Three-way fight for Loring Park/Elliot Park House seat

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October 18, 2004 // UPDATED 4:22 pm - April 25, 2007
By: Scott Russell
Scott Russell

In District 60A, DFL incumbent faces Republican challenge on issues, Independence Party criticism on legislative gridlock

Incumbent DFL tate Rep. Margaret Anderson Kelliher faces challenges on two fronts, a Republican challenge on policies, and an Independence Party challenge on political process.

Kelliher, Republican Tom Gromacki and Independence Party's Sigrid Hutcheson are vying for the District 60A seat, which includes Loring Park, Elliot Park and Downtown south of 7th Street, as well as Bryn Mawr and neighborhoods surrounding Lake of the Isles.

The political differences between Kelliher and Republican Tom Gromacki are stark. You can go down the line. Gromacki counts pro-life issues as his political starting point. Kelliher has the endorsement of NARAL-Pro Choice Minnesota.

Kelliher worked for a proposed state budget that minimized Local Government Aid (LGA) cuts. (Her alternative failed. The cuts helped solve the state's multibillion-dollar budget deficit but reduced Minneapolis aid by $37 million and lead to service cuts, city officials say.) Gromacki said he would have voted with Republicans on LGA cuts.

Gromacki talks about the benefits of the conceal-and-carry gun law as a crime deterrent because it would make criminals think twice. Kelliher opposed a state law change that relaxed handgun restrictions, saying she preferred the old system that gave local law enforcement officials discretion to issue handgun permits.

Sigrid Hutcheson is running with the pledge to "break partisan gridlock by restoring civility and common sense to the legislative process," according to her Web site.

In a half-humorous rebuke to both parties, she notes that one of the most significant accomplishments of the past session was the passage of a dove-hunting season.

Her idea: Get a modest group of Independence Party representatives to hold down the sensible center, the middle ground. They could serve as the mediators and arbitrators between squabbling Republicans and Democrats, teasing out the good ideas both sides have.

What is the critical mass for the sensible center?

"I don't know,' Hutcheson said. "All I know is it is not working the way it is."

Kelliher said she has received mediation and negotiation training through the Bush Leadership Fellowship, and as a member of the minority party, she has worked to build bridges.

"We know we have to reach out," she said. "We have been doing things to reach out to other members to invite them into the city of Minneapolis -- the Aquatennial, Holidazzle -- bringing them in, helping them have a positive experience in the city."

Kelliher is also working on a program to mirror the League of Minnesota Cities "Walk a Mile in My Shoes" program to get individual legislators to know each other better, she said.

Backgrounds in brief

Kelliher, 36, mother of two, is working on a master's in public administration and is finishing her third House term. She counts among her accomplishments securing money for Lake of the Isles restoration, the Guthrie Theater and the Bassett's Creek Bike Trail.

"I am concerned about those issues around property taxes and tax issues and having a competitive climate for both individuals and businesses," she said. "However, I am progressive on social issues, which I think is reflective of the district. We are open and welcoming towards people."

Gromacki (slogan: "I'm Wacky for Gromacki") is 28, single and a licensed insurance agent, he said. He grew up in Onalaska, Wisc., and said moving to the big city can be a "big culture shock" because of all the government intrusion. He attended the University of Minnesota, studied political sciences and chaired the College Republicans. He now lives in Loring Park.

He considers himself a social and fiscal conservative, he said. He ran against state Rep. Phyllis Kahn in 1996 and lost.

Hutcheson, 66, has a Ph.D. in higher education administration and works for a Maryland-based consulting firm reviewing substance abuse and mental health programs, she said. She leads a team of experts, helping states improve their substance abuse treatment programs. She worked for the New York State Office of Mental Health and said she understands how government works.

(Her brother, Dave Hutcheson, ran as the Independence Party candidate for auditor in 2002 and is now the party's state operations director, she said.)

Talk to Hutcheson about why she is running and she does not talk about specific issues as much as political process. "We are not capitalizing on the fact that we have all these smart people there. They all have to vote with their party or they are punished," she said.

Her Web site lists several key issues, including fiscal responsibility, economic growth and assuring all citizens have access to affordable health care.

Gromacki does not shy away from strong attacks on the Democrats and frames issues in moral terms. He said the DFL tries to inspire fear and covetousness in residents -- fear that they can't make it on their own without government help. "That is where all the social programs and social spending comes in," he said.

"What we need to do is deal with the moral issues -- then when you have people who are self-governed, a lot of those other problems go away," he said.

As a state representative, Gromacki said he would work to pass a law to block Minneapolis' recently passed smoking ban because it infringed on business owner's rights and worked against individual responsibility, he said.

He also called government intrusion arbitrary. "You can go all the way across the board. Telling people it is OK -- dictating its OK -- for gays to marry but it is not OK to smoke a cigarette in a bar," he said.

Kelliher said a number of communities were pushing smoking ban measures and she would not "crush" local government's ability to make that decision. She said she thought the race comes down to whether people think she has been effective.

"I don't think there are exclusive choices here -- between having someone represent you who can strongly represent a point of view but also work together with other people to get things done," she said.

Hutcheson and Gromacki have an uphill climb. Kelliher won her 2002 contest 12,6237 to 3,831, or by a 53-percentage-point margin.