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House 2B: Hancock ousts three-term Sailer

The people wanted something different, says Dave Hancock, the new House 2B representative.

Hancock, a Republican from Bemidji, ousted Rep. Brita Sailer, DFL-Park Rapids, who was seeking a fourth term to her House 2B seat.

"All in all, I think the people said we want a little change -- we don't want business as usual," Hancock said Friday. "We want to make government a little bit more responsive, a little more attuned to the people's needs."

He heads to St. Paul today for a 9 a.m. meeting of the House Republican Caucus, which now will control the House. It is fairly certain that Rep. Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, will get the nod for speaker, but several Republicans are vying for majority leader.

Hancock polled 8,449 votes, or 52.37 percent, while Sailer ended with 7,668 votes, or 47.53 percent.

The move leaves Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, as the lone regional DFLer. Hancock joins Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker, and Rep.-elect Carolyn McElfatrick, R-Grand Rapids, who defeated longtime Rep. Loren Solberg, DFL-Grand Rapids.

Hancock's district mate, House 2A Rep. Kent Eken, DFL-Twin Valley, did win a fifth term.

"We're being asked to represent the people here in the districts in the north country, and we want to do that to the best of our ability," Hancock said.

In the past three elections, all against former Rep. Doug Lindgren, R-Bagley, the race went to the end when votes from the decidedly DFL Red Lake Reservation would put Sailer over the top. This time, however, Red Lake's vote came in earlier than before and still wasn't enough to take the lead away from Hancock.

"The actual numbers at Red Lake were down a bit, in terms of voter participation," Hancock theorizes. "The numbers were similar to previous elections, and better in certain districts within Beltrami County where I'm a little bit better known."

Sailer polled 1,114 votes on the Red Lake Reservation's four polling places, while Hancock garnered only 52 votes. But even with that lopsided margin, Sailer barely captured Beltrami County, 3,558 votes to 3,222.

Hancock took Hubbard County and Sailer's hometown Park Rapids. In Hubbard, Hancock had 3,134 votes or 56.6 percent, to Sailer's 2,398 or 43.31 percent. In Park Rapids, Hancock won 735-651.

"We worked pretty hard in Park Rapids," Hancock said. "We actually canvassed it a couple of times and worked pretty hard in Henrietta and Todd where Brita lives. There are a lot of big townships down there that we spent a lot of time in just to get name recognition."

Clearwater County, also in House 2B, also went for Hancock, 1,829 votes to 1,327.

"The concerns are basically the same," he said of the district, "The unemployment rate is pretty high ... and we're looking to getting the economy moving again and create some jobs and stimulate growth in northern Minnesota."

The No. 1 issue driving people the polls is something that President Bill Clinton adviser James Carville once said. "The old adage, 'it's the economy, stupid,' is probably true in this case," said Hancock.

"The experience as a small businessperson for so many years, people felt that I perhaps would bring a different perspective to balancing the budget and trying to lowering costs of operations and trying to make sure we get the most for the tax dollars being spent," he said.

Hancock co-owned R&D Tire for many years in Bemidji, and is on leave as manager of its successor, Northwest Tire.

Sailer said Friday that "big money" was spent on a lot of races to distort DFLers' voting records.

But aside from her defeat, she said the most devastating defeat for northern Minnesota is U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar's fall to Republican Chip Cravaack.

"To me the biggest disappointment is Congressman Oberstar not being re-elected," Sailer said. "That will be a huge blow to the state. That's the most unfortunate of all of these."

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling in January took the limits off campaign contributions by groups and corporations and unions to efforts opposing candidates. Sailer surmises a lot of that money worked against Minnesota Democrats.

She cited one group, Coalition of Minnesota Business PAC, as spending a lot of money to distort her record.

"Big money will talk," Sailer said. "Big money had a lot to do with it. There was a lot of interesting information in people's mailboxes, let's put it that way."

The Coalition "spent an awful lot of money trying to influence races all across Minnesota," she said. "How does that really help people in rural Minnesota where those Big Business interests really don't help? I'm not sure how much they really care about the issues. ... They were able to spend a great deal of money and they did."

In a way, Democrats might also have been caught up on a national wave that saw the U./S. House return to GOP control, she said.

"It's hard when people are in tough economic times to be patient," Sailer said. "It takes more than two years to make a change in some things, and Democrats all across the country were trying to move in that direction to get us out of a national recession."

She fears with the GOP takeover of the Minnesota House that some issues won't be tackled, such as health care and funding for schools.

"I'm not sure how that's going to work with only making cuts to the budget," she said. "That's what they said they would do. I'll be watching with interest. ... I feel bad for people who are going to be on the suffering end of those cuts. It's been tough already for schools and local governments."

Sailer plans to spend more time with family and her job as a solid waste consultant. "I'll be fine," she said.