Sparks seeks 5th term, gets new challenger

Published 9:10 pm Saturday, May 28, 2016

By Jason Schoonover and Alex Smith, Austin Daily Herald

When he first ran, Sparks knew former Rep. Rob Leighton, and his wife, Shawn, and they contacted him telling him they thought he could run for the state House, but eventually ran for state Senate instead.

Sparks was already familiar with the political business through his mom, Faye, a longtime legislative assistant who currently works for Sen. James Metzen, DFL-South St. Paul. But Metzen and Faye, 67, are both set to retire at the end of the year. Sparks called Metzen a friend and a mentor.

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Sparks filed for re-election last week, and said he filed to represent his constituents.

Sparks looks back at several accomplishments over his tenure in the Senate, including his help in securing $13.5 million in state bonding dollars for The Hormel Institute’s 20-lab addition on The Hormel Institute’s east side to match funds from The Hormel Foundation.

Next week, he’ll be a part of the institute’s grand opining for the second part of their expansion.

Dan Sparks

Dan Sparks

“(It) is something that I’m very proud of,” he said.

Sparks was also pleased with his work to bring flood mitigation dollars to Austin after several major floods caused damage across Austin.

“That project has been something else that I’m very proud of locally,” Sparks said.

He was also happy to help secure $7.5 million for Albert Lea to dredge Fountain Lake in 2014.

Looking ahead, Sparks wants to focus on issues like education and economic development and wants to continue being a strong voice for his district.

“Over the past 14 years I have had the honor and the privilege to represent the people of District 27,” he said. “While we have been able to make great progress over these years, there is much important work left to be done. I look forward to continuing to build on the successes we’ve had and work to address the pressing issues that face our area and state.”

He also wants to continue working together with Democrats and Republicans, something he said makes him a strong leader at the Capitol.

“I think that’s one of the reasons that I’ve had a successful career,” he said.

After the state Legislature ended without the House and Senate passing transportation funding or a bonding bill, Sparks said he’s still hopeful that Gov. Mark Dayton will call a special session to address several capital improvement projects with a bonding bill.

He admitted voters may have a sour taste after the divided end to the legislative session, and Sparks said having the entire House and Senate up for reelection this year may be one reason the Legislature got tied up by political differences this session.

But Sparks again plans to run a clean campaign, and he said he’d be happy to talk with anyone about the session’s divided end.

Republicans Gene Dornink or Hayfield and Cynthia Gail or Albert Lea have filed to challenge Sparks in District 27.

Along with his work at the Legislature, Sparks also helps work with an area farmer. Sparks lives in Austin with his wife, Andrea. He has three daughters, Ryley, Hailey and Madison, and a 4-year-old son, Niklas.

In his spare time, he enjoys spending time with his family, golfing, biking and doing things where he can get outdoors.


Hayfield carpenter running for state Senate

Gene Dornink

Gene Dornink

For Republican Gene Dornink, his goals if elected to the Minnesota Senate are as simple as ABC: be accountable, go back to the basics and respect the Constitution.

Dornink, 53, filed last week to run against incumbent Sparks for his District 27 state Senate seat.

“The state continues to go in the wrong direction,” Dornink said. “They lose touch with what we do out here.”

Dornink is a resident of Hayfield and owns Gene Dornink Carpentry LLC. In 2010, he decided to get active again in politics after being laid off from a union job. He served as chairman of the Dodge County Republicans and also went to Tampa, Florida, as a delegate to the 2012 Republican National Convention.

For the upcoming election, he has three major issues: the bonding bill, accountability and problems with MNsure. The divided Legislature was unable to pass a bonding bill during its session that ended last week, and it was unable to pass a transportation bill. The bonding bill would have funded construction projects and transportation projects across the state. This left many area roads and bridges unfunded, and it left Dornink unhappy.

“They sacrificed (the bill) and I didn’t think that was wise,” he said. “We have a lot of problems and that was a big price to pay.”

When he’s not involved in politics or working, Dornink spends most of his free time with his wife, Vicky, their 12 children and their grandchildren. They enjoy playing volleyball and partaking in various family events together.

“I’m either working or spending time with my family,” he said.