WASECA — Maybe it was just a strategic campaign decision to leave a good impression as the crowd exited the building.
More likely it was the pizza restaurant owner in Mike Parry coming to the surface.
Exhausted Republican activists from throughout southern Minnesota were plodding zombie-like out of the Kato Ballroom in Mankato just after 2 a.m. April 22. They’d spent 14 straight hours and 23 rounds of balloting trying to reach consensus on whether Parry or Allen Quist should be their candidate against Democratic Congressman Tim Walz.
They left the ballroom hopelessly deadlocked and left the decision to voters in Tuesday’s primary election. But they got one more message from Parry, smiling at the door, as they walked to their cars.
“Thanks for coming,” the Waseca Godfather’s restaurant owner told the delegates. “Thanks for staying so long. This is what it’s all about, folks. Guys, drive safe on the way home.”
If Parry prevails over Quist on Tuesday, it won’t be because of financial advantages, self-professed intellectual superiority or unbending message discipline. Quist topped Parry in all of those categories.
So if Parry advances to the Nov. 6 general election against Walz, it will probably be because voters are buying into his claim that he’s worked relentlessly to understand the concerns of southern Minnesotans, that he will be a bulldog in the fall campaign and that he will work tirelessly in Washington to change a broken federal government.
“I’ve put on over 27,000 miles to date on my truck traveling the 1st District,” Parry said.
Parry is being seriously outspent by Quist, a St. Peter farm owner who is self-financing much of his campaign. Parry doesn’t echo Quist’s claims of being an exceptional researcher of issues or a trained debater, even turning down the only true debate offered in the primary race.
And when it comes to Parry’s message ... Well, it has varied.
At times he tells voters he has been a partisan warrior in the state Senate against union thugs and socialistic lefties, and he’s generated news and condemnation for personal attacks against Democrats such as Gov. Mark Dayton and President Barack Obama.
Other times, he talks about his willingness and ability to sit down with opponents, talk through differences and attempt to persuade them of the wisdom of his ideas. That was the message in the final week of the campaign, including in an interview with The Free Press.
Parry promises to build relationships in Congress with Republicans and Democrats alike and then work with people are willing to put the well-being of Americans above the interests of the party.
“What’s good for the United States, not what’s good for the parties.”
Parry critiques Quist’s central campaign promise — that he will balance the federal budget in five years — saying only a coalition can make progress on tough issues like deficit reduction.
“No one person can take on that task and get it done,” said Parry, the chairman of the Senate’s State Government Reform and Veterans Committee.
He compared tackling federal red ink with his goal of cutting 15 percent of spending under his committee’s jurisdiction.
Working with committee members from both parties, Parry said he was able to negotiate an 11 percent reduction while getting more than a dozen reform proposals enacted with Dayton’s concurrence. Although Dayton signed the bill as part of the global agreement to end the three-week state government shutdown in July 2011, the bill passed on a largely party-line vote with all Republicans voting in favor and 24 of 27 Democrats opposed.
“I believe through some talents God’s given to me, I’d be able to do that going to Washington,” he said.
Spending and taxes
Parry talks primarily in general terms about how he would tackle the nation’s debt-ridden finances but points to progress the Republican-controlled Legislature made at the state level in reducing projected shortfalls.
“So it can be done,” he said. “It takes a lot of work, a lot of energy, a lot of time and bringing people together.”
He supports a balanced budget amendment and zero-based budgeting where there are no preconceptions about future spending.
“You have to take a look at everything that’s out there,” he said.
Including defense spending?
Parry said the military budget can possibly be trimmed without impacting military readiness by focusing reductions on wasteful spending and relying more on high-tech weapons.
Like Quist, he would eliminate the federal Department of Education. Unlike Quist, he would vote for the farm bill authorization awaiting a vote in the House, pointing to the Congressional Budget Office analysis that it would reduce the deficit by $23 billion over the next decade.
“It’s the only deficit-reducing bill currently pending in either chamber,” Parry said.
He doesn’t have any detailed proposals for dealing with one of the biggest long-term fiscal challenges facing Congress, the massive shortfalls projected for Medicare as the baby boom generation retires.
“It’s a huge issue and it needs to be addressed,” Parry said. “... It’s like tackling my state budget. You have to get in there, tackle it piece by piece.”
Parry opposes tax increases — even if they were a relatively small part of a bipartisan budget-balancing agreement.
He would support tax cuts targeted at job creation and calls for a broader reform to simplify the tax code. There are too many tax credits and exemptions, many of which have no clear policy rationale, Parry said.
Parry has promised to work for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. Most of it, anyway.
“I’m still very strong that it needs to be repealed and that’s going to be one of my top priorities,” he said.
Southern Minnesotans support the provisions that require insurers to keep adult children on their parents’ policy until age 26, and they like the law’s prohibition against insurance companies denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, Parry said.
The provisions “seem very important to them, and I agree with them.”
Supporting the pre-existing condition policy but not the law’s mandate that people buy insurance is an untenable position, though, according to supporters of the law and even some of its critics, including Quist. Insurance rates would skyrocket, they say, because only sick people would have any incentive to pay insurance premiums. (Healthy people would refuse to buy insurance, knowing insurance companies would be forced to provide them coverage if they ever got sick and faced large medical bills.)
The complexity of the changes to the nation’s health system are causing uncertainty for business owners, Parry said, recalling a recent visit with the owner of a Winona manufacturing company.
“I said, ‘What’s your biggest fear, your biggest concern?’ He said, ‘I can’t get a handle on what Obamacare is going to do to my business.’”
If repeal isn’t feasible, either because Obama is re-elected or because supporters of the law have enough votes in either the House or Senate to block repeal, Parry doesn’t have a Plan B.
“I think we just continue to push for it, push for repeal,” he said.
Energy and climate
On energy policy, Parry and Quist don’t have major differences.
“I think it’s an all-of-the-above strategy,” Parry said. “I, for one, believe we should use all of our national resources.”
He calls for more nuclear power, approval of a pipeline to bring Canadian oil to American refineries and offers some support for renewable energy.
Parry is a climate-change skeptic but said he’s always willing to evaluate evidence put before him.
“You have to take a look at the information that’s given to you and make sure it’s credible,” he said.