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Entenza wants to fight for rural Minnesota

BEMIDJI -- Matt Entenza believes the state auditor should present reports to state legislators that would demonstrate the inequities that exist between rural and metropolitical school districts.

"I won't be able to vote in the Legislature, but when you're one of the four elected major offices (at the state level) you ought to be at the table trying to make sure that good things are happening," he said during a Thursday afternoon stop in Bemidji. "As a son of rural Minnesota, I have been advocating for 20 years for rural Minnesota and I want to be sure rural Minnesota gets a fair shake."

Entenza, a Worthington High School graduate, was a white-collar crime prosecutor before he was first elected to the Legislature in 1994 and served as the minority leader for the DFL from 2003-2006. He ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2010.

This year, he has filed to run against DFL incumbent Rebecca Otto for the state auditor's seat. The two will face off in an Aug. 12 primary.

"Some people don't even know there is an auditors office and very few people know who the auditor is. I know that's something that I will change because they've known who past auditors are," Entenza said. "The present auditor is a lovely person -- she's a genuinely nice person -- but the office has a very, very low profile."

He said he would change that by using the auditor's role to stand up and present data showing disparities that exist throughout Minnesota. During his half-hour visit with a reporter, Entenza highlighted his three top issues: protecting pensions, promoting and protecting rural Minnesota, and investing in education.

"The auditor sits on the pension board, the auditor audits all the schools, the auditor audits all of the counties and cities, so the auditor has that data," Entenza said. "I think it's a real missed opportunity to say that as long as the books are balanced right now that's all that we should do. If you go in and look at other interviews that the present auditor has done, she's been fairly critical of me because she says (the auditor's) role is just to do the books and if you're talking about other things, you must be running for governor or something."

Entenza said his goals for the position are in line with actions performed by auditors in the past, including Arne Carlson, who served as auditor from 1979-1991, and Mark Dayton, who served as auditor from 1991-1995.

"I think the job is about more than just balancing the books," Entenza said.

He believes the job is about using the information with a purpose.

"I want to do it because I think rural Minnesota has been getting a raw deal for a long time," he said.

He pointed to education, where he said it "burns" him to see rural school districts having to lay off their language teachers when Edina -- an affluent Twin Cities suburb -- is able to teach 10 languages to its students.

"I want Edina to be able to do that, but I want everybody to be able to do it," he said. "The auditor is the one office other than the Department of Education that has that data."

Entenza said he knows firsthand the importance of a quality education.

"I grew up in a single-parent family, we didn't have any money in Worthington. Really, my success was caused by the fact that when I came of age our schools were very well taken care of and I got lots of opportunities which meant that I was able to go to college," he said. "Just a few years later, school funding started to go down and my brother didn't have the same opportunities ... that's always bothered me."