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In northern suburbs, MRLF focusing on three legislative races

From the Minneapolis Labor Review, September 28, 2012

By Steve Share, Minneapolis Labor Review editor

MINNEAPOLIS — In the high-stakes campaigning for control of the Minnesota legislature, the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation hopes to make an impact in three legislative districts in the northern suburbs which are home to high numbers of voters from union households.

The candidates endorsed by the Minnesota AFL-CIO include: John Hoffman, running in Senate District 36; Grace Baltich, running in House District 36A; and Alice Johnson, running in Senate District 37. All three candidates also are DFL-endorsed.

Hoffman and Johnson are taking on Republican incumbents, while Baltich is running for an open seat resulting from the retirement of DFL incumbent Denise Dittrich.

All three races are attracting attention not just from labor, but also from corporate-backed political action committees which are supporting the Republican candidates.

To counter an onslaught of misleading mail hitting these districts, the MRLF is relying on old-fashioned but proven means: union member to union member voter contact.

Since this past summer, teams of union volunteers and release staff have been doorknocking union households in the targeted districts and also staffing phone banks.

“The number one issue we hear about is jobs and the economy. There are a lot of people who really are hurting,” reported Joanna DeLaune, MRLF field organizer for the northern suburbs. “They don’t feel the legislature has been paying attention to them at all.”

These races remain up in the air. “It’s early yet,” DeLaune noted. “A lot of people haven’t looked at it yet” — which makes the MRLF’s union voter outreach work all the more important.

DeLaune encouraged union members to join this work and participate in phonebanks and doorknocks in the coming weeks (see schedule).

The three labor-endorsed candidates, who have been busy doorknocking, too, recently spoke with the Labor Review about their campaigns.

Senate District 36: John Hoffman

John Hoffman enjoys good name recognition in the new Senate District 36 thanks to his seven years of service as a member of the Anoka-Hennepin School Board, including two years as vice-chair.

He contrasted the accomplishments of the Anoka-Hennepin School Board during his tenure there with the gridlock at the legislature: “We were dealing with real hard issues. We stayed at the table and got them done. We never shut down.”

“You didn’t see us get into partisan gridlock on the school board,” Hoffman said. “What I learned was you have to drive for consensus on the school board. There’s a way of doing that without alienating people,” he noted. “If I can do it on a local level, we should be able to do it on the state level.”

Hoffman’s opponent is one-term incumbent Benjamin Kruse, who by contrast has established an extreme voting record in the Senate: in the 2012 session of the legislature, Kruse was a “Right to Work” supporter and supported  the AFL-CIO position on only one of 17 votes tracked.

John Hoffman website:

House District 36A: Grace Baltich

Grace Baltich lives in the home in which she grew up in Champlin and has deep roots in the new House District 36A. Her mother, Joan Molenaar, is well-known as a Champlin city council member.

Baltich works as a social worker and mediator for Wright County. She serves as president of AFSCME Local 2685 and as vice president of AFSCME Council 65. She also serves on the executive board of the MRLF.

From her doorknocking, Baltich said, “the biggest thing I hear from people is they are tired of the partisanship and the gridlock; they want people to work together and get things done.”

“As a social worker and a mediator, I have strong skills to pull people together and find common ground solutions that work,” Baltich said.

Grace Baltich website:

Senate District 37: Alice Johnson

“Unions have made it possible for us to have a strong middle class in our state,” said Alice Johnson.

Johnson seeks to return to the Minnesota legislature 12 years after she retired from serving seven terms in the Minnesota House (1986-2000).

“I’ve served under Governor Rudy Perpich, Governor Arne Carlson, Governor Jesse Ventura,” she said. “We had our disagreements. We never walked away and didn’t come back.”

“I’m afraid if we don’t stop this trend to rigidness and unwillingness to compromise, it will lead us to a place where it will be difficult to govern,” she said.

Johnson, who defeated a Republican incumbent in her first race years ago, is challenging two-year incumbent Pam Wolf. Wolf’s brief voting record shows she is no friend of working families. In the 2012 legislature, Wolf supported the AFL-CIO position only once out of 17 tracked votes.

Alice Johnson website:

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