On Valentine’s Day, voters in Minnesota House District 32B – including the residents of Wyoming – will finally get their chance to belatedly send a representative to the State Legislature.
Though the Legislature has already been in session for a few weeks, the district hasn’t had anyone to send. The election results for the district race were preemptively nullified in September 2016, when the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that the district’s former representative, Bob Barrett, did not actually live in the district, thus rendering his then-current re-election bid ineligible. Given the proximity to the election and the inability for ballots to be updated, state law required that the votes in the race between Republican Barrett and his Democratic challenger Laurie Warner be nullified.
A new election day for the race was set for Feb. 14. After the election, political strategist Anne Neu won the GOP endorsement to face off against Warner, who works with Natural Spaces Domes. Both candidates live in North Branch.
Neu has been involved in various organizational facets with state politics for more than 15 years, and she’s currently the executive director of the Minnesota House Republican Campaign Committee and on the board of the conservative Minnesota Excellence in Public Service Series. When Barrett’s spot opened for another Republican, Neu thought it might be a good time to get involved with government more directly.
“I think my values and principles align well with the residents of Chisago County,” she said.
If elected, Neu said, her top priority would be restoring a health insurance system she said has been left in ruins by the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, and Minnesota’s health insurance exchange MNsure. She’d like the Legislature to continue to work on premium relief and to help Minnesotans get more health insurance options.
“(Individuals) know the needs of their families better than bureaucrats,” she said.
Another key plank in Neu’s campaign is the belief that Minnesotans are overtaxed, a theme she said she has heard over and over on the campaign trail.
“With a $1.4 billion budget surplus, clearly, we’re being taxed too much,” she said, adding that with revenues so far exceeding budgeted expenses, “We don’t even have to cut anything initially to offer tax relief.”
Warner said in an email interview that some of her top priorities include jobs, transportation and expanding broadband in the district. On the transportation front, she stressed a desire for a variety of approaches that included repairing crumbling infrastructure while also establishing an improved public transit system in the area.
“I will work to repair and update our transportation system through long-term funding,” she wrote. “We need to be planning for how we are going to sustainably fund our transportation needs over the next 25 years as technology changes.”
Regarding jobs, Warner wants to employ tax cuts, an increase in affordable housing and what she called “removing government barriers to success” to woo more good employees to the area and allow businesses to thrive where they are.
“Strong, local businesses are a backbone of our local communities,” she said.
One priority on which the candidates are aligned is in equitable school funding. Both Neu and Warner believe local schools are not funded equally under the state’s current school funding format and vowed to give their local schools the representation they deserve.
The special election date is unusual, and as a result, both campaigns have struggled to raise awareness about the winter decision day. Neu said a key message of her campaign is for potential Republican voters to avoid complacency.
“After the losses in November, I think the Democrats are really motivated,” she said, adding that one of her common refrains to would-be voters is that though there are more Republican voters in the district, “If we don’t show up and vote, we won’t win.”
Warner wrote that while raising and maintaining awareness has been a challenge, especially because her and Barrett’s names were already on last November’s ballot, that’s not the most frustrating part of the race.
“The distressing part of this situation is that when the legislative session began in January, the people of District 32B were without a state representative,” she wrote.
Neu said she will act as a voice of the people first at the Capitol, not as someone driven by outside interests.
“I don’t necessarily go to the Legislature with a personal agenda,” she said. “I believe it’s my job to go and be an advocate for the people of Chisago County.”
Warner promised to look past partisan politics and focus on the needs of the communities she’ll represent.
“The heart of politics is taking care of each other while preparing for our future,” she wrote.
In Wyoming, the polling place will be at Maranatha Church (24799 Forest Blvd.) and will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. District residents can also vote early at the Chisago County Courthouse (313 N. Main St. Center City).