OWATONNA — Mike Parry has no plans to ride off into the political sunset.
On Aug. 14, the state senator for District 26 (Steele, Rice, Waseca counties) lost in his bid to secure the Republican nomination to take on incumbent DFL Congressman Tim Walz in the First Congressional District. Former state Rep. Allen Quist defeated him last month in the Republican primary (54 percent to 46).
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 decided instead to run for the U.S. Congress. Vicki Jensen (DFL-Owatonna) and Vern Swedin (R-Owatonna) are running for the open seat in the district, which includes Parry’s hometown of Waseca.
In October 2011, Parry was the first Republican to announce a bid to unseat Walz. He said he decided to run because at the time, none of the top Republicans in southern Minnesota were interested.
“I feared that Congressman Walz wouldn’t have a viable candidate to run against him,” Parry said Thursday. “Not that I necessarily wanted to go to Washington, but I believed we didn’t have good representation in Washington. Plus, everyone should be challenged. Everyone should have a challenger.”
Parry got his own challenger in December when Quist announced his bid. Nine months later, Quist, who served in the Minnesota House when Ronald Reagan was president, secured the GOP nomination.
Does Parry believe Quist is a viable candidate to challenge Walz?
“He’s the candidate the citizens have picked,” was all Parry would say. “And he’s the candidate that will have to beat Tim Walz.
“I still stand by what I said during the campaign. Who has the best chance to beat Tim Walz? I still believe I’m that candidate.”
During the primary, Parry carried Steele County, but lost two other counties that he has represented since 2010: Rice and his home county of Waseca. While he would have loved to carry Waseca County, he knew it was unlikely.
“I never did think I would do well (in Waseca County). You never win your hometown, knowing the people of Waseca, and the people that vote in Waseca,” Parry said. “You have some strong liberals. Even the independents like Mayor Roy Srp lean to the left. It is what it is. It would have been nice to win Waseca, but it didn’t happen. “
Parry also believes there were a lot of Democrats who voted in the Minnesota primary for Quist in the hopes of putting up a weaker candidate against Walz.
“There were some crossover votes. In a primary, that can be tough to overcome when the other party votes for your opponent. We know that happened throughout the congressional district,” Parry said.
Since the primary ended, Parry has been talking with constituents. He also voted to offer disaster relief to flood victims in Duluth, raised funds for Republican candidates and has spoken to GOP leaders on possibly running for various offices.
“Now, I’m in this window of unbelievable opportunity,” he said. “I’m not where I’m going to go. I have had people come to me and ask me to run for some very interesting positions.
“We will see what November brings. I don’t think Minnesota has seen that last of me politically.”
Parry ran into Quist in late August in Morristown at the Ahlman’s Shooters Roundup.
“I spoke with Allen and shook his hand,” Parry said. “I told him, ‘Don’t forget I’m here. Let me know what I can do.’ He thanked me again for offering my help. I don’t know if he will ask for my help. I know he has his own people.”
He said he would also help local GOP candidates, including Swedin, Dan Kaiser (District 24B) and John Petersburg (District 24A). He plans to help Petersburg defeat Craig Brenden (DFL-Waseca), even though Petersburg defeated Parry’s former colleague on the Waseca City Council, Larry Johnson, in primary, getting twice the vote (66 percent to 33). Johnson also helped Parry on his two state Senate campaigns.
“This is a great conservative district, and (Johnson) wasn’t the endorsed candidate. He wasn’t ready at the time when the convention was held,” Parry said. “He doesn’t always agree with the idea of the convention. I’m not sure a lot of people like the idea that you have a certain amount of conservatives deciding who can and who cannot run. I think a lot of people would like to do away with that. If you want to run, sign up and let’s have a primary.
“Unfortunately for Larry, the vote told us that people are looking stronger at endorsement process. Larry gets it, understands it. He’s one of those people who can negotiate. He’s a businessman. He’s been in some tough times, lived paycheck to paycheck like many of us.”
Parry also believes Kaiser and Swedin can win on Nov. 6, if they stick to the issues important to Steele County voters.
“Your message has to be the message that people want,” Parry said. “The message hasn’t changed since 2010. It’s still about economy, jobs and health care.”
In 24B, Kaiser is facing off against incumbent Patti Fritz (DFL-Faribault).
Coming Tuesday, Mike Parry talks about his time in St. Paul. He discusses what he accomplished and what he didn’t.
Reach reporter Derek Sullivan at 444-2372, or follow him on Twitter @OPPSullivan