Part of a periodic political series leading up to the 2012 election.
MARSHALL - Al Kruse wasn't planning on running for office again this year, but now that he is, he's looking forward to ending his personal losing streak and getting a chance to make a difference in St. Paul in 2013.
"I'm in the race because I want to be a part of change," the DFLer said this week. "I know one person can't do it, but we have to start somewhere."
Kruse, of Marshall, is facing incumbent Chris Swedzinski of Ghent, who just completed his first term at the Capitol.
This will be Kruse's third go-round at gaining office. In 2008, he lost the House District 21A race to Marty Seifert by almost 35 percentage points. In 2010, Kruse ran against Gary Dahms for the Senate District 21 seat and lost by nearly 25 percentage points.
Despite his lack of success, however, Kruse is optimistic this time around.
Part of that optimism is the result of redistricting. Kruse said District 16A (the old district 21) picked up some Democrat-leaning counties in Yellow Medicine and Lac qui Parle, while shedding more Republican-heavy areas in Redwood and Lyon counties. The reshuffling, he said, could work to his advantage.
"There are reasons for optimism in this race," he said. "But I don't take anything for granted by any means. We're optimistic in the fact that we have two (new) counties that have leaned Democrat in the last 10 years. We lost some of Redwood County which has voted Republican forever, and lost the southern part of Lyon County, which was more of a mix vote. I think it gives us reason to believe it's possible to win, at least in 16A."
Kruse looks forward to the prospects of the DFL winning back control of the House and Senate. But whether or not he becomes a player in St. Paul, he said the mentality at the Capitol needs to change.
"We need to get past this polarization, the attitude that it's either 'my way or the highway,'" he said. "What do we really value? If we value our children, we need an education system that helps educate them, and we need to fund that. School funding is down in real dollars - 13 to 15 percent in 10 years. If we truly value education, we need to put our money where our mouth is. That hasn't been happening in the last 10 years."
Kruse said it's time for tax-cutting rhetoric to stop. He said the while the voting public might like to hear that taxes will be cut, they often don't hear about the side effects that can come with lowering taxes.
"If we keep cutting taxes, eventually we don't have enough money to do anything," he said. "Cutting taxes is not the answer. We've cut taxes since 1997 and that's fact, and we're going backwards."
The 2011 Legislature repealed the old homestead credit law and replaced it with a new Homestead Exclusion law that begins with property taxes payable in 2012.
The change meant the state is no longer reducing total taxes and paying the credit to local governments. Now, the entire local property tax is paid by the taxpayer.
The end result is local governments having to increase tax rates to cover the loss of money that once came from the state.
"Property taxes go up in the end, and counties are mandated to provide services, so they have no choice - their only taxation is the property tax," Kruse said. "Our legislators are saying they had a choice. Well, no they didn't. They have to provide services, so the money has to come from somewhere."
Kruse also wants to see more attention paid to infrastructure.
He said Minnesota is "living on the construction of the 1950s and '60s," and the state needs to find the money for major improvements, not just Band-Aids for roads and bridges.
"I don't think anybody will tell you our roads have improved the last 10 years - maybe in portions, but the roads are falling apart," he said. "Transportation is a big part of being business-friendly; you need to move goods and get people to work. We need to invest in our roads. When are we going to figure out that the gas tax doesn't pay for 100 percent of our roads?"