Burnsville men face off in newly drawn Senate district

Leon Thurman
Dan Hall

The Burnsville men running for state Senate in District 56 both like their chances in November.

Republican Sen. Dan Hall, a freshman elected two years ago in what is now District 40, says legislative redistricting gives him a stronger Republican base in the newly drawn 56.

His DFL opponent, first-time candidate Leon Thurman, says the 2011 government shutdown — “pretty much a Republican affair that was not seen very favorably by people in general” — may hurt the GOP  in a district that his party claims has 47 percent Democratic voters.

“In other words, it is a majority Republican district by a few percentage points,” Thurman said. “We’ll see how people respond to what the Republican Legislature has done over the past two years.”

From Hall’s perspective, the Republican-controlled Legislature has prevented tax increases in an ongoing effort to boost business and jobs.

“Right now, we’re one of the worst states in bringing in new businesses. We need to change that,” Hall said, criticizing DFL Gov. Mark Dayton’s 2012 veto of a Republican bill with business tax breaks that Dayton said would have blown a hole in the budget.

Senate terms are for four years, but all Senate seats are up for grabs this year because of redistricting. Hall likes the new district, which includes all of Burnsville except the northeast portion, all of Savage and three precincts in northern Lakeville.

His current district includes a broad swath of southern Bloomington, which is less Republican-friendly.

“The reason I won last time was because of Burnsville compared to Bloomington,” said Hall, 60, who unseated DFL incumbent John Doll in 2010. “Now Burnsville is my weakest area, and Savage and Lakeville are stronger. That puts me in a good spot. Even if, for some reason, I lost or came in close in Burnsville, which I don’t expect, I do think I’d win it all.”

According to a list on his legislative website, Hall chief-authored 27 bills in 2011 and 2012. “I know I was busy, I can tell you that, especially for a freshman,” he said.

Hall said he’s proudest of a law change that adds many high-ranking local government officials under a law governing public disclosure of employee matters, including buyouts and separation agreements.

That change in Minnesota’s data practices, co-sponsored in the House by Burnsville Republican Rep. Pam Myhra, was the local lawmakers’ response to public outrage over a $255,000 buyout of ex-Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District administrator Tania Chance.

“The taxpayer should be real excited about this bill,” Hall said.

From his seat on the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee, Hall said he authored the law outlawing sale and possession of synthetic marijuana.

Two other successful bills he highlighted in an interview concern cardiopulmonary resuscitation. One, dubbed “Hannah’s Law,” requires workers at child-care centers to take CPR training.

The other requires schools to give every a student a 30-minute CPR course sometime between seven and 12th grades, said Hall, a former lifeguard and first aid instructor.

“Half of the schools in Minnesota already do it, but half don’t,” he said.

An independently ordained minister and a lay pastor at River Valley Church in Apple Valley, Hall strongly supports the constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage  that voters will see in November.

“I think passing that is important because of the direction our society’s going, meaning there’s a large push to allow same-sex couples to marry,” said Hall, who recently finished 19 years as a police and fire chaplain in Burnsville. “If we weren’t being pushed in that direction, I don’t think we’d have responded with a constitutional amendment.”


Thurman, 71, said he was dismayed by conduct of the Iraq war and by the political direction of the United States when he attended his first DFL precinct caucus in 2006.

He was elected a precinct chair at the District 40 caucuses in 2010 and re-elected this year. Thurman now chairs the Nominations Committee of the District 56 DFL.

The party filled its slate of House candidates — former Rep. Will Morgan of Burnsville in District 56B and David Jensen of Savage in 56A.

“No one  was stepping up for the longest time for us to have a Senate candidate,” Thurman said. “So I said to our newly elected chair, Lawrence Sandoval from Savage, ‘If no one’s going to run, I will.’ ”

A former public school English and music teacher and choir director, college music professor, and voice and choral instructor, Thurman now owns the Leon Thurman Voice Center. He was previously a specialist voice educator for the Fairview Voice Center, which was disbanded.

“I am a rather articulate person,” said Thurman, a Tennessee native and Burnsville resident since 1990. “I care deeply about human beings, always have. That’s why I went into education in the first place. Things have not been going too favorably for education in Minnesota over the past at least two years, if not 10.”

Thurman wants an automatic, inflation-rate increase in education funding.

He said he supports Dayton’s goal of raising income taxes on the highest-earning Minnesotans. “Something needs to be done about the budget shortfalls,” Thurman said. “We need to stop that.”

Thurman said he’s “not afraid of raising taxes, but it’s not something that I’m prepared to commit to.”

“We need to look at all possible options” for balancing the budget, Thurman said. “I do believe that it’s unfair that wealthy people and large corporations are being protected by the Republicans” in state and national tax policy. “That just needs to change.”

He called for greater access to health care.

“It’s true that in Minnesota, insurance companies all have to be nonprofit,” Thurman said. “I can see room for private, nonprofit insurance plans being chosen by people for their health cfare. An option that can also be available is for those costs to be paid by the government, into which they pay a premium. When one says ‘single-payer,’ I don’t favor that lock, stock and barrel.”

Thurman strongly opposes the two Republican-backed constitutional amendments on the November ballot, banning same-sex marriage and requiring a state-issued photo ID to vote.

“While that’s not my bag, live and let live,” Thurman said of same-sex marriage. “Marriage is a legal concept; it isn’t just a religious one. You have to buy a marriage license from the state, and the word is in statutes.”  Banning same-sex marriage would be an unconstitutional limiting of “freedom and liberty,” Thurman said.

He considers photo ID “a political tactic. That just makes me angry.”