ROCHESTER - Rep. Mike Benson (R-Rochester) will announce today that he plans to challenge four-term Democrat Rep. Tim Walz for Minnesota's 1st Congressional District in 2014.
Benson has represented southeastern Olmsted County since he was elected in the Republican wave in 2010. He worked for the U.S. Postal Service from 1973 to 2004, serving as postmaster of Rochester from 1988 to 1995. Since 2004, he has worked at Crossroads College in Rochester, as the director of human resources and assistant business professor.
Legislative background and recent topics
During the Republican-control of the Legislature in the 2011 session, Benson authored the non-constitutional amendment version of the Voter ID bill, which was ultimately vetoed by Gov. Mark Dayton. He said that it would be easy for voter fraud to occur without an ID requirement. He also said that ID was required for other daily activities, such as driving or buying cigarettes.
During the 2012 session under Republican-majority control, Benson unsuccessfully pushed to roughly double to state tobacco tax, from $1.23 per pack to $2.52 per pack, to fund payback of the school funding shift and to fund reduction to the business property tax. At that time, he said he hoped it would deter young people from smoking. However, he has since published editorials in newspapers criticizing the tobacco tax, as well as other new taxes, as "overreach" by the DFL-majority. An increase to $2.83 per pack passed in 2013.
During this year's battle to reform the faltering funding for the state's transportation system, Benson offered an amendment to the Tax Omnibus bill to add a fuel tax on wholesale fuel marketers. He said he introduced the amendment with the intention of getting it voted down, thus establishing a position on the tax before it was submitted to the conference committee. He succeeded in having no affirmative votes.
A similar proposal on wholesale fuel was added to the Senate version of the Transportation Finance bill to fund the new "Corridors of Commerce" program. The suggested tax was later pulled due to Dayton's opposition.
He also opposed a provision passed in the Transportation Omnibus bill that allows counties to pass a one-half cent sales tax to fund transportation project without requiring a referendum. He offered two amendments in April: one that sought to strip out the provision and other to prohibit the total sales tax in the county from exceeding one-half cent if another local option sales tax already exists. Both amendments were rejected.
During his 2010 campaign, he focused on reducing government regulation, job creation and education creation. He emphasized balancing the state budget through efficiencies and cuts, stating tax increases were "off the table."
Benson feels the timing is right for his run for Congress. He said he has the best possible chance because of how fed up people have become with the lack of legislative progress. He also said the increasing numbers of scandals like the NSA surveillance programs have made people interested in change.
He plans to distinguish himself from Walz by arguing he will be the only one capable of actually bringing back direct benefit to 1st District residents. He said Walz has only passed legislation aimed at keeping his job and that Walz failed to pass anything that directly matters to the people he represents. He includes the passage of the STOCK Act in this criticism. The STOCK Act legislation passed in 2012 aims to prevent congressional lawmakers and staff from using non-public information to benefit in the stock market, which critics have compared to "insider trading.
"The STOCK Act is something he will point to," said Benson, "But, it's a principled thing anybody would have done. It's not necessarily something that will directly help the people of the 1st District."
He also said Walz will be in trouble if the STOCK Act is the only legislation he can point to for his eight years.
Benson expects Olmsted County, which includes the high population center of Rochester, to play an important role in the race. He feels confident about being able to secure the votes for that part of the district, particularly due to his 14 point win in the last election.
Benson will make the formal announcement of his candidacy today.
(Josh Moniz can be e-mailed at email@example.com)