Regional Republican activists gather to plan

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 28, 2002

Republicans from across southern Minnesota gathered in Albert Lea this weekend to restructure the party organization in accordance with legislative redistricting announced in March. The delegates also listened to candidates running for public offices in the November general election, a crucial one for the party to gain control of both St. Paul and Washington, D.C. for the next four years.

The new first congressional district convention at Albert Lea High School was packed with 285 delegates from 22 counties.

The new district, designed by the Minnesota Supreme Court, gained nine counties in southwestern Minnesota while losing part of the southeastern region closer to the metro area. Past election results indicate the district, which has been solid electoral turf for the GOP, has become even more Republican with the new map.

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Under new district officers elected Saturday afternoon, the party will promote the region’s concerns about the rural economy, education and other issues.

Candidates in both state and federal contests were in town over the weekend to share their views with the constituents.

“It is my honor to continue representing the first district,” said U.S. Rep. Gil Gutknecht. He emphasized contributions to welfare reform and budget balancing he had made on Capitol Hill since 1994. Gutknecht also praised President Bush for his leadership in the war against terrorism.

Two candidates for governor, currently involved in a fierce competition over the party endorsement, were also present.

House Majority Leader Tim Pawlenty reminded delegates of the importance of the coming election, expressing his confidence that Republicans would keep their majority in the House and regain control of the Senate as well.

“If we combine the House, governorship, and maybe the Senate, the door will be wide open to our entire agenda,” said Pawlenty. And he emphasized the next governor has to have a good judgement and vision.

Businessman Brian Sullivan, who beat Pawlenty in a non-biding poll taken during the March caucuses, stressed his hands-on experience as a business leader who will bring a difference to conventional politics.

On Friday, Sullivan announced State Senator Kenric Scheevel, who is a farmer in Preston and a former school teacher, as his running mate. He said Scheevel’s expertise and background representing rural Minnesota, when combined with Sullivan’s entrepreneurial leadership, would provide the “one-two punch” needed to revitalize rural Minnesota.

Other candidates running for statewide office also spoke, including Tom Kelly (Attorney General), Patty Awada (State Auditor), Mary Kiffmeyer (Secretary of State). House Speaker Steve Sviggum from Kenyon and Senate Minority Leader Dick Day from Owatonna also spoke to delegates.