Four vie for Nicollet Island/East Bank legislative seat

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

In District 59B, Green, Republican and Independence candidates challenge DFL incumbent Phyllis Kahn

State Rep. Phyllis Kahn, the House's longest-serving Democrat, is running for her 17th term against three challengers, Green Party candidate Becki Smith, Republican Amanda Hutchings and the Independence Party's Ron Lischeid.

The four seek to represent District 58B, which covers Nicollet Island and the business/condo district that's home to Riverplace, La Rive and Kramarczuk's.

Kahn, who lives on Nicollet Island, served through an acrimonious legislative session and admits it took a toll. She is almost nostalgic for the days of Gov. Jesse Ventura, she said.

Almost.

Her 2005 priorities include passing a state policy and funding to promote stem cell research, similar to California and New Jersey. She also wants to work to resolve Minneapolis and statewide pension shortfalls, and to set up and fund the Whitewater Park along the Mississippi River, which she calls a significant Downtown amenity.

None of Kahn's challengers raised her recent legal dustup, wherein she was fined for pilfering political pamphlets in a suburban race where she was a volunteer, not a candidate. During an interview, Kahn again apologized.

Green candidate Smith's Web page touts four themes: ecological wisdom, nonviolence, social and economic justice, and grassroots democracy. Her r/sum/ includes organizing and supervisory work for the state chapter of Clean Water Action.

The fact that Clean Water Action endorsed Kahn does not faze Smith. (Brian Elliott, Clean Water's state political director, said Kahn's voting record promoting key bills and amendments rated so high the organization did not consider any challengers.)

Smith said she does not oppose Kahn based on her environmental record. "Usually she runs unopposed," Smith said. "My feeling is, for democracy to work, people need to have choices. I offer a progressive choice for people."

Smith said the district needed a fresh face, and as a Green Party member she could help moderate between the fractious Republicans and Democrats. "A lot of Republicans aren't real hostile to the Green Party. I think we would have a better chance at lobbying," she said.

Lischeid makes a similar argument, saying an Independence Party member could mediate between the polarized major parties, which he called the political version of "Mad" magazine's Spy vs. Spy.

Kahn said she didn't think different party labels were the key to solving the gridlock, but getting "good people who know what they are doing and are willing to work together" might.

Hutchings, a University of Minnesota senior, is pro-life and said she opposes abortion, the death penalty and embryonic stem cell research, which Kahn's proposal would allow.

She said her qualifications for office include serving as an executive assistant to former U.S. Sen. Rudy Boschwitz, doing political work. She also has been involved in College Republicans and the Minnesota Student Association, coordinating a lobbying day at the Capitol, she said.

Her key issues include several near and dear to students' hearts: lowering tuition and developing more affordable -- and safer -- housing.

In an uncharacteristic position for her party, Hutchings said the government needed to do more housing inspections in the district. "They need to be more in-depth, more detailed and more frequent," she said.

As a State Representative, she said she would work to restore as much as possible of the $185 million cut from the University of Minnesota budget, noting the institution was a main economic engine of the state.

She had cautionary words for school administrators, saying they needed to curb spending in times of economic difficulty but could not say whether she thought the university currently was spending money unwisely.

"I've not seen a copy of their budget," she said, adding maybe beautification programs could be cut.

Kahn said she too opposed the $185 million university budget cut and voted against it in the higher education omnibus bill -- and added that Republican House leadership pushed it.

Lischeid criticizes Kahn for not showing up to more neighborhood meetings. The former auto repair shop owner said he prides himself on customer service.

"My feeling is that if I am taking on the responsibility to represent the district that I should be at community events and places where people are -- so people can bring their issues to me," he said. "It is a different work ethic and a different model than other elected public officials."

Lischeid said he even has a portable gas grill, called the "Wiene Wagon," that he uses to volunteer at community events.

Kahn said it is not the state representative's job to go to every neighborhood meeting. She would go to explain state issues but does not want to second-guess City Councilmembers on local issues.

Similar to Hutchings, Lischeid has a proposal that will likely appeal to students in the district. He doesn't have the cost specifics, but it includes state income tax forgiveness, helping offset post-secondary tuition costs for recent grads who stay in the state and contribute to the workforce.

It would be a tough sell in cash-strapped times. Lischeid said new workers would need all the help they can get given the national debt they are inheriting.

With self-deprecating humor, Lischeid said he might be the answer to a trivia question: Who has lost the most elections since 1992?

He has lost three Osseo School Board elections, a City Council race in Maple Grove, and three state House races, he said, one to Maple Grove Rep. Rick Stanek in 1998, one to South Minneapolis Rep. Jean Wagenius in 2000 and one to Southwest Minneapolis Rep. Paul Thissen in 2002.

Why will this race be any different?

Lischeid said there is a greater number of students and recent graduates in the district who don't vote and could be persuaded.