OWATONNA — Until either Vicki Jensen or Vern Swedin replaces him next year, area state Sen. Mike Parry plans to keep on working.
Parry’s three-year run in the state Senate will culminate at the end of the year. After February’s statewide redistricting, all state senators — even ones like Parry, who were in the middle of their four-year terms — had to run for re-election. But Parry had already decided against running for re-election, having opted instead to run for the U.S. Congress. Jensen (DFL-Owatonna) and Swedin (R-Owatonna) are running for the open seat in the district, which includes Owatonna, Faribault and Parry’s hometown of Waseca.
Although he won’t be on the ballot this fall, Parry says he still answers his phone when his constituents call. He said he still enjoys talking with local residents about important issues.
“It doesn’t stop,” he said. “Some people think it does because it’s an election year, but you still get the calls. You still get people who are concerned about issues.”
Parry also traveled up to St. Paul in August to vote against flood relief for Duluth area residents, one of just seven legislators to vote against the bill, which was signed by Gov. Mark Dayton on Aug. 24. It was reported in Sunday’s paper that Parry supported the $1 million in flood relief, but he instead voiced concerns over a $1 million allocation to the Department of Natural Resources to compensate for lost timber sales in areas where many trees were blown down, according to a story by Minnesota Public Radio.
Two other major concerns for Parry are the failed attempts by Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie to rename to proposed amendments on the Nov. 6 ballot. Although on Aug. 27, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled in favor of the GOP-led Minnesota Legislature, Parry still has issues with Ritchie for “tampering with” ballot initiatives to define marriage and require a photo ID to vote.
At the end of the 2011 legislative session, the Legislature passed the marriage amendment bill with a title stating: “Recognition of Marriage Solely Between One Man and One Woman.” Ritchie rewrote the title to state: “Limiting the Status of Marriage to Opposite Sex Couples.”
The photo ID amendment was passed by the Legislature during this year’s regular legislative session with the title: “Photo Identification Required for Voting.” Ritchie switched the title to: “Changes to In-Person & Absentee Voting & Voter Registration; Provisional Ballots.”
“Something still needs to be done about our Secretary of State (Mark Ritchie). He overstepped his bounds,” Parry said. “He, along with the Attorney General (Lori Swanson), also refused to attend my committee hearings.”
The Senate State Government Innovation and Veterans Committee, chaired by Parry, met on July 20 to discuss the possibility that Ritchie and Swanson — both members of the DFL — were actively campaigning in renaming the controversial ballot questions. During the session, Parry wondered if Ritchie violated campaign finance law by not registering his activities as a ballot question committee.
“I believe he actively campaigned against the (proposed) constitutional amendments,” Parry said last week.
Parry said that Ritchie used an almost 100-year old statute to originally make the change, and Parry claimed it would have been a “travesty” if the Supreme Court members didn’t use “common sense” to make their decision.
Parry’s state government committee also passed a State Government budget bill, which he said was a highlight of his two-plus years in St. Paul.
After what Parry called a “furious” five-hour debate, the bill passed with a 37-29 party-line vote. The bill spends about $600 million on state government in 2012-13, which amounts to a nearly 35 percent cut. The bill also calls for a 15 percent state workforce reduction by 2015.
Parry said Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Jim Schowalter praised the bill as a key reason for the current $323 million surplus in Minnesota.
The state senator is also proud of a series of veterans bills passed that helped businesses give more credit to hiring a vet without being mandated to do so.
“Those are all good things,” he said. “I’m just proud that I was able to bring together a team of senators to package the bills we were able to get Gov. (Mark) Dayton to sign.”
Before getting into politics, Parry owned and operated a Godfather’s Pizza restaurant in Waseca. He said he was tired of his town poorly managing its finances, so he ran for city council in 2004. Parry, who lost a city council election in 2008, still believes Waseca officials don’t work together to grow the city.
“In Waseca, there is still an intergovernmental power struggle going on, not the cooperation there should be,” he said. “Waseca appears to have a lot of individuals that want to make a name for themselves. There are certain pockets of teamwork, but nobody wants to come together and have a plan. That’s everything from trying to bring an event into town to trying to bring a business into town.”
He added that Waseca officials refuse to listen to cost-saving proposals. Parry would like Waseca to consider eliminating its police department, like the city of Jackson did last year. Parry said Jackson saved $500,000 by deciding to only use county and state officers to police the town of 3,300.
“Do we really need a police department in Waseca, Minnesota?” Parry asked. “I was in law enforcement, and I think the sheriff’s department could handle it just they are doing it in Jackson, Minnesota. Here we have a city council in Waseca that flatly won’t talk about something like this. To me that is being close-minded.”
Parry wouldn’t rule out another run or taking a job as a lobbyist or a position within the Republican Party.
“I like politics to the point where if you can convince people to come together and being able to pass state government budget bill. I like that part of it. I hate the things that happen during a campaign.”
Reach reporter Derek Sullivan at 444-2372, or follow him on Twitter @OPPSullivan