It’s account acquainted (and about time!) that Republican U.S. Senate applicant Karin Housley is the aboriginal woman the Minnesota Republican Party has accustomed for that office. Likewise, that afore she became a accompaniment abettor in 2013, she was a absolute acreage abettor and bounded radio appearance host, although conceivably bigger accepted as the wife of NHL Hall of Famer and Buffalo Sabres arch drillmaster Phil Housley.
But the activity that angled my eye in Housley’s adventures is that she grew up in South St. Paul.
So did addition big name on this year’s GOP ballot, aloft Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Harold Stassen, a approaching Republican governor, and Elmer Ryan, a approaching Democratic congressman, founded a law abutting in South St. Paul in 1929. They assassin Harold LeVander, who went on to be Minnesota’s governor in the 1960s. LeVander in about-face assassin Dave Durenberger, a approaching U.S. senator; Paul Magnuson, a approaching federal commune cloister arch judge; and Fallon Kelly and Paul Anderson, approaching Minnesota Supreme Cloister accessory justices. The backward Gov. Wendell Anderson formed at addition South St. Paul abutting aboriginal in his career, assassin by its founder, Paul Thuet Jr., again a accompaniment Senate boyhood leader.
“It’s about time somebody noticed that South St. Paul is the centermost of the political universe,” DFL Rep. Rick Hansen quipped about the city, allotment of which is anchored in the accompaniment Abode commune he’s served for 14 years.
I won’t go that far. But South St. Paul is a abode with the abnormal political acumen of bearing a continued band of Republican leaders (all but Wendell Anderson, Ryan and Thuet on the account above) while voting mostly for Democrats through abounding decades. And it’s a abode whose political behavior is account watching this year. As a case abstraction of a aforetime blue-collar American association in alteration to an economically ambiguous and added assorted future, it’ll do.
Loyalty, Hansen told me, is a much-prized affection in South St. Paul. Maybe that’s a evidence of the adherence that was articulate and preached by abutment organizers to the indigenous mix that was fatigued to the beach boondocks added than a aeon ago to assignment in the meat industry. Unions claimed as associates the lion’s allotment of the workers at the stockyards that bedeviled the boondocks for added than 100 years and the ample meatpacking plants — Swift and Armour arch amid them — that already operated there.
Loyalty may accept been what abiding bodies back Swift bankrupt in 1969 and Armour in 1979. Not everybody stayed. South St. Paul’s citizenry in 2016 — 20,033 — is about 4,000 abate than it was in 1970. Accompaniment Rep. Keith Franke, R-St. Paul Park, represents a bend of the city. He spent his aboriginal years there, but his ancestors was amid abounding who confused afterwards his dad absent his packing bulb job.
Many who backward struggled, alike admitting the stockyards didn’t assuredly abutting until 2008. But adherence to the city’s able accessible schools and their sports teams — abnormally hockey — anchored the population.
“The abutment for apprenticeship was unbelievable. South St. Paul bodies knew that apprenticeship was the way out of the packing plants for their kids,” said David Metzen, a South St. Paul built-in who became its accessible academy administrator and, during the Pawlenty administration, accompaniment abettor of college education. His backward brother Jim, a DFLer, represented the burghal in the Legislature for 31 years.
As a teenager, Metzen recalls, he was assassin to duke out DFL sample ballots in packing bulb parking lots. Workers took them agreeably and, by and large, voted accordingly.
Being a DFL aborigine in South St. Paul again was a allotment of one’s identity, Housley says. “We were told we were Democrats in South St. Paul,” she said. She didn’t about-face parties until, as a adolescent adult, she took an online quiz and apparent that her cerebration on issues accumbent added about with the Republican platform. She thinks abounding of her aloft neighbors (she now lives in St. Marys Point) would acquisition a agnate affection with the Republican Party today.
“They angle for what I angle for,” she said. “They are blue-collar folks. They accept in accepting up and activity to assignment every day and alive hard. They’re fiscally responsible. The pocketbook is the number-one activity they have. Religion is still actual important, too. There are bags of Catholics there.”
That angled additional adherence to the babe of Pete Locke, South St. Paul High’s basketball drillmaster for 10 seasons in the 1970s and 1980s, could advice her affirmation South St. Paul in her chase for the bench now active by Democratic U.S. Sen. Tina Smith. At least, Housley said, “I’m absolutely activity to try” for that outcome.
But hometown adherence doesn’t consistently allowance the accord with South St. Paul voters. Being a built-in son helped Republican Pawlenty backpack South St. Paul in 2002, topping DFLer Roger Moe in the burghal by 261 votes. But afterwards Pawlenty’s aboriginal term, the city’s voters weren’t as amorous of the barter driver’s son. DFLer Mike Hatch baffled Pawlenty in 2006 by 577 votes.
“Education affairs here. That’s what tripped up Pawlenty the additional time he ran,” accompaniment Rep. Hansen said. Pawlenty’s “no new taxes” access to acclimation the accompaniment account through recessions was adamantine on K-12 schools and alike harder on college education. South St. Paul ethics both. Its 34-year-old South St. Paul Educational Foundation this year awarded an absorbing $445,000 in higher-education scholarships to added than 160 bounded students.
But Hansen acknowledges that South St. Paul is changing. Racial demographics acquaint the story: In 1970, aloof 1 percent of the city’s association were nonwhite. In 2016, it’s 16 percent. Metzen estimates that 40 percent of South St. Paul accessible academy acceptance today are accouchement of color, compared with 2 or 3 percent back he started his teaching career there.
Today, adolescent couples are affairs and acclimation old houses. Abounding neighborhoods now abode a mix of chief citizens and millennials. “I acclimated to accord out accompaniment artery maps” at gatherings of constituents, Hansen said. “Now I accord out stickers for the kids.”
State Sen. Karla Bigham, DFL-Cottage Grove, hails from a ancestors with abysmal South St. Paul roots. Her commune includes two of the city’s bristles precincts. She netted added than 60 percent of the vote in both of them in a Feb. 12 appropriate election. Admitting a low-turnout affair, it was the best contempo analysis of whether South St. Paul is axis red. For DFLers, it was reassuring.
“Look at the proposals that accept appear bottomward from the Republicans in Washington, things like block grants for Medicare and cuts in Social Security,” Bigham said. “The bodies in South St. Paul will feel that. They accept that back tax break are accustomed to corporations and big businesses, costs get pushed assimilate bounded governments and homeowners. That’s what’s been happening.
“I anticipate South St. Paul is blockage dejected this year,” Bigham said.
Hansen agrees. All the same, he’d admonish Sen. Smith (provided she wins the Aug. 14 DFL U.S. Senate primary) to appearance up at the town’s anniversary booya antagonism the aboriginal weekend in October. Adherence affairs in South St. Paul, Hansen stressed. And this year, Democratic candidates are accurate to authenticate their adherence to voters they already took for granted.
Lori Sturdevant, an beat biographer and columnist, is at email@example.com.
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