The political center isn’t a place Republican John Kline has had to worry much about in his five terms as U.S. representative in Minnesota’s 2nd District.
That may prove true again once the ballots are counted on Nov. 6, but redistricting has given the 2nd a more purplish hue. Gone are Carver, Le Sueur and western Rice counties. Hello, South St. Paul and West St. Paul — older, first-ring suburbs that like to send Democrats to office and are used to having one, Betty McCollum, in Congress.
Mike Obermueller, an Eagan attorney who served one term in the Minnesota House of Representatives, is the fifth Democrat to try to unseat Kline, a Lakeville resident and retired Marine colonel.
Obermueller deserves to be elected. He’s young, bright and determined to win the expanded center in the new 2nd. His views and political instincts are a rebuke of the obstructionism that has discredited the Republican House majority.
Raised on a dairy farm near Marshfield, Wis., Obermueller worked his way through college and law school before settling with his family in Eagan, where he is active in the Dakota County Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Knights of Columbus, the Eagan Art Festival and the Eagan Athletic Association.
He proudly proclaims that he was the first Democrat to win former Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s old Minnesota House seat since Eagan was still cornfields.
A notable achievement, but it was in 2008, an especially hospitable year for Democrats. Likewise, Obermueller was unseated two years later in a nationwide sweep by Republicans.
As a legislator, he voted against several DFL Party tax-raising initiatives and voted for a vetoed 2009 budget fix that would have imposed a $1 billion tax hike on the state’s highest income earners. It included a “blink-off” provision for better fiscal times, he says.
At the federal level, he supports keeping the middle-class breaks in the Bush tax cuts and says the economy can withstand an increase on upper-bracket earners.
Obermueller’s critique of the historic Affordable Care Act — Obamacare, which he supports and Kline wants to repeal — is spot-on.
“I don’t think we did enough on the cost-control side of things,” he told ECM Publishers news staffers in Dakota County. “There wasn’t a real true discussion about how you change the payment model so that we keep the person healthy rather than just paying for service going down the line.”
A central plank in Obermueller’s campaign is rooting out government waste, fraud and abuse. Citing a recent Government Accountability Office study, he says tens of billions of dollars can be saved through measures such as procurement reform and modernization of medical record-keeping.
Waste, he says, undermines government credibility in taxpayers’ eyes.
“When they feel that way, they don’t want to pay any taxes for things they do care about,” he says.
Obermueller opposes the “premium support” plan for Medicare backed by Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.
Kline is rigidly conservative, with consistently high ratings from the American Conservative Union. Unlike many of the Tea Party members of his Republican caucus, he voted in 2011 to raise the federal debt ceiling. But he supports “Cut, Cap and Balance” — excessively harsh budget medicine that includes calling for a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution.
He chairs the House Education and the Workforce Committee and wants to slash federal involvement in local schools. Yet he opposed the No Child Left Behind waiver in Minnesota while the state’s educators cheered.
Kline is a favorite of the for-profit college industry, which showers him with campaign donations, but the industry has been called out in Congress for unsavory student-loan practices.
Kline also has a growing reputation in his district for not making himself available during election season. His office rebuffed efforts by the Dakota County Regional Chamber of Commerce to recruit him for a candidate forum with Obermueller.
And this is the second straight election cycle in which Kline’s press office refused requests from Sun Thisweek Newspapers to make the candidate available for an hour-long endorsement interview.
The new 2nd District deserves a representative who’s less ideological and more respectful of its voters. Mike Obermueller is that candidate.
This editorial is a product of the ECM Editorial Board. Sun Thisweek Newspapers and the Dakota County Tribune are part of ECM Publishers Inc.