Rematch in District 56B could be another potboiler

Will Morgan
Will Morgan
Roz Peterson
Roz Peterson

Morgan, Peterson will face off in District 56B

A rematch is brewing in House District 56B between two candidates who battled to a stunningly close finish in 2012.

The winner, Rep. Will Morgan, DFL-Burnsville, will again face Roz Peterson, a Lakeville Republican and Lakeville Area School Board member. Peterson is expected to gain her party’s endorsement at its Senate District 56 convention on March 1.

Morgan is prepared for another potboiler in November.

“It’s as close as you can get to a 50-50 district,” said Morgan, 47, who teaches physics and chemistry at Burnsville High School.

Morgan, who already had two terms in the Minnesota House under his belt, defeated Peterson by a scant 170 votes in 2012. The margin was 50.3 percent to 49.5 percent.

Redistricting that followed the 2010 census carved out the new district, which has 11 precincts in Burnsville and three in northern Lakeville.

Peterson, 48, likes her chances better this time. She said she made a hurried decision to run in 2012 after her neighbor, incumbent Republican Rep. Mary Liz Holberg, decided to move to another Lakeville address to run in the newly drawn District 58A.

“I’m excited to be part of the process, with a little bit more understanding of all the different things it takes to run a campaign,” said Peterson, a School Board member since 2007.

Peterson fought off an endorsement challenge from Burnsville resident Terry McCall to win her party’s nod in 2012.

Morgan served from 2007 to 2010 in the old District 40A, where he was unseated in 2010 by Republican Rep. Pam Myhra, who is now seeking re-election in District 56A.

Morgan and Peterson are both high-profile education advocates. In addition to being a teacher and former union contract negotiator, Morgan serves on the House education finance and policy committees. Peterson is the current School Board chair in the Lakeville district, which includes part of southern Burnsville.

Their opinions differ on the 2013 legislative session, in which the DFL held both the House and Senate and the governor’s  office.

“We balanced the budget honestly,” Morgan said. “We didn’t use any gimmicks. We paid back the school shift entirely. Basically what we did is, we delivered on our promises.”

Accomplishments included funding all-day kindergarten and early-childhood education scholarships, freezing tuition at public colleges and universities, $400 million in property-tax relief and a $356 million cut in unemployment insurance taxes paid by business, he said.

“We made some really wise choices, and look at what’s going on with the economy. The unemployment rate is down. Job creation is up. And our economy is improving,” Morgan said.

Peterson said she’s eager to challenge the DFL narrative.

“I think it should be very, very interesting now that we have some experience to see what the DFL passed, which included raising our taxes $2.4 billion, and not just on the rich,” she said. “It included cigarettes, as well as the business-to-business taxes.”

Morgan agrees that new business-to-business taxes emerging from the 2013 session, including a tax on warehouse services, “were probably bad policy.” The idea came from Senate DFLers, not the House, he said. Given the state’s current budget surplus, the taxes should be repealed, he said.

Peterson said new taxes on high-end incomes passed in 2013 affect many businesses as well as high earners.

“I think that hardworking Minnesotans are looking for more efficient and more effective use of their government and taxpayer dollars,” said Peterson, a commercial real estate veteran and an agent for Cerron Commercial Properties LLC. “I think that we all want a quality education and quality jobs. It’s not just a job, it’s a high-paying job that people are looking for. I think that if I’m allowed the opportunity to use my experience in problem-solving and collaboration, then we’ll see more efficient and effective government for hardworking Minnesotans. We need some lower taxes.”

She called for more “local control” of schools “and a little bit more flexibility so that we can innovate.” New technology and changing student demographics require new approaches, Peterson said, charging that Morgan is “more for union control” of schools.

Morgan noted that Peterson, as a board member, supported the 10-year, $5.6 million Lakeville school referendum that passed easily in November.

“Both Roz and I supported tax increases for education last year,” he said. “Mine was at the Legislature, hers was the property taxes in the Lakeville schools. Obviously, there’s not a lot of difference there. We both supported more resources from the taxpayers to improve our schools.”