U student seeks House seat in election

by Chris Vetter

College students often talk about getting involved in politics, but one University student is doing more than just talking. He is running against a politically prominent incumbent for a seat in the Minnesota House of Representatives.
Tom Gromacki, a junior in the College of Liberal Arts, is running for the District 59B seat currently held by Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis.
To compete against Kahn in the November general election, Gromacki must first win the Republican primary Sept. 10. His opponent in that election is Don Aldrich.
Kahn, a former University professor in biophysics and genetics, has held the seat for 24 years. She is the temporary speaker of the House and has maintained ties to the University throughout her career.
District 59B includes the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood north of the Minneapolis campuses and almost all of the University’s East and West Bank campuses except Middlebrook Hall.
Gromacki, a member of the Minnesota College Republicans, said his main issues and themes in the race are reducing crime, restoring the two-parent family, fighting for Christian values and opposing abortion.
Gromacki said he chose to run because he is frustrated with Kahn’s performance as a representative. Gromacki said that Kahn no longer listens to her constituents.
“She doesn’t care about the race because she is in such a Democratic area,” Gromacki said. “This is a government of representation. If you aren’t talking to your constituents, you shouldn’t be in office.”
Gromacki said that Kahn is difficult to beat because she doesn’t engage in debates and refuses to acknowledge she has a challenger.
Kahn said she doesn’t debate because she stands by her record. She said she has firmly fought for women’s rights and environmental protection in her years in the House. She received 100 percent ratings in 1994 from the Sierra Club, an environmental advocacy group, and from the National Organization for Women.
Kahn was first elected in 1972 and said she has only had a few close challenges to her seat. She typically receives 67 percent to 68 percent of the vote in her district, she said.
“My race never has been about my opponents,” Kahn said. “It is about what I have done.”
When asked for an opinion of her opponent, Kahn said that though she had heard of Gromacki, she had never met him. Kahn said she doesn’t need to know who her challengers are in the election.
“I never run a negative campaign,” Kahn said. “The only reason you would need to know about your opponent is to run a negative campaign.”
The College Republicans have been active in supporting Gromacki’s campaign. Several members serve on his staff and helped at the district convention. College Republicans agree with Gromacki on Kahn’s performance as a representative.
“She is too liberal,” said Eric Watkins, a College of Agricultural, Food, and Environmental Sciences sophomore. “She is making it harder for University students to pay for school.”
Gromacki did not win the 59B endorsement. He and lawyer Don Aldrich split the delegates at the district convention May 21, and neither candidate received the necessary 60 percent to obtain endorsement.
Party endorsement brings help in the form of increased volunteer support and money from the party.
Aldrich, 43, a 1977 University Law School graduate, said Gromacki is too conservative for the district.
“He’s a very earnest young fellow,” Aldrich said. “But he’s out of touch with this district. His only issue is pro-life. We think Tom’s appeal is limited.”
Aldrich says that he is a moderate Republican, his appeal is broader and that he has a better chance of defeating Kahn.
Both Gromacki and Aldrich agree that it will de difficult to defeat Kahn. In the last three general elections, no Republican candidate has received more than 29 percent of the vote. Kahn defeated Gary Hanson by a 65 percent to 29 percent margin in 1994.
Gromacki, a political science major, was the youngest College Republican chairman in the organization’s history when he was elected after his freshman year. He has worked on a Minnesota Student Association subcommittee that dealt with Student Services Fees and was an MSA member in 1995.
State law requires a House Representative to be 21 years old. Gromacki, 20, will turn 21 a few weeks before the general election.
Gromacki said he would remain a student if he wins the seat.
“The University is such a key part of the community,” Gromacki said. “It is here for the students, not the bureaucracy.”