Three vie for open Southwest House seat

Competitive race for District 63A — the Southwest district closest to the airport and Crosstown Highway

Two lawyers will square off against a former auto repairman Nov. 5. in the race for Southwest’s open District 63A House seat. District 63A covers Armatage, Kenny and parts of Lynnhurst and Windom.

DFLer Paul Thissen, 35, an attorney living in Lynnhurst, will be favored in the district now represented by DFLer Mark Gleason. However, Thissen’s opponents — Republican Tim Erlander, 61 and the Independence Party’s Ron Lischeid, 54 — are banking that Minneapolis’ politically mixed 13th Ward, coupled with blue-collar Richfield residents, could push them over the top.

Gleason lost his seat earlier this year in an unsuccessful bid for state auditor, then losing his party’s legislative endorsement to Thissen. Gleason declined to run in the September primary.

In the primary, Erlander made a relatively strong showing, garnering 1,107 votes compared to Thissen’s 1,980; neither was opposed in his own party. Lischeid earned 160 votes, though the primary’s required party-line balloting may have held down his totals.

The candidates

Thissen, the son of educators, grew up in Bloomington but attended school in Richfield. He later graduated from Harvard, and earned a law degree at the University of Chicago. Finally, he became a business lawyer.

Thissen said that his legal career has brought him a lot of volunteer work for nonprofit organizations. That facet of his professional life got him interested in

politics.

"In the legal work, you become exposed to a lot of other problems that are associated with folks that are less advantaged," Thissen said. "Just to get a little more leverage is kind of why I wanted to run for this office."

Erlander, once a DFLer, said his political outlook changed in the mid-1970s while he was a lawyer operating a private family-law practice in Minneapolis.

Erlander had been raised DFL — his mother was in advertising; he never knew his father. He served in Vietnam, starting an independent family-law practice in the early 1970s. It was around that time, he said, that news came of New York City’s bankruptcy and its request for a federal bailout. His outlook instantly changed.

"[New York] had been wretchedly mismanaged and basically it was a case of one program after the other that the city couldn’t pay for," Erlander said. "That’s when it became clear that liberal social programs don’t work, period."

By the late 1980s, Erlander was active in GOP politics, assisting in various campaigns for Richfield city offices. He unsuccessfully ran for Richfield City Council in 1996, and for legislative seats in 1998 and 2000.

Like Erlander, Lischeid started out a DFLer, and gradually drifted right. The son of a Marine fighter pilot killed in Korea, Lischeid was raised by his mother and stepfather, who moved the family to upstate New York. He returned in 1966 to attend the University of Minnesota, and stayed after graduation to launch a series of auto repair shops. Lischeid also worked in the restaurant and vehicle rental industries over the years.

The realities of business drew out his nascent conservatism, he said. Nonetheless, he shrugged off his Republican Party affiliation because he couldn’t pass the party’s abortion "litmus test." "They kept telling me I wasn’t a real Republican," he said, "so I decided they must be right."

He joined Ross Perot’s Reform Party in 1992 and stayed as it evolved into today’s Independence Party. Along the way, he ran unsuccessfully in a number of legislative races as an Independence Party candidate. He also ran for the District 63A seat earlier this year as a DFLer — to avoid the stigma of association with Gov. Jesse Ventura, he said. Thissen beat him for the DFL nomination on the first ballot.

"This is my seventh trip to the plate," Lischeid said. "I’m 0 for six right now."

Three-way race

Erlander positions himself as the conservative of the group, contrasting himself with Thissen, who Erlander said "believes in the liberal dream unadulterated."

Thissen doesn’t argue that Erlander is more conservative, but he shrugs off any suggestion that he is the ultimate liberal.

"If the ‘liberal dream’ means that I think we need to make long-term investments in good schools and I think we need to make investments in our transportation system so that we can have some economic viability," Thissen said, "… then I guess I’d be a liberal."

But Thissen said a threatened $3 billion state budget deficit calls for fiscal responsibility. "And honestly, I don’t think that the solution [Erlander] proposes, which is to essentially cut $3 billion in state expenditures because he signed the no-new-tax pledge, is a very responsible approach or realistic approach," he said.

Not surprisingly, Lischeid stakes out the middle ground. "Paul [Thissen] probably represents what people think the DFL represents," Lischeid said, "and Tim [Erlander] represents very well the common notion of what people think Republicans represent.

"I would like to think that I represent that large majority in the middle that consider themselves to be in the sensible center, that are tired of the gridlock, that want things done," he said.

Erlander and Lischeid hope that the southernmost part of Minneapolis has enough of a fiscally conservative streak to swing the election their way. Both Erlander and Lischeid point to Ward 13, which elected non-DFLers Steve Minn and Barret Lane to the city council in recent years, as evidence that they have a fighting chance on Election Day.

Thissen thinks they could be right.

"I don’t think anyone should take any district for granted," Thissen said. "And I think people are more independent and thinking about the issues a lot more."

But Thissen said he is confident he is working hard enough to prevail, and plans to have knocked on every door in the district twice by Nov. 5.

"I really feel good about how the race is going to turn out," Thissen said.

Candidate: Paul Thissen

Party: DFL

Neighborhood: Lynnhurst

Occupation: Lawyer

Endorsements: DFL, Sierra Club, AFL-CIO, AFSCME, Education Minnesota, Minneapolis Teachers Federation, NARAL, Progressive Minnesota, Minneapolis Police Federation, several other unions, Minnesota Medical Association

Education: B.A. in social studies at Harvard; law degree from the University of Chicago

Family: Married, two kids, ages 3 and 1

Phone: 824-6697

Address: 1219 W. 51st St., 55419

E-mail: pthissen@briggs.com

Website: www.thissenformn.com

Paul Thissen on…

Transportation

"With Highway 62, we do need an additional lane there to make it safer if nothing else…. But also I think that transit is a critical part of it. … We should make [35W] more transit-friendly. I don’t think right now we ought to be widening 35W on the south end."

Education

"We do need to invest and support education at the state level better, because if we don’t support it there, what that means is that we’re going to push the costs of education onto property taxes, and I just don’t think that’s the way we want to go."

Airport Noise

"I think we need to push a lot harder for noise mitigation in several ways: insulation, mitigation, but also pushing for higher takeoff and landing patterns, and other kinds of technological developments."

Tax Policy

"One solution to the property tax problem is doing better at funding through the state level, through the general fund, through sales and income taxes which I think are fair, more equitable taxes. … I don’t think that people quite realize the impact that this is going to have on homeowners if [the state] kind of holds the line on taxes and tries to solve the budget deficit just with cuts."

Bonding

"One thing that’s important is that [proposed Minneapolis-to-St. Cloud] North Star line. And I think that we do need to move ahead with that, and that’s a project we would bond for. … We’ve never really bonded for roads, and I just think that’s how we ought to continue."

Candidate: Ron Lischeid

Party: Independence Party

Neighborhood: Windom

Occupation: small business owner and manager in auto repair, restaurant and car rental industries

Endorsements: Independence Party

Education: B.S., University of Minnesota, in vocational-technical education; one-year certificate from St. Cloud Technical College in advanced automotive systems; now enrolled in North Hennepin Community College in GIS technical engineering program

Family: Single

Phone: 869-6362

Address: 307 W. 59-1/2 St., 55419-2313

E-mail: lischeid@msn.com

Website: www.paparon.com

Ron Lischeid on…

Transportation

"In spite of the fact that I’ve spent 35 years in the auto repair industry and the vehicle industry, I’m not at all married to vehicles. … I actually support the future expansion of light rail from Downtown Minneapolis to Downtown St. Paul, the I-94-University Corridor."

Education

"If we’re trying to get the recovery started, we’re going to have to make sure that we fully fund vocational and technical education, because those are the areas that many of the high-paying, high-tech jobs that could potentially leave the state are going to be training people to work in."

Airport Noise

"I will push for the resumption of the dual-track land banking [for a new airport]. The [Metropolitan Airport Commission] is saying that by the year 2020 or 2030, we’re still going to have outgrown the current airport and have to relocate. And if we wait 30 years to relocate we may run into exactly the same kinds of problems that we have in the metro area."

Tax Policy

"We’re going to probably have to raise some taxes as well as cut some expenses. I haven’t painted myself into a corner and said there are no new taxes. I would look at an increase in the gas tax probably up to about a nickel a gallon. … I certainly would look at liquor taxes as an additional source."

Bonding

"My general philosophy about bonding is that we should bond for things that will still be useful and benefit people that will be paying for them during the bonding period. … I guess if I had to pick a project in the future … I’d pick the planetarium at the library and I would support possibly bonding for the North Star corridor."

Candidate: Tim Erlander

Party: Republican

Neighborhood: Richfield

Occupation: semi-retired attorney

Endorsements: Republican Party; Minnesota Chamber of Commerce Leadership Fund; Minnesota Taxpayer’s League Victory Fund

Education: B.A. from the University of Minnesota; law degree from the U of M

Family: Married, one grown son

Phone: 869-5866

Address: 7500 Thomas, Richfield, MN 55423

No e-mail

No Website

Tim Erlander on…

Transportation

"My emphasis is going to be on high-speed buses. I just don’t know what else to do. I don’t think [light-rail transit] is going to work. … [P]ublic transportation in this town has got to be subsidized. And I think I prefer to subsidize buses, only because it’s several times cheaper than LRT."

Education

"I’m supporting the Richfield [school board] referendum. … I don’t want to deprive our schools of their funds. Also, I know the cupboard’s bare at the state level, so we’ve got to look after our own schools or no one does. I think the Profile of Learning is a failure."

Airport Noise

"I certainly door-knock in South Minneapolis and I know what they mean by airport noise. Richfield has had a history of fighting the airport, as you must know. We’ve been beat bad, to be blunt about it. … I think Richfield and Minneapolis, and also Bloomington, should have a little more say about the [Metropolitan Airports Commission] and what they do."

Tax Policy

"If you raise taxes you may cut off economic activity, if you lower taxes you may stimulate it. … Progressivity, it seems to me, is very limited. It sounds good, it’s great for DFL politicians, but I don’t think it really helps people all that much. I know you need higher tax level for upper income brackets, but you can’t overdo it."

Bonding

"A tax increase is a negative. Bonding, however, for the short term … that’s one of the ways to stimulate the economy. You [could] get some transportation programs going. … This is the kind of thing you want to do right about now because we need to give our economy a good shot in the arm, but once that’s done, that’s it."