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Schoen: Legislative control is 'heavy burden' for DFL

Republicans pulled out a surprising win in south Washington County in 2010 en route to claiming control of the Minnesota Legislature, but the political pendulum swung the other way locally and statewide just two years later.

Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party candidate Dan Schoen put a local House seat back in DFL hands in last week's election, one of many Democratic pick-ups that helped the party regain legislative control.

Schoen handily won the Minnesota House District 54A race, beating his chief opponent, Republican Derrick Lehrke, 54 percent to 37 percent. Schoen earned his first election win with 11,069 votes to Lehrke's 7,664. Independence Party candidate Ron Lischeid captured 1,428 votes, or 7 percent.

Schoen said Democrats have a big challenge ahead of them

"I made it very clear when I talked to folks that this is a very, very heavy responsibility," he said. "It's a heavy burden to have that much control and you need to have the right restraint and you also need to make sure we're serving all the needs of Minnesotans in the right way."

Schoen is a St. Paul Park resident and Cottage Grove police officer. Lehrke is a Cottage Grove City Council member. Both were making their first run for the Legislature in a seat left open after the retirement of first-term GOP Rep. John Kriesel of Cottage Grove, who narrowly took the traditionally Democratic seat in 2010.

Kriesel was the first Republican in many years to represent south Washington County. He opted against running for a second two-year term and endorsed Lehrke.

Schoen acknowledged that the seat favors Democrats, but said he campaigned like he was trailing.

"We were organized and we worked hard," he said.

Lehrke tracked election returns at Park Place bar in St. Paul Park. He said he thought he would do better in precincts in his hometown of Cottage Grove. Losing in other precincts meant he would have to do far better than Schoen in Cottage Grove. Schoen won 14 of 15 precincts, losing only Cottage Grove Precinct 1 to Lehrke.

Unlike two years ago when Kriesel earned enough DFL votes to win, Lehrke said voters cast their ballots along the party lines.

"I was out there working hard, knocking on doors, doing what I can as a candidate," Lehrke said.

Lehrke said his candidacy was a greater challenge because Schoen had the campaign support of Cottage Grove City Council members Justin Olsen and Jen Peterson, with whom Lehrke has differed over city issues.

Schoen said his wide victory margin had more to do with voters' frustration over gridlock in St. Paul.

"I think it has to do with style," he said. "The style is, are you going to cooperate and work with people, and the last two years Minnesotans have (not) seen that out of the majority."

House District 54A includes part of Cottage Grove, St. Paul Park, Newport, Grey Cloud Island Township and part of South St. Paul.

The House term is two years.

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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