A Republican in DFL-dominated territory

Can Alan Fine win the Fifth Congressional District?

Alan Fine doesn’t buy into the widely accepted notion that the Fifth Congressional District is DFL territory.

Although Democrats have won the seat in the last 22 elections, the Republican candidate for U.S. Rep. Martin Sabo’s seat is convinced that times have changed. The district that encompasses Minneapolis and the inner-ring suburbs has become much more diverse in the past few years, he argues, making it impossible to say that the DFL still has the area locked up.

“This district is a bastion of diversity,” Fine said.

The 44-year-old business consultant postulates that the media has hyped the area as being heavily DFL when constituents might have other ideas in mind. And he is convinced that, come this November, voters will elect him into office.

But in a district wherein Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry received 71 percent of the votes in 2004 and DFLer Sabo held the Congressional seat for 28 years, Fine will have his work cut out for him. The Linden Hills resident said many of the issues he is campaigning on – creating more jobs, working for affordable health care, reducing crime and increasing environmental sustainability – are issues that Fifth Congressional District voters care about.

And as a native of Southwest Minneapolis, Fine is hoping to capitalize on connecting with constituents in Minneapolis. He said as someone who grew up in Southwest as the youngest of five brothers and attended the University of Minnesota for his undergraduate and graduate degrees, he understands the issues many residents list as top priorities for the City of Lakes.

Fine is a divorced single father primarily raising his 11-year-old son, Louis, who attends Lake Harriet Upper Elementary School. He has taught for more than a decade at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, where he helped develop its undergraduate entrepreneurship program.

“This is my home. It has always been my home and will always be my home,” he said.

Carleton Crawford, chair of the Fifth Congressional District Republicans, said Fine is one of the strongest GOP candidates to run in the district in years – a sentiment that is emblazoned on the party’s Fifth Congressional District website. The fact that Fine has a strong understanding of the district and has had leadership experience will help him attract moderates and gives him a chance at winning the race, Crawford said.

“This is the first time in 40 years that we’ve had a genuine chance to make our case to the voters,” Crawford said.

Fine decided to run in the Fifth Congressional District only after Sabo announced his retirement in March. He said people wouldn’t take anyone – much less a Republican – seriously if they decided to go up against an incumbent like Sabo. But now, he said, the race is open for the taking.

“The Republican Party is strongly behind me at a local, state and national level,” Fine said, adding that by the election he estimates he’ll have 1,000 volunteers working for him. “We are building a major machine for this race.”

While he touts his backing by the Republican Party, Fine is quick to point out that he likes to think of his party represented more by Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt than George W. Bush – although the home page of his website does tout a picture of him standing next to a smiling First Lady Laura Bush. He said he agrees with Bush on some issues – such as tax cuts – and disagrees with the president on other issues – such as the standardized testing outlined in the No Child Left Behind Act, which Fine said simply doesn’t work.

A self-described moderate Republican, Fine isn’t the only politician in his family. Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board Commissioner and longtime Democrat Bob Fine is his brother. Bob Fine declined to comment on his brother’s campaign other than to say he learned about it at the same time as everyone else.

But while Bob Fine is staying out of his brother’s campaign, several of Alan Fine’s former students from the University of Minnesota have jumped right into the political foray. Jenny Sliwinski, who graduated this spring, is serving as his campaign manager. Grant Hagstrom, a political science major who will be a senior this fall, is serving as his senior aide. Neither has been involved in a political campaign before, but Fine encouraged each of them to give it a try.

“Alan is a good, moderate candidate,” said Hagstrom, who said he has voted for both Republicans and Democrats in the past. “What works and what is practical is what drew me to the campaign.”

Fine is vocal about his positions on a variety of issues. He said he agreed with the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq and thinks troops need to remain there until the country is stabilized.

“We can’t just pull everybody out and walk away tomorrow because that would be irresponsible,” Fine said.

He thinks the U.S. needs to work on a multifaceted solution to illegal immigration that includes tightening the country’s borders. He said the United States should try to integrate illegal immigrants who have been here for years and deport those who are trafficking drugs and committing other crimes. He supports creating guest-worker programs.

One of the local issues that Fine is most passionate about is finding a way to decrease violent crime in Minneapolis, especially crimes committed by young adults. He said young people engage in crime largely because they don’t see any hope for success in their future and said poverty, a lack of education and crime are linked.

“These kids who are committing these crimes are coming from the standpoint that they don’t see where the American Dream is available to them. And the question is how do we make the American Dream available to these kids?” Fine said.

Kari VanDerVeen can be reached at [email protected] and 436-4373.