Youngest potential senator, Tomczak remains confident

Tom Ford

On the Saturday before Christmas, recently graduated University student Jack Tomczak wasn’t shopping, driving home to his family or celebrating the end of his undergraduate days.

The 23-year-old Tomczak spent the day walking from house to house with a stack of fliers in his hands, knocking on doors of St. Paul’s East Side residents and introducing himself as a candidate for the state Legislature.

Tomczak is running for the District 67 state Senate seat vacated by St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly.

During the past two months Tomczak has put his life on hold to dedicate himself entirely to the campaign.

Running as an independent and his decidedly conservative ideas put him at a disadvantage in terms of campaign resources and the historic DFL hold on the district.

But Tomczak remains confident his efforts will pay off on Jan. 29 when the special election is held.

If elected, Tomczak would be the youngest state senator. He said age, surprisingly, hasn’t been an issue with voters he’s met.

Kent Kaiser, a campaign volunteer and communications director at the Secretary of State’s office, said Tomczak would be the same age as Kelly when he was first elected as a state representative.

Kaiser said it’s hard to find anyone younger than 30 at the Legislature and said the state could use some age diversity among its officials.

Tomczak said his age should not take away from his legitimacy as a candidate.

“Just because someone’s got 30 years on me doesn’t mean they were paying attention the whole time,” he said. “I think this campaign is going to surprise a lot of old political hacks.”

In December, Tomczak quit his job as a paralegal at a St. Paul law firm to become a full-time candidate. This has translated into scrambling for funds, much leg work and more modest living. But he said he doesn’t mind the stresses.

“I didn’t want to sit there Jan. 30 and say, ‘What if I had quit my job?’ or ‘What if I had put everything I had into this?'” Tomczak said. “That’s what I’m doing Ö so if I win it was worth the risk.”

Without a large campaign staff, Tomczak said, he also has had to do most of the literature drops and door-knocking himself.

While the long hours and living off savings have limited him to one meal each day, Tomczak said he benefits from the sacrifices.

Besides losing weight and getting exercise, he said, he can “understand better than any other candidate what it is to live by a budget.”

He said while his opponents have careers and have lived longer with steady incomes, his experience as a college student and on the campaign trail allow him to better understand many taxpayers’ paycheck-to-paycheck lives.

John Goodrich, a campaign volunteer who worked with Tomczak on the 2000 Rod Grams U.S. Senate re-election campaign and at the state Legislature, said Tomczak faces tough odds. But he said Tomczak is “excited and won’t back down from a challenge.”

Goodrich said Tomczak will shake as many hands as necessary and, by getting all the independent and Republican voters to the polls, “can pull off an upset.”

Tomczak has not yet held any public office, but he has experience working with state and national governments and campaigns.

Three years ago, Tomczak worked as an intern for Grams, where he helped with conference calls and research.

He said this job was gratifying because “a U.S. senator was taking things I had researched and doing things with it.”

The following year Tomczak volunteered with Grams’ re-election campaign and worked as a field director in Hennepin County, where he said he ran the campaign.

“After not knowing anyone in politics I went and built a volunteer core of a couple hundred people, which takes some doing,” he said.

This experience not only taught him the importance of “bringing people together for a common cause” but also earned him a number of close friends, many of whom are now helping with his campaign, Tomczak said.

Following his campaign activities, he worked as a legislative assistant for state Sen. Dan Stevens, R-Mora, where he said he was introduced to state issues and legislators.

Late this summer, Tomczak said, he foresaw Kelly’s mayoral victory and then decided to run for his seat.

Tomczak is running on a largely anti-tax agenda.

He said, particularly in light of the projected state budget shortfall, legislators must cut government’s size and provide taxpayers with more money rather than working to ensure the government’s health.

Tomczak also wants to change concealed weapons laws from a “may issue” to a “shall issue,” so that police cannot refuse permits for citizens without criminal histories.

“Restricting law-abiding citizens from having a weapon is insane,” he said. “If you were a criminal, would you go mug somebody if you think they have a gun?”

While Tomczak’s ideas conflict with the DFL leanings of the East Side, Tomczak said Gov. Jesse Ventura’s success in the 1998 election offers hope.

In that election Ventura won the district with 44 percent of the vote. Tomczak said this result shows there are “a lot of independent-minded voters” in the district and said his campaign is working to target those people.

Tomczak’s election opponents include Republican Greg Copeland, Green Party candidate Jeff Davis, and Mee Moua, who won the Jan. 15 DFL primary and hopes to become the country’s first Hmong state legislator.

Tom Ford covers St. Paul and welcomes comments at [email protected]