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Green challenges Sparks

On the same day that the incumbent filed for reelection, Austin school board member Kathy Green announced she will be running as a Republican in the Senate District 27 race.

Green, who has been on the school board since 2000, will be up against Dan Sparks, the two-term Democratic Senator who officially launched his campaign for a third term by filing at the Mower County Government Center Wednesday.

Green said she is eagerly looking forward to a competitive campaign.

“I think it’s very healthy for every election to have competitors,” she said.

In her campaign, the school board member will make the state’s budget issues her No. 1 priority. But given her background, it’s no surprise Green ranked education as the second-most pressing issue facing the state.

“My passion is for public education, and if you’re from Austin, you know that,” she said. “The Legislature needs to respect schools.”

Overall, Green said she’d take a fiscally responsible approach to issues with a simple mantra in mind: Don’t spend more than you have.

“Minnesota must get its fiscal house in order,” Green said.

As far as the challenge of garnering enough support to knock off an incumbent, Green said she’s ready for a lot of campaigning in cities throughout the district, which includes Fillmore, Freeborn and Mower counties.

“I enjoy being able to meet people,” she said.

Like Green, Sparks cited the budget and education as key issues in the coming year. But locally, flood relief and prevention is very important, and he said he’d strive to secure funds for Austin in 2011 through the bonding bill process.

There is also the racino bill, a proposal that Sparks has pushed for that would allow slot machines at two Minnesota horse tracks. Sparks has said the bill could be a big money generator for the state, but Green said Wednesday it is a “fluff” issue at this point when compared to other more pressing areas.

Green added that, in general, Sparks and the rest of the Legislature have let the citizens of Minnesota down by letting budget problems get out of control.

“The current players have had their chance to solve it for eight years, and they’ve failed,” she said.

Sparks said he is proud of the work accomplished by the Legislature this year, including the bonding bill, and he looks forward to continuing that work in 2011.

“Just like when you drive a car, you don’t look out the rear view mirror,” Sparks said. “I think there’s still some work that we’d like to complete.”

The senator also said he has a personal stake in the election.

“I was born and raised (in Austin), so the decisions I make in St. Paul don’t just affect voters, they affect my friends, my family, the people I grew up with,” Sparks said. “I take this job very seriously.”

Green too promoted her Austin community ties — she cited her various volunteer engagements over the past 29 years as a key reason she is fit for the role.

But of course, she’ll need more than just Austin-based support, and in a sign of her desire to attract voters outside of Mower County, she started her campaign tour in Albert Lea Wednesday.

There, Freeborn County Republican Party Chairman Al Arends voiced his support for the candidate.

“We’re going to really be behind her all the way,” Arends said.

Mower County Republican Party Chairman Charles Mills also backed Green Wednesday in Austin.

“Kathy is not running for a job,” he said. “She is running to serve our district … She is an outstanding citizen of southern Minnesota.”

But perhaps the proudest supporter of Green is her young communications specialist.

“I’ve known the candidate for 23 years,” Luke Green, Kathy Green’s son and campaign staffer, said to a few chuckles at the Mower County Senior Center. “She has a wonderful track record.”

The general election is set for Nov. 2.

– Albert Lea Tribune reporter Sarah Stultz contributed reporting from Albert Lea