Endorsement: A difficult decision for state senate seat

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 26, 2002

Two years after an Albert Lea resident took control of the District 27 senate seat for the first time in years, there’s another challenge from the east, as residents try to decide a close race among Sen. Grace Schwab, impressive DFL challenger Dan Sparks of Austin, and Independence Party nominee Terry Kelley.

The race is close for a reason: because both major candidates present compelling cases for themselves.

We’ll begin with Schwab. A rookie two years ago when she upset longtime senator Pat Piper of Austin, she has learned on the job and earned accolades for her effectiveness from current and former legislators. Her record contains solid evidence, with several key pieces of legislation secured for Farmland relief, among other initiatives.

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It’s clear she has been a quick study and already has a veteran’s grasp on how the Senate works. Her strongest conviction is for fairness, as she has spoken out regularly against funding disparities between metro and rural schools and nursing homes. And she has demonstrated the ability to work across party lines at times, within the Democratic-controlled senate, as she did with Farmland legislation.

Many groups who have worked with her say she has been responsive and helpful; others, however, have been put off by her, feeling like she could be a better communicator. She definitely could benefit from being more consistently accessible.

On another side of this race is DFLer Dan Sparks. He has just the kind of varied background that makes him a good choice to represent all kinds of people. His time has been spent on a farm, in a highway engineer’s office, on the production line at Hormel, and as a loan officer at an Austin bank.

For a political newcomer, he has an impressive list of connections; he’s spent time at the Capitol getting to know other Democratic senators (his mother works for one) and would have a head start that other newcomers to the senate do not have. And, as he points out, he could have an advantage in a senate that is likely to remain under Democratic control.

It seems like hackneyed political slogan, but when Sparks says he’ll &uot;put people above politics,&uot; we think he’s sincere. And although he stresses traditional DFL issues like labor, education and health care, he’s not without his share of moderation; in fact, he says the tax cuts of two years ago were good for the state and he wouldn’t be excited about overturning them.

Kelley, of the Independence Party, presents an attractive third option for those who want one. Adhering to the Tim Penny sensible center, he says he’s too conservative for the Democrats, his former party, and too liberal for the Republicans. It’s a case being made with success by Penny and others. But beyond stressing education and common-sense legislating, he hasn’t made a complete case for himself, and his inconsistent approach to campaigning calls into question how much he really wants the job.

For Albert Lea, it’s certainly beneficial to have a state senator residing here, like Schwab, and in a way it would be difficult to lose that advantage. On the other hand, Sparks is enough of a people person to further his connections here quickly.

With Schwab or Sparks, the area is likely to benefit from representation by a young, rising political star with a chance at a bright future.