Macalester Young Republican Andrew Ojeda challenges St. Paul Representative Erin Murphy

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From high school flirtation with socialism to Constitution Party sympathies to Macalester Young Republican co-chair, Andrew Ojeda is passionate about his politics. This year Ojeda, a California native and Macalester senior with a double major in political science and German studies, is running for the Minnesota House of Representatives in St. Paul’s District 64A.

Conservative student groups including Minnesota College Republicans and Young Americans for Liberty both endorsed Ojeda.

“He’s in a tough area to run Republican,” said Young Americans for Liberty chair, Tim Bertram, “but he’s taking it and willing to put in the time.”

His opponent, incumbent Representative Erin Murphy (DFL), is running for her fourth consecutive term since her initial election in 2006. That year she won the seat against 2005 Macalester graduate Jesse Mortenson of the Green Party and Kirstin Beach of the Republican Party. Murphy has consistently won District 64A, located in St. Paul, by overwhelming margins. In 2008 she won 77.47 percent of the vote over Meg Ferber and again in 2010 with 78.57 percent of the vote against University of St. Thomas student Zach Freitag.

Her campaign manager, Adam Chelseth described her as “one of the nicest people in state government.”

“She’s a nurse by training,” Chelseth said, “so she brings that additional perspective into her job. I think that makes her uniquely qualified to work on health care issues.”

Ojeda received the nomination with support from Ferber, the chair of the District 64 Basic Political Operating Unit, the lowest level Republican organization. She decided to back Ojeda after hearing about his previous interest in running for office.

Ojeda and Murphy met for coffee to get to know each other after he received the nomination.

“In my tenure, I’ve learned that getting to know each other one-on-one undermines the polarity of politics,” she said. “It’s harder to attack the person.”

“[Meeting] helps keep perspective,” Ojeda said. “We all want the same things.”

Ojeda said he saw partisanship hinder progress during an internship as a legislative intern for Sen. Gretchen Hoffman-R this past spring. Opposing parties were unwilling to communicate and the legislature stagnated, he explained. Murphy said the last two years’ stagnation could be attributed to a Republican majority.

“In 2010 Minnesotans voted in Republicans and they got a government shut-down, increased property taxes, two divisive constitutional amendments, and $2.9 million borrowed from public schools,” she said.

Murphy opposes both the Voter ID and Marriage amendments, but feels especially opposed to banning same-sex marriage in the constitution.

“I feel very strongly that [people] should have that choice,” she said. “It’s more than a campaign issue.”

Her strong stance on LGBT issues has earned her the endorsement of OutFront Minnesota, an organization that advocates for equal rights for the LGBT community in Minnesota, since her election in 2006.

“We are looking for leaders who want Minnesota to be a state that is welcoming,” said OutFront’s Executive Director Monica Meyer. “Erin has been that kind of a leader.”

Ojeda thinks constitutional amendments are not the right way to handle these issues, but he is glad that citizens have the opportunity to vote.

“I’m not going to advocate one way or another,” he said. “The citizens can vote.”

The main issue for Ojeda is the economy. “Shaky politics in the Capitol” are partially to blame for the poor economic situation in Minnesota, he said. He advocates removing government regulations and “red tape,” decreasing taxes to encourage business and lowering property taxes.

Murphy is campaigning on a “return to the Minnesotan legacy” of making choices and sacrifices for the future. She would like to promote an honest and transparent budget, as well as increased accessibility to higher education and health care.

Neither candidate faced a primary challenger, so their campaigns have been relatively relaxed. Ojeda said his main goal was to fundraise and meet district Republicans. Due to successful fundraising, he qualified for the state public subsidy for campaign financing. To qualify, he signed an affidavit agreeing to limit campaign spending and raised $1,500.00 in denominations of $50.00 or less from contributors. The public subsidy allows the state to make direct investments in campaigns, in order to curb excessive spending and financing through a small number of large donations.

“I was surprised because he isn’t from here,” said Ferber, “but the district really stepped up to the plate.”

Murphy also qualified for the public subsidy program. Her summer has included door-knocking and the “necessary” fundraising.

“She is doing what she needs to do for reelection,” Chelseth said. “We’ve been doing direct voter contacts at the door throughout the district.”

Minnesota College Republicans chair Ryan Lyk thinks Ojeda could surprise Murphy with greater competition than she’s had in recent years.

“I think in the past [elections] were easy and she could not care much,” he said.

However, Murphy said, “I always campaign like I’m a vote behind. I listen to what [the voters] have to say and if elected that drives me more than anything.”

Chelseth said that he takes a similar approach to Murphy’s campaign.

“We understand that this is a favorable index for Democrats,” he said, “But that doesn’t mean that we can not do the work, talk to the people, be responsible, make sure we are addressing the real concerns and issues.”

Lyk also said Ojeda could better represent students. District 64A contains Macalester College, University of St. Thomas, Concordia University, William Mitchell College of Law and Hamline University. He could vote to fund higher education and oppose housing bills similar to the housing ordinance that the St. Paul City Council passed on June 27. The ordinance requires that new student rentals within the specified area near University of St. Thomas and Macalester College be at least 150 feet from existing rentals. Ojeda stated that this was a matter he opposed as a citizen, but he would not be able to address city issues in the House.

Murphy said these schools are vital to the community and influence her choices as a public servant. “Students are citizens of our community,” she wrote in an e-mail. “I work to represent their interests as residents and students.” She indicated that she supports “adequate” funding for both the state grant program and public universities. In 2011, she voted against a budget that provided $2.6 billion to the University of Minnesota and Minnesota State Colleges, a 10 percent cut from the previous two years’ levels.

Murphy did not comment on the housing ordinance, stating it is a local, not state issue. “I respect the continued efforts of colleges and neighboring communities to resolve local issues, locally,” she wrote in an e-mail.

Ojeda said he plans to finish his senior year if he wins. The State Representative position is part-time and Ojeda cited Rep. Kurt Bills-R, who taught economics at Rosemount High School while serving district 37B. “It is different, but not impossible,” he said. “I weigh[ed] the costs and benefits on it and helping my state is crucial.”