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Finding family time amid politics

(Part 2 of a two-part series) ST PAUL - When Kevin Goodno's 6-year-old daughter started first grade this year, he was around as she talked about her experiences. Goodno, who frequently was away from home for a dozen years as state legislator serv...

Minorities in the Legislature
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(Part 2 of a two-part series)

ST PAUL - When Kevin Goodno's 6-year-old daughter started first grade this year, he was around as she talked about her experiences.

Goodno, who frequently was away from home for a dozen years as state legislator serving the Moorhead area, said he hated missing his family's big moments when he was in St. Paul.

Being a lawmaker meant spending weekdays, and some weekends, four hours from home during the legislative session. He also had to campaign every two years to keep the job and attended meetings throughout the year.

It's a sacrifice legislators from outside the Twin Cities, along with their families and businesses, know well.

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Recruiters for the two major parties say children and jobs often make it hard to find qualified candidates in rural Minnesota to run for the Legislature.

"I would not have run when my kids were (young) like that, and I live 10 minutes from the Capitol," said Mindy Greiling of Roseville, chief Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party recruiter.

Her Republican counterpart, Rep. Jeff Johnson of Plymouth, doesn't argue with rural prospects who are reluctant to run for office.

"If they live in the Twin Cities, I will talk to them a lot more because I have been able to make it work quite well," said Johnson, who grew up in Detroit Lakes. "If they don't live in the Twin Cities and I know they would have to disappear for a week at a time, I usually don't."

The reluctance of younger rural Minnesotans to become legislators means areas outside the Twin Cities often are represented by older men - and few women. The recruiters said women remain less likely than men to leave children to serve in the Legislature.

About 16 percent of Minnesota representatives from outside the Twin Cities - roughly a seven-county area centered on Minneapolis and St. Paul - are women, while 21 percent of those representing the Twin Cities are women.

Outside of the Twin Cities, 24 percent of senators are women. Women hold 42 percent of the Senate's metropolitan district seats.

While Greiling and Johnson said more women from both parties are running for House seats this year, neither predicts women will comprise half of the lawmakers any time soon.

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Forty DFL women candidates are challenging in 81 Republican-held House districts. Eighteen Republican women are running in 53 DFL-controlled districts.

All 134 House seats are up for election Nov. 2. There are 67 senators, none up for re-election.

Finding the average

About 60 percent of Minnesota's 5 million residents live in the Twin Cities.

The average age of rural House members is about 50, while urban members come in at about 45.

In the Senate, the average age of a rural lawmaker is 59, with Twin Cities' senators two years younger on average.

While only five legislators say they are retired, many no longer are active in the occupation they list on questionnaires. Thirty-five lawmakers list "business" as their job, followed by 32 lawyers. Twenty-four are teachers or otherwise in education. Fourteen are farmers.

While there may not be many young candidates, even those who have been elected are choosing to leave office.

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House GOP Whip Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, needed just seconds to jot down the names of five Republicans in their 30s and early 40s who decided not to run again this year. He could come up with only five rural representatives with children at home who are running again.

One of the most serious problems lawmakers and candidates discuss is young people leaving rural Minnesota.

But Patrick Donnay, a Bemidji State University political science professor, said the Legislature does not necessarily need young members to work on that problem. Candidates of every age understand the situation, he said, so even older candidates should be able to deal with it.

There are six minority members among the state's 201 lawmakers - two Hmongs, two blacks, a Hispanic and one of India heritage.

Minorities aren't represented in the Legislature in the same percentage that they are in the population as a whole because they have the majority of votes in only a few districts, Greiling said.

As long as their numbers remain low, and scattered among legislative districts, their chances of being elected remain slim, she said.

'Sense of duty'

Greiling said it was easier to recruit candidates this year because many Democrats are upset over cuts made by Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty and the Republican House. Most DFL candidates were affected by legislative action, such as state budget cuts, she said.

"They felt like the state is on the wrong track and they felt like they had to offer themselves up," she said. "The rural candidates had more of a sense of duty than metro candidates."

Rural and inner-city areas have sustained the most state aid cuts and Greiling said that inspired many candidates to come forward to challenge Republican incumbents.

Some factors may scare away potential candidates. A study by Donnay shows, for instance, that the average rural senator travels 12,400 miles for legislative work annually, compared with just more than 600 miles for Twin Cities' lawmakers.

Some senators travel more than 25,000 miles a year because they are so far from St. Paul and they serve large districts. Rural lawmakers are expected to be more places than urban lawmakers.

"We still like our legislators to attend our picnics and church functions," Donnay said, adding that there are fewer such functions in the more compact Twin Cities districts.

When Goodno chose not to run for re-election, he said the decision was based on spending more time with his family.

Shortly afterward, new Gov. Tim Pawlenty tapped Goodno to lead the Human Services Department.

The appointment allowed Goodno to remain active in state government, and prompted the former Moorhead lawmaker to move his family the Twin Cities.

"With me, there were two issues" in deciding to not run again for the Legislature, Goodno said.

"I could not run home on an afternoon and go to my daughters' school conference or school program (and) it was pretty hard for me to have a consistent interaction with my law practice."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Don Davis at (651) 290-0707

Minorities in the Legislature

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