Paul Gazelka of rural Brainerd learned early Wednesday that his new job as Senate District 12 came with an added bonus. The Senate he'll serve in will be under Republican control for the first time since 1972.
"How cool is that?" the Republican senator-elect said Wednesday morning as he reflected on his victory in a four-way race.
Final totals in the unofficial election results were Gazelka, 16,529 votes or 51.5 percent; DFL newcomer Taylor Stevenson of Baxter, 11,608 votes or 36.2 percent; and Constitution Party candidate Steve Park of Nisswa, 827 votes or 2.58 percent. There were 3,125 write-in votes, with the majority of them going to incumbent Sen. Paul Koering of Fort Ripley, who ran as an independent, registered write-in candidate. The write-in total amounted to 9.74 percent of the vote.
Koering dropped out of the Republican endorsement contest shortly before that contest was conducted and then was defeated by Gazelka, a fomer, one-term House member.
Gazelka, the owner of an insurance agency in Baxter said he wasn't sure of what the Republicans' margin will be in the Senate but their majority status along with Republican control of the state House means GOP lawmakers can pass legislation and at least present it to the governor. Who that governor will be, of course, won't be determined until a recount is conducted between former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton, D-Minn., and State Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Delano.
"It (majority status) allows us to at least put forth the agenda we want to," Gazelka said.
He said that because there are so many new Republican senators he believes that his two years of legislative experience in the House will give him a leg up in seniority, possibly even leading to a position as committee chair.
At the top of Gazelka's committee wish list are commerce (focusing on jobs) and a panel that deals with the combined issues of agriculture and veterans' issues. A third choice, he said, would be health and human services.
"I feel those two are really important for our area," he said.
Gazelka pledged to represent the entire district, including those people who didn't vote for him.
He met his goal of earning more than 50 percent of the vote in the four-way race.
The candidate who waged the strongest race against Gazelka, Taylor Stevenson was a 22-year-old first-time candidate who graduated from Dartmouth College last spring. He secured the DFL endorsement by defeating former Crow Wing County Commissioner Terry Sluss, who lost to Koering in 2006.
The Republican takeover of the state House and Senate put his defeat into perspective, Stevenson said.
"You realize this was a lot bigger than me," he said. "It's something I don't think anyone really grasped. No one anticipated it would be this big, at least not on our side."
He attributed his own showing to either bad timing or bad luck. The Brainerd High School honors graduate gave credit to Gazelka for the campaign he ran.
"It's one thing to have a wave and another thing to be able to ride a wave," Stevenson said.
The DFL candidate said another campaign for the Legislature wasn't out of the question.
"Certainly I'm not soured by the political process," Stevenson said. "This wasn't a good year to be a Democrat."
Stevenson said he would like to stay in the Brainerd area but wasn't sure there was a job market that would allow him to find a job.
"I'm going to make every effort to stay in the area," he said. "I threw everything I had on this. It isn't that I didn't know I needed a Plan B, I didn't have time for it."
Stevenson said he was humbled and appreciative of the work his supporters did on his behalf.
MIKE O'ROURKE may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5860.
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