lightly, Munson said.
"These are our neighbors," he said.
After Jan. 29, either Munson or Sanders will have to face Wagner and Schmitz during the Feb. 12 election.