MANKATO — Voters in most of Le Sueur County and other parts of state Senate District 20 won’t be able to use the old “they’re all the same, anyway” excuse for not voting in the Aug. 14 primary election.
The two candidates for the Republican nomination could hardly be more different.
Mike Dudley, 59, of Northfield is a retired 26-year FBI special agent who focuses on traditional Republican themes of smaller government and resistance to tax increases. Dudley has been walking the parades, shaking hands at church socials and making the rounds at community festivals.
“I’m running to put Minnesota on a solid economic foundation based on controlling spending and focusing on priorities, as government lives within its means,” Dudley said. “... We can’t afford a government that is everything to everybody.”
Gene Thomas Kornder, 62, of Belle Plaine was originally reached by The Free Press in mid-July but asked to push the interview off a bit. Kornder was prospecting for gold at the headwaters of the Arkansas River in Colorado.
Back in Minnesota last week, Kornder said he’d had some luck (“We got some dust and flakes”) and thought he might have a lead on some other precious metals. Not enough to finance a broadcast blitz prior to Tuesday.
Kornder said he might run some radio ads but only if a paycheck comes through on his other job as an over-the-road trucker. He wasn’t regretting his failure to keep up with Dudley on the campaign trail.
“I’m not going to run around shaking hands and telling people what they want to hear,” Kornder said. “I’m going to tell them what they need to hear. There’s a whole lot of difference.”
The winner of the Dudley-Kornder primary will face former Sen. Kevin Dahle, DFL-Northfield.
Dudley, the Republican Party’s endorsed candidate, said he had never been active in politics but became increasingly concerned about the direction the nation has taken in recent years.
At the state level, he said he wants to focus spending on priorities such as public safety, infrastructure, education and social programs that serve “the elderly, the truly vulnerable and public retirees.”
More state tax revenue can be generated through a more vibrant economy, and a more vibrant economy can be generated by reducing regulation and lightening the tax burden.
“That’s what I’m hearing from people — that their top priority is jobs and the economy,” Dudley said.
Because Gov. Mark Dayton is just halfway through his four-year term, lawmakers will be working with a governor who strongly supports raising taxes on high-income Minnesotans to minimize the number of program cuts that are required. In 2011, the Republican-controlled Legislature adamantly opposed any state-level tax hikes and the result was a budget impasse and a three-week partial government shutdown.
Dudley said people in District 20 are weary of partisan bickering at both the state and federal level. He said he wouldn’t give Dayton income or sales tax increases, even if it was part of a broader budget agreement consisting mostly of what he wants.
But Dudley doesn’t rule out fee increases as part of that sort of compromise, and he said he would avoid the partisan jabs that only exacerbates policy differences between the two parties.
“I’m not a bomb thrower in the way I approach expressing my positions,” he said.
Dudley said he’s also a realist. For instance, Dudley said he wouldn’t refuse to implement the state-based health insurance exchange required by President Obama’s Affordable Care Act — despite that he vehemently opposes Obamacare.
If the reform law survives, Minnesota lawmakers should do their best to make the insurance exchange work rather than refusing to implement the law as a sort of protest, he said. That sort of passive resistance would only result in an insurance exchange imposed on Minnesota by Washington.
“I don’t think symbolic protests are why people get elected to public positions,” he said.
At times Kornder sounds like other Republican candidates: “More people work for government than for private enterprise, and this situation is unsustainable.”
Mostly, though, he sounds different.
Kornder wants to look into whether powerful energy companies are suppressing revolutionary new forms of energy such as small-scale nuclear fusion reactors. He’d like to abolish the income tax and believes property taxes are unconstitutional under the Minnesota Constitution.
He wants to shut down the Metropolitan Council and shift its revenue into a new “Bank of Minnesota,” patterned after the Bank of North Dakota formed by the Nonpartisan League a century ago. That would allow the state to pay interest to itself when borrowing, Kornder said.
Kornder would shrink government and fund it with sales and excise taxes, making the excise taxes progressive when possible — applying higher rates, for instance, to luxury cars than to lower-end models. That’s much preferable to property taxes, which are a tax on wealth, and income taxes, which tax the production of wealth, he said.
“If you tax wealth and the production of wealth, you’re actually limiting or destroying these things,” said Kornder, who has previously run unsuccessfully for the Belle Plaine School Board and the state House (in 1978 as a member of The American Party).
In response to a questionnaire from the Northfield News, Kornder summed up his motivation for running: “I offer those who are disappointed with the current leadership, those who support Ron Paul, Tea Partiers, 911 Truthers, Birthers and Conspiracy ‘freaks,’ the opportunity to put someone in the Minnesota Senate who will make a difference.”
Another thing that makes Kornder different than most candidates? He doesn’t profess optimism about his chances — although he says he’s serious about wanting to serve.
“If by some miracle I get to St. Paul, I’m ready to go,” Kornder said.
Senate District 20, which doesn’t have an incumbent because of redistricting, includes much of Le Sueur County other than Kasota and the Waterville-Elysian area; part of Scott County including Belle Plaine and Elko-New Market; and part of Rice County, including Lonsdale and Northfield.