Minnesota Republicans can't help but be pleased with the steady progress they've made in outstate Minnesota in the last 30 years.
In the 1970s, it wasn't just the Iron Range that was solidly Democratic. The Brainerd lakes area was represented by DFLers who were solidly entrenched in their legislative posts.
DFLers such as Winston Borden, Don Samuelson, Steve Wenzel were politically popular and formidable foes for anyone who wanted to challenge them.
Although the victory margins in recent District 12 Senate races have been extremely close, the delegation is all Republican now -- Sen. Paul Koering, R-Fort Ripley, Rep. Dale Walz, R-Brainerd and Rep. Greg Blaine, R-Little Falls.
Credit Walz with exploiting the first chink in the District 12 DFL armor. In 2000, on his second try for the office, he knocked off veteran legislator Kris Hasskamp of Crosby for the District 12A seat in 2000.
Now Walz, 39, is stepping down, citing the demands of his job as an investigator in the Baxter Police Department. In each campaign, he emphasized that despite his interest in politics, he was a law officer first and a legislator second.
The Legislature is best served when there is a mixture of veteran lawmakers and legislators who serve for shorter periods of time. The longtime legislators provide knowledge and institutional memory while those who serve three or four terms provide energy and fresh ideas. There are also benefits to living in a district where the races are hard-fought and competitive. In Brainerd area legislative districts both Democrats and Republicans feel they can capture the seats and that encourages vigorous campaigns.
Walz fits the profile of those who describe themselves as citizen/legislators. He took time away from his law enforcement career to serve in the Legislature. The plainspoken Walz brought a valuable law enforcement perspective to the Legislature. Similarly, the skills he developed as a representative will, no doubt, make him a better police officer.
Area Republicans and Democrats are gearing up to battle for the seat Walz will vacate at the end of the year. Our only advice to the candidates is that they work hard and keep it positive.
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