Kahn challenged for first time in 16 years

by Megan Boldt

In the 28 years University area Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, has been in office, she has had only one opponent in the September DFL primaries.
That was in 1984. Now, the uncontested streak is broken. Kahn faces community lobbyist Brian Biele in Tuesday’s primary.
University political science professor Bill Flanigan said Kahn is a difficult person to beat. He said if she wins the primary, she will also win the general election.
“If she loses, the general election will be competitive,” Flanigan said.
But Biele said the 28-year legislative veteran has not made higher education, affordable housing and universal health care priorities.
“There is no one addressing these issues in the Legislature,” 28-year-old Biele said.
New ideas
Higher education is extremely important in this race, Biele said. With the large percentage of University students and faculty in the voting district, it has to be, he said.
Tuition increases are his focus. Biele said he wants to keep tuition increases at the rate of inflation, not higher.
Biele also said the district has the highest number of people without health insurance. Universal health care is a system important to constituents, he said.
“I know what it’s like,” he said. “I sacrificed my insurance to campaign.”
Besides insurance, housing is a huge problem in the University area, he said. Biele wants more affordable housing in an area where rent is astronomically high.
But Biele didn’t start his campaign with these issues in mind. He said he made them priorities after he went door-to-door, asking voters what issues concerned them.
“I’m able to offer a lot because I have more of an understanding of the age group,” he said.
Long record
Kahn said she is running on a strong legislative record.
“I have a higher record of accomplishment, probably more so than any other legislator,” Kahn said.
And she said she wants to continue fighting for one of the issues she’s well known for — the environment; environmental justice in particular.
Kahn described it as environmental decisions which affect minorities and poor, such as placing a waste disposal plant near impoverished neighborhoods.
“You never see wealthy people having to deal with these issues,” she said.
Besides environmental issues, education is important, she said. Kahn said she will continue to support University funding and other issues that surface during the next legislative session.
Like Biele, Kahn is also interested in health care, but her concern is specifically women’s health care.
She said most uninsured people are women, a group that has also been excluded from research for many years.
“The parts that are most important pertain to women,” she said.
Struggle for the candidacy
Biele said he started campaigning to get a fresh face in the Legislature — one that represents the district.
He said many issues have been lost because there is such an age gap between legislators and constituents. Biele is also concerned about Kahn not serving on the House’s higher education committee when so many people in her district are affiliated with the University.
Kahn said it’s not the case that she doesn’t want to serve on the committee. She said she would have to serve on two education committees then, and she would not be able to use her expertise on the environment on another committee.
Biele acknowledged Kahn has done a commendable job in the Legislature, but says it’s time for someone to come in and institute incremental change. He said sometimes Kahn is unwilling to compromise.
“Kahn is a principled person, but sometimes you have to wait to get things done,” Biele said.
But Kahn said she is proud to be a liberal and take on the extreme left issues.
“I’m always willing to take the far-out position,” she said.
Megan Boldt covers elections and welcomes comments at [email protected]. She can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3235.