When Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, began her reign in the state House of Representatives 32 years ago she was one of six women; now there are 31.
This year she faces her first female opponent in 17 elections.
At the District 59 Republican Party convention Saturday, University students Amanda Hutchings and Mike Lovas vied for the party’s endorsement.
Lovas told delegates he has “the experience, professionalism and know-how to beat Rep. Kahn.”
But the delegation voted 14-4 to back Hutchings. A second vote of 16-2 put Hutchings over the 15-vote threshold for the endorsement.
One delegate called Lovas’ issue-skirting speaking manner “offensive.”
“Mike sounds like part of the political machine,” said Gene Emahiser, a Ward 3, Precinct 1 resident.
Lovas has worked for state Sen. Dave Kleis, R-St. Cloud, and two Wisconsin legislators. He announced his candidacy six weeks ago.
Emahiser said he has known Hutchings’ name for more than a year from her participation in neighborhood meetings. She received a pre-endorsement from the district party last fall.
Active in student government, Hutchings also came in with endorsements from the College Republicans and Students for Family Values.
Lovas said he will support the delegation’s choice and turn his attention to challenging City Council member Paul Zerby, 2nd Ward who represents areas surrounding the Minneapolis campus, in 2005 for his position.
Hutchings said her campaign manager Tony Zammit’s ties within the party have helped them garner $6,500 since November.
Zammit said he hopes to collect another $5,000 toward the campaign from University students alone.
Kahn said she has approximately $5,000 in her campaign account, but will get as much as she needs from political action committees.
Kahn has defeated a University student candidate in every election since 1994, the closest earning 37 percent of the vote.
Steve Sumner, District 59 Republican Party chairman, said 24 percent of the district voted for President George W. Bush in 2000.
But Zammit said now that the state is turning from Democrat to Republican, residents of District 59B have incentive to vote against Kahn.
He said voters have a better chance to be heard when their representatives are from the majority party.
Emahiser said he liked Hutchings’ uncompromising commitment to her principles.
“You only need a few minutes with Amanda to know what she’s about,” he said.
Though Emahiser said her strong stances on family values helped her win the nomination, Hutchings said she will turn her focus to issues that appeal to more voters.
Kahn said she was happy to hear Hutchings opposes abortion, gay marriage and stem cell research.
“Those positions are nonstarters in this district,” Kahn said.
No current Minnesota House member has held office longer than the 67-year-old Kahn.
Still, she rejects her opponents’ standard claim that she has lost touch with her constituency. Kahn said she has two student interns and has supported bills that would bring state money to the University.
In running against Kahn, Hutchings is postponing her acceptance into Georgetown University’s and Harvard University’s law schools.
Kahn, who has degrees from Cornell University, Yale University and Harvard University, said she would rather play academic adviser to Hutchings than political opponent.
“When I met Amanda,” Kahn said, “I encouraged her to go to Harvard law school.”