OWATONNA — An Owatonna man who said he proudly wears the “liberal” moniker has won the endorsement of the DFL in his quest for the District 24A seat in the Minnesota House of Representatives.
Joe Heegard, 54, of Owatonna secured the party endorsement at the District 24A convention held Sunday, April 29, in the Owatonna Public Library.
Heegard grew up in Austin, Minnesota, where he said he learned his politics at his father’s knee.
“I’ve been a progressive liberal my whole life,” Heegard said. “My dad was a union meatpacker.” It was there, he said, where he was “brought up believing in the equality of all and the value of helping those less fortunate.”
In making his announcement for the 24A seat, Heegard made that connection to the hard-working men and women of the labor force.
“The true drivers of our economy here in Minnesota are the hard-working employees who show up every day in factories and stores and businesses large and small. These are not the people who are seeing the benefits of the billion-dollar tax cuts being given to the ultra-wealthy and the largest corporations,” Heegard said. “State representatives should be truly representative of their constituents.”
After he graduated from high school, Heegard joined the Army, where he moved around the country and even around the world. When he left the Army, he moved back to Minnesota, first to Rochester and eventually, about 15 years ago, to Owatonna, where he took a job with Viracon.
He moved into Viracon’s parent company, Apogee, as middle management. He lost that job during “reorganization,” he said. Since then, he’s been working as an independent contractor.
His current position also allowed him to get “a little bit more involved,” he said, with the DFL, first as a precinct chair and eventually sitting on the board of the Steele County DFL.
Heegard said he hadn’t considered running for office until the recent county convention when he was approached by state Rep. Debra Hilstrom, a DFLer from Brooklyn Center who had come to Steele on a recruiting missing.
“I told her, ‘Talk to my wife,’” Heegard said.
But when Hilstrom spoke to his wife, Myrna, she heard a similar refrain.
“Myrna said, ‘Talk to my husband,’” said Heegard.
Heegard considered it and accepted the challenge.
“I figured, ‘I’m qualified to do this,’” he said. “Government by the People.”
One of things that pushed Heegard toward tossing his hat into the political ring was what he called the tendency by the Republicans to focus on issues that are, in his words, “distracting.”
“Our current government is failing to address the real issues, the important issues that we have going on,” he said.
By way of example, he noted that on Monday the state Senate’s budget had yet to be completed in that chamber.
“Yet the week before last, they passed a bill criminalizing passing your dog off as a fake service animal,” he said.
If elected, he will push for those things that should be in our focus, he said — things such as education funding, improved infrastructure and the environment.
Heegard is expected to face off against incumbent John Petersburg, R-Waseca, in the November general election. Petersburg, 66, was first elected to the House in 2012.
Seat 24A includes the cities of Owatonna and Waseca as well as rural areas between the two communities.