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House District 54A: Lehrke seeks jump from Cottage Grove City Council to Minnesota House

Derrick Lehrke works the St. Paul Park Heritage Days parade route in August. Lehrke is a Cottage Grove City Council member running as a Republican in House District 54A. Bulletin photo by Scott Wente

Derrick Lehrke saw what he thought was a problem so he ran for Cottage Grove City Council.

Campaigning against a city hall and public safety building project, Lehrke won a seat on the council two years ago.

That project went forward despite his objections, and while Lehrke said he still likes his work on the council he has set his sights on tackling other issues: a state government where he said there is unchecked spending growth, business-stifling taxes and permitting and too much government in general.

"It's serving people, representing people," Lehrke said of his decision to run for House in District 54A. "I do enjoy looking at problems. I enjoy working through problems ... I enjoy playing devil's advocate."

As he has door-knocked, Lehrke, a Republican, said a common theme he hears is voter frustration.

"Most people are tired of politics," he said, adding that is why many candidates -- Lehrke included -- are pledging to work together and reach across the party aisle on issues.

Lehrke said he believes compromise only happens when all of those involved go away unhappy because they had to move from a preferred position. If elected, Lehrke said he is "possibly" willing to give up strong positions he holds in order to compromise.

A change in state budgeting could help to better prioritize spending and make the process more efficient, Lehrke said. The Legislature should cast more votes on individual bills, rather than compiling larger bills that fund many programs within different areas of state government.

"We need to do things on a one-issue basis," he said. "Then you know where people stand."

Lehrke said he is not campaigning with a message that he will refuse all tax increases, but he wants to focus on reducing state spending.

"I don't want to put myself in a box," he said of leaving the door open to tax increases.

Lehrke said he would only consider raising taxes if it was clear specifically what the increased revenue would pay for.

On other tax issues, Lehrke said he generally supports expanding the state sales tax to include online purchases, but said he would prefer that be accompanied by an across-the-board reduction in the sales tax rate. Also, he said, people already are obligated to pay sales tax for online purchases; it should be done when they file their taxes, he said.

Lehrke opposes proposals to raise income taxes on the state's wealthiest workers, calling it "one of the last options in my arsenal."

"I don't foresee voting for it," he said.

Lehrke said he would consider voting to close tax "loopholes" used by corporations, but he also favors lowering the state corporate income tax rate.

A small business owner -- he and his wife own and manage residential properties -- Lehrke said he believes the state's business regulations and permitting process may be causing companies to look elsewhere. While he did not offer a specific regulation or permit to repeal or modify, he said he would like to see the permit process expedited. A business owner may not want to wait a year or two for a state permit to be processed, he said.

"I would rather that be a quicker process, and hopefully it's a 'yes,'" he said.

Lehrke long has been a local Republican Party activist, but he said he is not in lock-step with the party on all issues.

"I'm not the crazy party-line guy," he said, offering his opposition to the marriage amendment as an example of where he disagrees with most GOP lawmakers.

Lehrke describes himself as having strong libertarian tendencies. He supported presidential candidate Ron Paul, said government too often unnecessarily interferes with people's lives and called himself fiscally conservative but open-minded.

Lehrke said he applies his libertarian principles to the marriage amendment. He said he does not believe the Legislature should have proposed a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, which he said is a religious institution.

"Government shouldn't have a hand in that," he said.

However, Lehrke was mum on whether he will vote for or against the amendment on Nov. 6.

"That I've decided not to say publicly," he said, calling it a personal and religious decision for people.

Lehrke said he would have supported a constitutional amendment to require voters show photo identification at the polls, but preferred it only be a state law. Still, he said he will vote for the amendment in the general election because of concerns he has with maintaining voter integrity.

This is Lehrke's third run for office. He was unsuccessful in a 2008 bid for Cottage Grove City Council, but he ran again two years later and won. Lehrke said the council often votes unanimously, but he also has been the lone dissenting vote on major and sometimes controversial decisions in recent years, from the City Hall construction to a recreational splash pad project to a recent resolution opposing the state voter ID amendment.

Still, he said, he has worked with the other council members on some issues, including changing how the city pays for street improvements.

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

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