Ahlgren, Sundin vie for DFL nod for Carlton County House seatAfter Minnesota judges re-drew all of the state’s legislative district boundaries this year to make sure each had about the same number of people, Carlton County ended up in a rare situation — a state House district with no incumbent.
By: John Myers, Duluth News Tribune
After Minnesota judges re-drew all of the state’s legislative district boundaries this year to make sure each had about the same number of people, Carlton County ended up in a rare situation — a state House district with no incumbent.
Longtime DFLers who had represented the area for years, Bill Hilty to the south and Mary Murphy to the north, had been pushed entirely out of the county. And what is now House District 11A was open for newcomers to run.
Cloquet Mayor Bruce Ahlgren and Esko labor leader Mike Sundin will face off in Tuesday’s DFL primary with the winner going on to run against Independence candidate Cory Pilka of Carlton and Republican Jim Putnam of Scanlon.
Because the district is made up almost entirely of Carlton County (with a few townships each from Pine and St. Louis County thrown in) the race is uniquely focused on local issues, and both DFL candidates are well known across the county.
Sundin has been active in local labor and DFL political issues for years. Ahlgren is the longtime mayor of Cloquet. Both have been active in the local youth hockey program and both served on the Cloquet School Board.
Ahlgren stresses his experience in government, both as mayor and previously as head of the local court system, both of which brought him face-to-face with the state government system. He’s also a longtime officer in the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities.
“I’ve been down at the Capitol so much in recent years that I know the system. I know the people involved. I’ve worked with all the key legislators down there, local and statewide,’’ Ahlgren said. “I know I can step right in and do the job, build connections and get to work.”
“This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time and the timing was right, now that we have an open district,’’ Ahlgren noted.
Ahlgren notes he helped lobby in St. Paul for what became a statewide policy to have the state pay for the cost of moving high-profile criminal trials outside the county. Carlton County faced huge expenses for several high-profile cases “and no one else was pushing it. It would have been a huge hit for us,’’ Ahlgren noted.
Sundin is no stranger to state government, either, making regular trips to the Capitol on key issues for organized labor. And he’s been active in the campaigns of many state lawmakers in the past. Sundin, who received the unanimous local party endorsement, is counting on DFL loyalists to show up and vote on Tuesday.
“That’s one of the big things that separates us; that I’ve been active in the party here since 1976. He really hasn’t,’’ Sundin said, adding that running for office is the obvious next step in what he calls a lifelong commitment to public service. “My parents taught me to get involved at a very young age.”
Ahlgren notes that he had to stay out of partisan politics while running the local court system but also adds that he might be a viable choice for a wider range of voters.
While the candidates say health care, taxes and jobs are big issues across the newly drawn district, both say resolving huge problems caused by the June flood is their top priority. Ahlgren has been active dealing with Cloquet’s recovery efforts and Sundin has seen firsthand both home and business owners hit hard by the flood.
“Our big issue now is to get homeowners through this flood damage. We need to make sure they have access to low- or no-interest loans … and small businesses, too. There are more small businesses affected by this than you might think,’’ Sundin said.
Sundin also said voters remain angry after losing their homestead tax credit, a move that boosted local property taxes in many areas.
“We need to get that back as soon as possible. And … we need to move Minnesota back away from funding government and education with property taxes and move back to income tax,’’ Sundin said, noting he supports Gov. Mar Dayton’s plan to increase income taxes on the state’s highest-income residents to levels they were taxed in the 1980s. “We need a tax system that’s based on people’s ability to pay, one that’s fairer.’’
Ahlgren said his top long-term issue will be to push for greater and more stable state funding for public education, what he calls “P-12’’ noting the importance of pre-school even before kindergarten. He supports a bigger effort to merge schools to make them big enough so all students can get a broad range of class and activity options while saving taxpayers some money.
He’s pressed for the same sort of combined efforts for municipalities, too, such as joining fire departments.
“Bigger schools, especially high schools, have the ability to offer more choices that the little schools just can’t afford," Ahlgren noted. “But we also need more funding for our schools, not budget shifts that hurt them… We need small class sizes and more extracurricular activities, not fewer. We need to support our teachers. That’s our future."