U student hopes to win seat in Minnesota House

Chris Vetter

Austin, Minn., is a large union town, with a big Hormel plant and a powerful Hormel union. The town has consistently voted for Democrats for years, but is completely surrounded by Republican districts in southern Minnesota.
Chris Boik hopes that Austin’s history of voting for Democratic candidates will change this year. Boik, a College Republican and Institute of Technology sophomore, is running to represent the area, District 27B, in the Minnesota House of Representatives.
Boik considers himself a conservative Republican. He is in favor of gun rights and opposes government-funded abortions. He is also fiscally conservative, and is the vice president of Students Against Fee Excess, a University group fighting to eliminate mandatory student services fees.
Boik gained political experience while working in Rep. Jim Ramstad’s Bloomington office.
“It introduced me to a lot of legislators,” Boik said. “It made me decide to run.”
The Republican Party endorsed Boik, and he is unopposed in the party primary this September. Party endorsement means he will receive party support, funds and volunteers from the party.
To win the general election, Boik must defeat freshman incumbent Rob Leighton, who replaced Democrat Leo Redding when he retired after 16 years in the House. Leighton is a lawyer, and received his bachelor’s degree in Economics from the University. Boik and Leighton, a Democrat, have never met.
Leighton said the district is a strong Democratic area.
“It’s a little island of DFLism surrounded by Republican districts,” Leighton said. “I do not think extreme conservatism will do well in this district.”
Labor, wages, and health care are important issues to the district, and that is why it hasn’t elected a Republican for years, Leighton said.
College of Biological Sciences senior Ben Powers, who has worked with Boik on his campaign, said Boik has a good chance of winning. The district has several hunting groups that are unhappy with Leighton’s support of gun control, Powers said. Boik has spoken with these hunting groups to rally their support.
Boik said he is confident he can convince the Austin area that he is a better candidate than Leighton.
“If it comes down to issues, I will win,” Boik said.
Boik, 20, will not be eligible to become a House member until only a few weeks before the November general election. He said that his age has not hurt him because Leighton, 31, is the youngest Democrat in the House of Representatives.
“People don’t discredit me because (Leighton) is also so young,” Boik said. He said his age would be more of a factor if the incumbent was 55.
Although Boik may be the age of a traditional college student, his opponent also has appealed to student interests. In the last legislative session, Leighton co-sponsored the College Tuition Relief Bill with Rep. Myron Orfield, DFL-Minneapolis, which would have given state surplus money directly to public universities and colleges. The bill, which never became law, would have reduced tuition at the University by 12 percent, Leighton said.
Conversely, Boik said he favors eliminating grants for students, and using the money to lower tuition for all students.
“If someone wants to go to college, they will work to pay for it,” Boik said.
Volunteers for Boik are crossing the district, door-knocking and distributing literature. Boik said he goes door-knocking in the district almost every night.
Boik said he will not engage in a negative campaign. “The people down here hate it,” Powers said.
Boik is one of two College Republicans running for a seat in the Minnesota House of Representatives. College of Liberal Arts junior Tom Gromacki is running against incumbent Phyllis Kahn, D-Minneapolis. However, Gromacki is not endorsed, and must win the Sept. 10 primary to face Kahn in the general election. No U-DFL members are running for the Legislature.