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2006 Election News
AFL-CIO endorses three Republicans for Minneapolis area Minnesota House seats

This story is expanded from a shorter version in the Minneapolis Labor Review, October 17, 2006

By Steve Share, Labor Review editor

MINNEAPOLIS — In these increasingly partisan times, a few legislators distinguish themselves by their willingness to work for the common good across party lines. This year, the Minnesota AFL-CIO endorsed four Republican candidates for the Minnesota House of Representatives who have demonstrated their willingness to support working family issues at the legislature.

The four are District 37B Representative Dennis Ozment (Rosemount), District 48B Representative Jim Abeler (Anoka), District 49B Representative Kathy Tingelstad (Andover), and District 33A Representative Steve Smith (Mound). All but Ozment serve districts within the jurisdiction of the Minneapolis Central Labor Union Council.

Interviews with Abeler, Tingelstad and Smith discovered common ground. Each says they consider each issue on its merits. And each comes from a working family background with family or personal union connections.

“The bottom line is they’ve shown a willingness to work with us on working family issues in the legislature, particularly some of the biggest issues that faced us,” says Andrea Ledger, political director for the Minneapolis Central Labor Union Council. “They’ve taken the right votes but they’ve also been willing to sit down with union members and try to understand the issues.” She adds, “they’ve all taken plenty of heat from their own party.”

Jim Abeler
House District 48B
Kathy Tingelstad
House District 48B
Steve Smith
House District 33A

Jim Abeler: ‘I try to do the right thing, which is why I cross party lines’

Jim Abeler, who is running for a fifth term in the House, earned a 44 percent Minnesota AFL-CIO voting record on working family issues in the 2006 session. “I try to do the right thing, which is why I cross party lines,” says Abeler. “If you’re going to vote for what’s correct, you need to do that.”

“More than anything, I’m a pragmatist,” Abeler says. “Neither side is right all the time.”

Abeler’s mother is a teacher and he reports he’s a former member of three unions: the UFCW, the Bakers and the Laborers. “I know it shaped me,” he observes.

Abeler current profession also gives him a sensitivity to working families. “Being a chiropracter, I treat injured workers,” he says. “I see how they struggle.”

As a health professional, Abeler not surprisingly says that affordable health care is one of his top priorities as a legislator. Abeler says he wants “to make sure everyone has access to quality health care they can afford. That’s not a small task. We need to have good jobs, not Burger King jobs. We need jobs that pay benefits.”

In addition to winning AFL-CIO endorsement this year, Abeler also has received the endorsement of AFSCME, the Building Trades, Education Minnesota, and SEIU. “This is a big year for labor endorsements for me,” Abeler notes.

“It’s good that Labor can reach out across the aisle it has traditionally sat on to people who are friendly to its interests,” Abeler says. “It will advance Labor’s goals.”The people in his district, Abeler says, “just want us to get the job done. “That’s what I came here to do.”

Kathy Tingelstad: ‘a lot of these things are related to fairness’

Kathy Tingelstad is running for a sixth term in the House. Last session she earned a 50 percent AFL-CIO voting record. “A lot of these things are related to fairness,” she says.

“I look at policy issues on the face value of the policy itself,” Tingelstad says.

“Both my dad and my grandpa were union members most of their lives,” working in the stockyards and at an oil refinery, Tingelstad relates.  Her brother, she adds, is a member of the Teamsters.

Tingelstad notes that her district is home to “a lot of hard-working folks,” including many union members and many families where the breadwinner works two jobs or both husband and wife works. “That strong work ethic is really important,” she says. “I try to reflect those values in the votes I make.”

Environmental issues are among Tingelstad’s chief concerns as a legislator. She has served on the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee for 10 years. Here’s an area where Minnesotans of all parties are more likely to find common ground, she says. “It seems to be less polarized than some of the other committees.”

Transportation, Tingelstad adds, is another issue bridging partisan divides. “Generally most people will say roads and briefs are a bi-partisan issue. We need to improve them and make them safe.” Tingelstad was the chief House author for the Northstar Commuter Rail bill, which passed the legislature last session with bipartisan support.

This is the first year Tingelstad received AFL-CIO endorsement, and, she believes, the first time she sought the endorsement. “I certainly appreciate it,” she says. She also has been endorsed by Education Minnesota and SEIU.

Steve Smith: ‘there are issues that cross party lines’

Steve Smith is running for a ninth term in the House. His lifetime AFL-CIO voting record is 56 percent. “I look at each issue to determine its merits,” Smith says. “I don’t vote in lock-step with anyone.” He notes: “The majority of the time Labor is right on their issues.”

Smith’s father was a union member and Minnesota Department of Transportation employee while his mother was a factory line worker who joined union organizing efforts. Smith himself is a former member of two unions.

“I’m proud of getting various labor endorsements… and I have for a number of years,” Smith says.

Smith is an attorney by profession and began his career at Dial Lawyers providing low-cost legal services to “just plain ordinary working folks,” he says. “I liked that because I helped people who needed it the most.” Addressing “ordinary problems of ordinary hard-working people” gave him appreciation for the struggles of working families, he says.

A former Mound city council member and mayor, Smith first was elected to the legislature in 1990. His political watchword: “If you work for a living, then that’s what you ought to have.” As a legislator, Smith has supported increases in the minimum wage, the right to strike, and pensions. During a state employee strike by MAPE, he wouldn’t enter the State Office Building, he reports. “I honored their picket line. I even marched with them. I walk the walk.”

 “There are issues that cross party lines,” Smith believes. “When it comes to people and people issues, Democrats and Republicans can get along… If you’re willing to not demonize each other during session.”

“I split with my standard Republican allies,” Smith says. “If it’s right to work versus pro-labor, I come down on the side of labor.”


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