Health care drives debate in race for legislative seatTom Huntley knows what it’s like to unseat a popular, long-term incumbent from political office; he did it to former Republican state Rep. Ben Boo.
By: John Myers, Duluth News Tribune
Tom Huntley knows what it’s like to unseat a popular, long-term incumbent from political office; he did it to former Republican state Rep. Ben Boo
18 years ago.
Now, Duluth Republican activist Carinda Horton wants to send DFLer Huntley into political retirement.
Huntley, 72, a biochemist and longtime University of Minnesota Medical School professor in Duluth, has held the House seat covering eastern Duluth since 1992. He has specialized in health-care issues at the Capitol, where he’s become a key player in the debate on health insurance, cost and coverage.
Horton, 41, graduated from UMD, did a stint in the Minnesota Army National Guard serving in Operation Desert Storm and has been a high-profile Republican activist in the Northland for several years. She may be best known for her past work as a conservative talk radio host on a local station — and as the wife and business partner of Duluth boxing promoter and conservative activist Chuck Horton.
Horton says she grew up in a family with a split political personality: Her mom is a “free spirit … far left, progressive liberal,” and her dad was a conservative military man. Horton said she and her sister fell on dad’s side.
“I think I inherited a little of both, but (my political philosophy) now is more like my dad,” Horton said. “Those great discussions we had really have enabled me to see and respect both sides, to respect other people’s philosophies and where they are coming from.”
Huntley now serves as chairman of the House Finance Subcommittee for the Health Care and Human Services Finance Division that oversees a huge part of the state’s annual budget.
“It’s about one-third of the state budget … that goes for medical assistance, mostly seniors in nursing homes or people with disabilities,” Huntley said.
It’s also one of the fastest growing parts of the budget and a big part of why a budget shortfall is projected for 2011-13. Huntley said he’s been working for years to get control of costs and says this year’s federal health-care reform can help.
“We’re trying to make sure the health-care system is as efficient as it can be. We’re trying hard now to adapt our (state) laws to the federal reform. … We’re going to get more coverage, better coverage thanks to the federal health-care plan,” Huntley said, noting the federal legislation could funnel
$1.4 billion into Minnesota over the three-year period.
On local issues, Huntley said he’ll work for continued state funding for repairs to the city’s sewage system to stop overflows into Lake Superior; he supports the Northern Lights Express passenger rail plan; and wants to boost jobs and spur economic development by increased investment in K-12 funding and making college tuition more affordable.
Horton says Huntley has focused too much on the health-care issue.
“Health care is important. But so is public safety. So is education. So is transportation,” she said. “You can’t only do one thing down there. This community needs an active participant on many issues.”
Horton also pledged not to make the Legislature a career but said it’s important for Duluth and the Northland to have at least one Republican in St. Paul. Currently, there are none.
“My loyalties lie with this community, with this region, and not with the Republican party. But there are times now, when things get up to the (Republican) governor, when they get kicked back because there’s no Republican support,” Horton said.