U student hits campaign trail

Chris Vetter

University student and Republican Tom Gromacki will try to defeat one of the longest-serving incumbents in the state Legislature in the general election Nov. 5.
Gromacki, a 20-year-old junior in the College of Liberal Arts, earned the right to square off with Democrat Phyllis Kahn for the 59B House seat by defeating Don Aldrich in the Republican primary Sept. 10. Reform Party candidate Alan Shilepsky is also running for the seat.
House District 59B encompasses all of the University’s Minneapolis campus except for Middlebrook Hall. Kahn has represented 59B since 1972, and usually garners 60 percent of the vote in the general election.
Gromacki defeated Aldrich, 43, by a surprisingly large number, as he received 60 percent of the vote.
“I didn’t think I’d win by that large of a margin,” Gromacki said.
Turnout was light for the primary — less than 500 votes were cast. Gromacki said he blames the low turnout on the fact that many registered voters in the district are college students and they had not returned to school.
The University student considers himself a devout conservative, and said he won because he stood by his convictions. “Aldrich has gone around trying not to offend anyone,” Gromacki said. “You don’t get votes that way.”
Aldrich, who considers himself a moderate Republican, said he was disheartened by the outcome of the primary.
“Of course I’m disappointed,” Aldrich said. “I didn’t get in it to lose.”
The low turnout wasn’t surprising, Aldrich said, but it hurt his candidacy. “The conventional wisdom is that low turnout helps conservatives,” Aldrich said. “If we had increased the voter turnout we would have won; people just didn’t vote.”
Shilepsky, a local businessman and former Democrat, said he too was unhappy with the results. “As a moderate, it disappoints me,” Shilepsky said. “If (Gromacki) is what a Republican is, I don’t want any part of it.”
Shilepsky also said he was surprised by the large margin in Gromacki’s favor.
Gromacki is the former chairman of the College Republicans. He is an abortion opponent who favors a balanced budget, welfare reform and legislation that protects traditional family values.
Gromacki said getting his message out to the University community will be the focus of his campaign. “We need someone who represents the University in the U-dominated district,” Gromacki said.
Kahn is beatable, Gromacki said, but most of her recent opponents have not taken the race seriously because she seems invincible.
“When (candidates) have campaigned, they campaign as a Democrat,” Gromacki said. “They try to move to her end on the issues, and be Democratic because it is a Democratic district. But they couldn’t possibly be more Democratic than her.”
Kahn is an abortion proponent who is a strong advocate of women’s rights, environmental protection, and higher education funding.
The next step in Gromacki’s campaign is fundraising and doorknocking, now that he has the party’s support, Gromacki said.
Gromacki, a Christian, said he could not have won the primary alone.”I think all the glory of this election should go to God,” Gromacki said. “I couldn’t have done this without Him.”