by Dennis Dalman
Sartell Mayor Joe Perske, a long-time marathon runner, estimates he’s run close to 90,000 miles so far in his life, but recently he just started a marathon he says will be the toughest one – running for the Sixth U.S. Congressional seat.
A campaign kick-off took place with Perske, family, friends and well-wishers Feb. 1 at the Westside Liquor Learning Center in Sartell. Perske hopes to receive the DFL endorsement for the race. There are two other DFLers vying for the position – Jim Read of Avon, a political science professor at St. John’s University and the College of St. Benedict; and Judy Adams, a political activist from Circle Pines.
There are three Republican candidates who hope to get the Republican endorsement – former state representatives Tom Emmer and Phil Krinkie, as well as Anoka County Board Chair Rhonda Sivarajah.
The Sixth Congressional seat is now occupied by Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Stillwater), who is not seeking a fifth two-year term.
The seat will be decided late this year in the Nov. 4 election.
“It’ll be a heckuva marathon,” Perske told his well-wishers. “This one I can’t run alone.”
Perske said his decision to enter the race was an agonizing one because he’s had to quit, forego or take away time from so many aspects of his life he loves deeply: his wife and three daughters, his teaching, his students, his school colleagues, his serving the city as mayor.
However, Perske said he is so disappointed and saddened by the constant gridlock in Washington, D.C. that he felt compelled to try to change it.
At the kick-off rally, Perske gave two campaign speeches, one early in the afternoon, another later when more people showed up.
“Gridlock is killing us,” he said, adding he is tired of hearing phrases like “fiscal cliffs” and “debt ceilings.” The stonewalling and obstructionism of Tea Party politicians, he said, does not bode well for the nation.
“It is not a way to have a democracy,” he said. “The American Dream is fading. Washington is broken.”
Perske introduced his family at the podium: wife Janet and grown daughters Michaela, Jenna and Greta.
“I married my high-school sweetheart who’s managed to put up with me for 25 years,” Perske said as the audience laughed.
Then, Perske listed his rationale for entering the race.
“It’s about people,” he said. “It’s always been about people.”
Perske listed the things he would like to help accomplish by working in the U.S. Congress: making the American middle class strong and vital again, helping create decent-paying jobs, improving education for each and every person and making post-secondary education affordable for all, helping the handicapped to achieve full status in society, assisting the elderly, protecting Social Security and Medicare, making sure veterans can readjust with the help they need, fixing a broken health-care system.
“The Affordable Care Act is trying to make things right,” he said. “Voting it down 40 times is not the way. Working together is.”
One question, Perske said, would guide his every action if elected to office.
“Is this what’s best for the people in my district? Is it best for the people of America?”
Then, referring again to marathon-running, he said: “I want you to come run with me.”
Born in St. Cloud, Perske grew up in Sauk Rapids, the son of a union railroad man who died some years ago of cancer. His mother, Irene, is still living and attended her son’s Feb. 1 rally.
Perske earned a bachelor’s degree from St. John’s University and a master’s degree from St. Cloud State University. He and Janet lived in Augsburg, Germany from 1981 to 1988, where he worked as a teacher for the U.S. Department of Defense.
From 1990 to 2014, he was a teacher and coach for the Sartell-St. Stephen School District.
Perske was elected as a Sartell City Council member in 2005 and was re-elected, serving until 2010 at which time he ran for mayor and won the election, serving from 2011 until the present.
He and his family are members of Celebration Lutheran Church in Sartell. He is also a member of the St. Cloud Regional Human Rights Board, the Area Planning Organization Executive Board, the Greater St. Cloud Development Corporation Board and an official with the Minnesota State High School League.