Mullery vs. Statema in Minneapolis Northside district 59a

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The idea of Democrats possibly losing control of Minnesota House strikes Rep. Joe Mullery (DFL-Mpls.) as hard to believe.

“You could hardly ask for better government,” Mullery said of DFL control of state government. “It’s scary if the people don’t appreciate and vote for us,” he said.

Mullery cites more education funding, a hefty bonding bill, the creation of MNsure — not perfect, but a good healthcare exchange, he said — and other perceived accomplishments as evidence of a job well done.

While Democrats raised the income tax on wealthy Minnesotans — and the tax on a pack of cigarettes — they provided property tax relief for the middle class, Mullery said.

The soundness of Democratic control, Mullery argues, can be seen in Republican attacks on the new, $77 million Senate Office Building, being built near the State Capitol.

They’re attacking it, Mullery argues, because Republicans lack an agenda of their own and DFL agenda is solid.

Republicans have charged the new office building, that passed the Legislature in a tax bill with bipartisan support, is needless and lavish.

The attacks have traction.

Voters are asking questions in Mullery’s north Minneapolis district, he concedes.

“People think I (House members) am getting a new building,” Mullery said. “We’re not,” he said.

In terms of his legislative priorities, Mullery cites early childhood development and education, closing foreclosure loopholes, bolstering minority-owned business, finding a mid ground between a pat-on-the-head, don’t-do-it-again approach to criminal justice and lock them-up-forever, and environmental justice — shielding low-income residents from health risks posed by industry — among others.

Mullery points to many bills that he passed.

An attorney by profession, legislative work takes up almost all of his time, Mullery said.

He is eager to return to the Legislature for another term, he said.

Mullery’s Republican opponent is retired truck driver and long-time district resident Fred Statema.

“There has to be a conservative voice out there,” Statema said of running against the nine-term Democrat, one with an electoral history of crushing Republican opponents in the DFL-stronghold of District 59A.

But Statema, 64, argues maintaining the perceived status quo in education, for instance, is senseless.

He believes students are not well served, and rather than simply throw more dollars at education the focus should be on reform. With the idea of sparking more parental involvement, Statema proposes providing incentives to parents, perhaps tax breaks, who join PTAs or otherwise become more actively engaged in their children’s education.

He labels education reform a primary focus of his candidacy.

While describing himself as a “Pro LIfe” candidate — no government dollars for abortion services, he says — Statema, whose sons and their wives are all gun permit holders, strongly supports background checks on all gun purchases.

His bid for the House is Statema’s first venture into electoral politics. Indeed, his involvement in the Republican Party is recent, the result of personal interest and having more time, Statema said.

Encouraged to run by fellow Republicans, Statema says it’s “unlikely” he will beat Mullery.

Still, he talks of catching a bus to the Green Line and riding the light rail line to the State Capitol.

Statema suffered a stroke, and though saying he is wholly capable of serving in the Legislature, a lingering problem with balance makes walking long distances difficult, he explained.

So the more noticeable aspects of his campaign could be lawn signs rather than a candidate’s knock on the door.

“It’s been interesting,” Statema said of learning how to campaign.

Mullery, speaking in early October, said he did not know his opponent.

While he does some doorknocking, his outreach to the district is ongoing, Mullery said.