State Rep. Abeler, a maverick Republican, will challenge Franken

by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter

Republican Rep. Jim Abeler of Anoka is running for the U.S. Senate.

“We’re in,” Abeler said on Tuesday (June 18).

Currently serving his eighth term in the Minnesota House, Abeler’s decision to challenge incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken in 2014 caught local Republicans off guard.

“It was a complete surprise to all of us,” said Senate District 35 Deputy Chairman Don Huizenga.

Local Republicans were “pretty shocked,” he said.

Abeler alerted area Republicans of his intentions on Monday (June 17) night, some 12 days after making the final decision to run.

“It occurred to me they need a problem solver (in Washington), which is me,” Abeler said of stepping forward.

Rep. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, speaks on the House floor last session. (Photo by T.W. Budig)
Rep. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, speaks on the House floor last session. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

Abeler, a House Republican maverick, intends to seek the Republican Party’s U.S. Senate endorsement. But he has not decided on whether to abide by it, he said.

Franken is a formidable opponent, Abeler explained.

He’s the incumbent and has statewide name recognition — “a huge advantage,” Abeler said.

But Abeler, expressing particular concern over the world his three grandchildren will inherit, was starting his U.S. Senate run because he believes America is in trouble.

“Our children and grandchildren are born into a future as indentured debtors of our country’s careless spending. When we are dependent on the government, we are absolutely not free,” Abeler said in a statement.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken campaigning in Dakota County last autumn. (Photo by T.W. Budig)
Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken campaigning in Dakota County last autumn. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

It’s not his intention to go to Washington to blame people for the national debt, Abeler said.

But he wants Congress to recognize the serious threat exists, he said.

Abeler stresses what he says are his skills as a problem solver.

“My home-grown Minnesotan values guide me and my personal decision making priorities of ‘Creator, conscience, and constituents,’ in that order, provide me guidance for the tough decisions I face in my current elected responsibilities,” Abeler said in his statement.

“I think outside the box, consider all sides of an issue, and then make a reasoned, thoughtful decision,” he said.

Abeler has not always been in the good graces of his party.

One of the “Override Six,” a group of House Republicans who voted to override Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s veto of a Democratic transportation finance bill containing tax increases, Abeler faced endorsement challenges.

Huizenga, who battled Abeler for the endorsement following the override vote, said a lot of people within the Republican Party have issues with a lot of the votes Abeler has taken.

Huizenga suspects Abeler might have been nudged to run for the U.S. Senate, because for all his efforts at cultivating Democrats, it ultimately didn’t work.

“Nobody listened to him,” Huizenga said of the aftermath of the Democratic takeover of the Legislature.

“In my opinion, Jim took a bath from the Democrats this year,” he said.

Abeler himself complained last session that Democrats refused to listen to Republicans.

A chiropractor by profession, Abeler has chaired the House Health and Human Services Finance Committee, currently serving as lead Republican.

For all the billions being spent in the area of health care, results remain mediocre, Abeler argues.

Abeler, 59, and Barb, his wife of 32 years, have six sons.

One son, Josiah, died suddenly in September of 2011 after a seizure while asleep.

Josiah Abeler was 22 years old.

Abeler plans to have formal announcement of his candidacy at a future date.

He looks back at his years in the House as giving him the chance to do good things.

“This has come along,” he said of running for the U.S. Senate.

Considering a big run for public office is like a parachute jump — it’s a pretty view high up there, Abeler said.

“But you have to take that last step,” he quipped.

Republican Minnesota business executive Mike McFadden, an executive at the Lazard finance firm, recently announced his intention to run for U.S. Senate.

“I welcome Representative Abeler into the race and look forward to seeing him on the campaign trail, but my focus remains drawing a distinction between myself and Sen. Al Franken,” McFadden said in a statement.

Another possible Republican candidate is Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhasen.

DFL State Chairman Ken Martin believes Franken is in good shape at this point in his first term.

“If you look at the trend line since he’s been elected, it just continues to climb,” Martin said.

“He hasn’t done anything completely controversial or made any stupid remarks,” he said.

“He’s kept his head low and done  the hard work of being a Senator. I think’s taken on some tough fights people appreciate,” Martin said.

“I feel really good about that one,” Martin said of the U.S. Senate race.

“If the election were held tomorrow, he’d (Franken) win hands down — going away,” Martin said.

Still, the election is a long way away, the chairman noted.

Tim Budig can be reached at [email protected]

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