Kahn might face another U challenger

Coralie Carlson

State Rep. Phyllis Kahn usually crushes her opponents on election night, but a second-year University law student is determined to break the incumbent’s string.
Robert Fowler, an Iowa native, announced his intention to run for the Minnesota House of Representatives’ District 59B legislative seat. This district includes most of the Minneapolis campus.
He must win the caucus in March to receive the party’s endorsement for the state Legislature. Currently, Fowler is the only candidate vying for the Republican nomination. If he wins the nomination, he will be the latest University student to face Kahn in a general election.
In recent elections Kahn has dominated her opponents. In 1996, Kahn pulled in 64 percent of the vote — almost twice the votes of her closest opponent, University student Tom Gromacki. In the 1994 race, also against a University student, she received 68 percent of the vote.
Fowler described Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, as “a challenging opponent” for his first campaign.
“But I think this campaign is winnable,” Fowler said. “No one is infallible.”
Kahn has held the seat for 25 years, a span of time which Fowler said has lowered Kahn’s responsiveness toward individual voters. Fowler promised to limit himself to two terms if elected.
“The fact that I’ve been elected 13 times means that I have been responsive and acceptable to voters,” Kahn said. “Do I jump when someone tells me to jump? No. I think that’s what makes me such an effective legislator.”
Fowler’s platform focuses on making the University more affordable by lowering taxes and providing tax exemptions for students. More than half of all University students work in addition to attending class, he said, and each probably pays about $400 in taxes annually.
“I believe Minnesotans are overtaxed. That’s evident in the surpluses we’ve had over recent years,” Fowler said. In contrast to his opponent, Fowler does not want to “pump money” into the University. Instead he favors target spending and lowering the school’s operating cost.
Fowler said he hopes to involve party resources as well as the student body in his campaign. He recently joined the College Republicans and will be speaking to them on Feb. 4.
As a student candidate, Fowler faces unique challenges, said Gromacki.
Gromacki said most candidates are relatively new to the area, so it is difficult for them to achieve name recognition and gather support, especially from the business community.
Fowler is originally from Sioux City, Iowa, and earned his undergraduate degree in political science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
This is the first time Fowler is running for office, but he does have experience on the campaign trail. A former Congressional intern, he also lent his hand to a Republican candidate competing for a seat in the Virginia statehouse.
These endeavors have given the 24-year-old an insight that might combat the inexperience often associated with his young age. Gromacki suggests age may not matter because many voters are students to whom Fowler can relate.
“The people I talked to really cared about ideas more than age,” Gromacki said.