Experience against newcomer in Minnesota House District 7A DFL primary

This year's Democratic House District 7A primary pits a seasoned incumbent against a relative newcomer seeking his first term in elected office. After 20 years of experience in the Minnesota Legislature, Rep. Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth, appears the ...

Map of Minnesota House District 7A

This year's Democratic House District 7A primary pits a seasoned incumbent against a relative newcomer seeking his first term in elected office.

After 20 years of experience in the Minnesota Legislature, Rep. Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth, appears the odds-on favorite to win re-election with his party's endorsement already in hand.

But his 42-year-old opponent, Brandon Clokey, isn't shrinking from the primary race, assuring voters that he's in it to win it.

While now 74 years old, Huntley said that as long as his health holds, he hopes to continue to serve his district.

"It's such an important job, because so much of the future of our state is dependent on what the Legislature invests in," he said. "I plan on staying in office as long as I can do the job."


Huntley said he considers this year a key opportunity for Democrats to win back control of the Legislature and predicted the party had a "better-than-50-percent chance" of doing so. The winner of the District 7A primary Aug. 14 will face Republican candidate Therese Bower of Duluth in the November general election.

Clokey said he's the best man for the job.

"People like Tom Huntley and they respect him. But many of us don't think he's that effective anymore. He has slowed down," Clokey said, noting that Huntley authored only three bills last session.

Clokey expressed appreciation for Huntley's years of service but questioned whether he was making the most of his tenure.

"If you have experience, you need to be able to utilize it. What good is experience if you're not going to use it to better effect?" he asked.

Clokey contends the district deserves someone with more energy and fresh ideas representing its interests in St. Paul.

Huntley points to his record as a proven legislative leader and consensus builder on difficult issues, including health-care reform packages in 2007, 2008 and 2010. A retired associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of Minnesota Medical School in Duluth, Huntley holds the lead DFL position on the Health and Human Services Finance Committee.

In crafting comprehensive health care, Huntley said he has had to work across the aisle with others, including former Gov. Tim Pawlenty.


Huntley said he has a sign on the door of his office in St. Paul that reads, "Caution: Raging pragmatist inside."

He describes himself as results-oriented.

"I don't want to pontificate, if it's not going to be productive," Huntley said. "Why waste people's time?"

Clokey said he's used to collaborating with people and overcoming differences. He said his life experiences would serve him well if elected to the House.

"I've always had to get along with people who are different than me," Clokey said. "I was adopted and raised by a white family, and I've had to be able to relate with people who are unlike me since I was a 2-year-old."

Clokey said Democrats and Republicans share many common concerns, and he will look for ways to work with legislators regardless of their party affiliations.

"I don't care whether you have an 'R' or a 'D' after your name. We all still want the best for our families," he said.

Although Clokey has never been elected to office, it's not for lack of effort. In 2008, he ran for the House District 7B seat, finishing fourth, with 2 percent of the vote in a five-way DFL primary won by Roger Reinert, who later went on to win a seat in the state Senate race. Later that same year, Clokey was a finalist to fill the seat Reinert vacated on the Duluth City Council to begin serving in the Legislature.


In 2010, Clokey campaigned for the House District 7A seat, but he never filed and withdrew from that race in May.

Clokey said he's driven to re-examine social services programs, with an eye toward improving them.

"There's a ton of money that could be better spent," he said, suggesting supportive programs that help people become independent could be well worth the investment. Instead of cutting off assistance immediately when someone takes a job, he suggested people be allowed to receive continued health insurance coverage and child care services as they make the transition to self-sufficiency and qualify for employer-supported benefits.

Huntley said he aims to tackle budget issues in the next session.

"The biggest issue for the state is to finally start addressing its financial problems. We've borrowed from the schools and tobacco funds too often. And we've made severe cuts to health care programs so providers aren't paid enough for services and then they have to charge all the rest of us to make up the difference," he said.

To address those problems, Huntley said the Legislature will need to take a hard look at its budget priorities and difficult structural reform of the tax system.

Clokey said he also wants to improve support for education and improve graduation rates, particularly for minority students who are at greater risk of dropping out.

Huntley said the state needs to take steps to reduce the cost of higher education, where it now ranks close to the top in the nation. He links creating a strong education system to Minnesota's success on other fronts, as well.


"In order to have a healthy economy, we need to have a well-trained work force," Huntley said.

Clokey noted that not all jobs are equal, and the state should focus on growth in the right areas.

"I'm not just concerned with the number of jobs we can create. I'm more concerned they pay livable wages that allow people to move forward," Clokey said.

Peter Passi covers city government for the Duluth News Tribune. He joined the paper in April 2000, initially as a business reporter but has worked a number of beats through the years.
What To Read Next
Get Local