Student seeks to unseat Republican incumbent

by Chris Vetter

Southern Minnesota is Republican country and has elected Republican state senators for years. One University student hopes to change that tradition, however.
Paul Kluge, a University Institute of Technology senior, is running for the state Senate seat in his hometown of New Ulm. He’s trying to win the Senate District 23 seat for the Minnesota Democratic Farmer Labor Party for the first time since the Legislature became partisan in 1972.
To win the seat, Kluge must defeat incumbent Republican Dennis Frederickson, who has held the District 23 seat since 1980. “Frederickson has been in office 75 percent of my life,” said 21-year-old Kluge.
Frederickson has been very popular in his district, winning his last bid for reelection in 1992 by defeating Democrat John Webster by a 58 percent to 39 percent margin. Frederickson said he typically receives more than 55 percent of the vote.
Kluge said Frederickson has the name recognition in the large New Ulm district, which includes six different counties and stretches more than 100 miles wide.
But despite his renown, Kluge said, Frederickson has done very little in office. “He is not terribly active,” Kluge said.
Frederickson said this isn’t true. He said he has held 30 “coffee and issues” breakfasts over the last two years, which allow citizens an opportunity to meet with him and discuss legislative issues.
Kluge, an active member of the U-DFL on campus and the organization’s chairman in 1995, describes himself as unabashedly liberal because he favors gun control, gay rights and is an abortion-rights advocate.
When dealing with economic matters, he said that he hopes to help reform property taxes and allow for more education funding if elected.
Kluge opposes the Republican ideal of simply reducing the government to save taxpayers’ money.
“Our problems can’t be solved by cutting government,” Kluge said. “We need a more effective government. We need a public dialogue on how to fix government.”
Kluge said he is running for office because it is up to average citizens like himself to maintain democracy.
“We need a citizens’ legislature,” Kluge said. “Government is a tool that we can all use together.”
Kluge won the Democratic Party endorsement at the district convention in May, and was unopposed from within the party. Gaining the endorsement allows him to receive financial and organization support from the DFL.
Kluge said he will not run a negative campaign against Frederickson because he signed the campaign advertising code, a voluntary system to encourage ethical conduct in campaigning.
Frederickson has not signed the campaign advertising code, but said he does not campaign negatively.
“I have made a practice of stressing my own accomplishments and gains for the district,” Frederickson said. “I never make negative attacks on my opponent.”
Kluge said his ads will appear on the cable access station in New Ulm because he faces the same dilemma as many challengers — lack of money. But Kluge said he can still win with “a vigorous campaign based on Democratic issues.”
“I plan on carrying the DFL banner,” he said.