by Dennis Dalman
DFLer Joe Perske, a former Sartell mayor and current Stearns County commissioner, has been knocking on doors far and wide in Minnesota Senate District 13, hoping to garner voter support for a win on Nov. 6.
His opponent is Jeff Howe, a Republican from Rockville, who is currently serving as the state representative for House District 13A. This particular senate race is considered momentous because it will determine which political party controls the Minnesota Senate, which currently has 33 Democrats and 33 Republicans. The Howe-Perske contest is the only state-senate race on the ballot Nov. 6 because it is a “special election” to fill the seat vacated by Sen. Michelle Fischbach (R-Paynesville).
Senate District 13 is west of St. Cloud and includes Sartell, St. Stephen, St. Joseph, Cold Spring, Paynesville, Le Sauk Township, Sauk Rapids Township. Precinct 4 of Waite Park. Sauk Rapids. Holdingford and Avon.
The Senate District 13 race is also interesting because this year it’s the outcome of a reshuffling of the deck, a kind of political version of musical chairs. In January, U.S. Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota resigned, at which time Gov. Mark Dayton appointed then-lieutenant governor Tina Smith to fill Franken’s place until a special election this fall. In the meantime, District 13 State Sen. Michelle Fischbach, who was president of the Minnesota Senate and who’d served as District 13 senator for 22 years, became lieutenant governor to replace Tina Smith. Into that vacuum stepped Perske and Howe to compete for the senate position.
Fischbach later announced she accepted an offer to be GOP Tim Pawlenty’s running mate in his bid to be, once again, governor.
Perske, 62, has been a Sartell City Council member (2005-2010) and was later elected as the city’s mayor (2011-2014). He was elected county commissioner in 2016. Four years ago, he competed for the U.S. House 6th District seat but lost to Republican Tom Emmer.
Raised in Sauk Rapids, Perske graduated from St. Cloud’s Apollo High School, earned a bachelor’s degree at St. John’s University (elementary education/psychology) and a master’s degree (physical education) from St. Cloud State University. For seven years he taught in Germany in U.S. Department of Defense schools. Then he and his family moved to Sartell where he became a teacher and coach for 26 years. Besides teaching physical education, Perske has also taught fourth grade. He retired two years ago.
Perske has served or is serving on many boards and committees, including the St. Cloud Area Planning Organization Executive Board, the Greater St. Cloud Area Planning Organization, the Stearns County Planning Board, the Central Minnesota Human Trafficking Team, the Tri-County Solid Waste Commission, the WACOSA Board, Habitat for Humanity, the Stearns County Park Commission, the Rice Area Sportsmen’s Club and Minnesota Extensions.
Perske and his wife, Jan, have three grown daughters (Michaela, Jenna, Greta) and four grandchildren, including triplets born a few months ago.
Perske is an Eagle Scout, member of Celebration Lutheran Church in Sartell, a world-class marathon runner and an avid bow-hunting sportsman.
Perske has described himself as a fiscal conservative, a gun-rights advocate and a “zealous moderate,” who is saddened by the divisive, often bickering style of partisan politics during which various political parties cannot seem to work together anymore. He said he has a track record of working with others to solve problems, no matter what their political allegiances.
Perske’s weeks of campaign door-knocking through District 13 has shown him what people care about as a No 1 priority: health care.
“Our residents are both angered and frustrated with the constant increases in premium prices, high deductibles and costly medication. My goal is to find a bipartisan approach to expand access to truly affordable health care. There are no Republican or Democrat health-care plans . . . I know working families in Central Minnesota need more affordable and accessible health care. No one should have to go broke to get the care they need.”
Perske’s opinion on health care extends to education.
“Young people (here) should get the same world-class education that children in other parts of the state receive,” he said.
Political gridlock, Perske said, must end. He compared partisan politics to politicians putting on jerseys like Vikings or Packers and working against each other instead of finding real solutions to problems in the state.
“The Constitution,” he said, “reads ‘We the People, not ‘We the Party.’ My focus has always been on people, whether as a teacher, a coach, a mayor, a commissioner or an Eagle Scout. With the thousands of students and players I’ve had (throughout) the years, families have gotten to know me and trust me. They know I will do what’s best for the people of Minnesota and not what any political party asks me to do.”
Perske said of all his accomplishments, he is proudest of helping raise three daughters who are successful and happy; of having enriched the lives of students throughout four decades; and as an elected leader, having earned the trust of the community.
“In my time as council member, mayor and county commissioner, our communities have seen tremendous economic growth,” he said. “I’ve also had experience weathering storms like the 2008 housing collapse and the effect it had on our local communities, as well as working through the tragedy, loss and recovery process of the Sartell paper-mill explosion. I’m proud our communities worked together.”
State senators are paid $45,000 per year.
Perske’s campaign website is perskeforsenate.com.