Taylor Stevenson, a 22-year-old Brainerd area native who will complete his Ivy League education this spring, formally announced his candidacy for the DFL endorsement for the Senate District 12 seat Friday night.
He's challenging DFLer Terry Sluss, 61, a retired Brainerd School District teacher who lost to Sen. Paul Koering, R-Fort Ripley, in 2006.
Stevenson announced his bid and emphasized his support for quality education for all Minnesotans, good jobs with livable wages and affordable health care.
He said that 15 percent unemployment is unacceptable and the public and private sectors should work together to create jobs. He said he wants to revitalize the district's downtowns and affirmed workers' right to organize.
The Dartmouth College senior said he rejected the notions that compromise equals weakness, that partisan bickering is necessary and that all taxes are bad.
"Ours is a campaign of we," he said. "It's a campaign of listening. We're putting forth a fresh vision."
Stevenson launched his campaign at the Baxter home of his father Chet Stevenson, the younger Stevenson's legal residence. About 30 supporters attended his announcement. Among those attending were his mother, Julie Henry, his stepfather, Pete Henry, and his sister, Kate Stevenson.
In his first bid for public office Stevenson has enlisted the support of several veteran DFL campaign operatives. He announced the support of Rick Nolan, a former U.S. congressman who will serve as Stevenson's campaign chair; former state Sen. Don Samuelson of Brainerd; and Larry Kellerman, a longtime DFL activist who is a senior adviser to Stevenson's campaign. Stevenson was introduced by Win Borden, a former DFL state senator and supporter who was elected to the Legislature at 28.
The first-time candidate admitted the campaign would not be easy.
Responding to questions from the audience the 2006 Brainerd High School graduate bemoaned the fact that his activity fee to play football on the team his dad coached was $70 and now the cost is $380.
"Tell me how that happens." he said.
He said the state needs to be the lead partner in terms of funding education and favored an increased reliance on income taxes rather than property taxes.
Asked for his perspective on the role of government, Stevenson said he favored a healthy interplay between government and the private sector but noted that business is profit-driven while government is supposed to be focused on the person.
"I'm going to put my faith in government," he said.
In an interview after his announcement, Stevenson said his campaign's energy, drive and compassion would make him the better candidate for the DFL this year. He said his communication skills would help him overcome any skepticism about his youth.
He said the key to fixing the state's deficit problem would be a compromise.
"We've got to look at cuts," Stevenson said. "Revenue enhancements have to be a part of the picture. We need to take some tough stances."
Stevenson said there's a need to realign ourselves when it comes to financing education. He said he wants to see less reliance on regressive taxes.
When asked to identify an area where he might cut spending Stevenson pointed to state military spending. He said that was an area Gov. Pawlenty pledged not to cut and Stevenson jokingly asked if we really needed to be worried about Canada as a military threat.
"All things are on the table," he said.
Stevenson will campaign in the district until the middle of March, shortly after the DFL Senate District 12's March 6 endorsing convention. He'll then return for 10 weeks of school and complete his degrees in philosophy and government and his minor in German studies. He said he'll abide by the decision of the endorsing convention.
The candidate declined to label himself as either pro-choice or pro-life in regard to abortion issue. He said the state needs to work to reduce the number of abortions but said he did not favor a court decision to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision.
He said that an effort to overturn that Supreme Court decision was "basically a fool's errand."
"We need to stop spinning our wheels," he said.
Also attending the announcement but not speaking were Rep. John Ward, DFL-Brainerd, and Jessica Ringwelski, who unsuccessfully sought the DFL endorsement in 2006 when she was a student at St. Cloud State University.
Koering, who defeated Sluss 54.36 percent to 42.49 percent in 2006, faces a challenge of his own on the Republican side. The incumbent's bid for the Republican endorsement for Senate District 12 is being challenged by former state Rep. Paul Gazelka.
MIKE O'ROURKE may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5860.
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