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Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Strib on State Legislative Primaries

Gay legislator leads in closely watched runoff
Gay rights was but one issue among legislative candidates.
Conrad Defiebre, Star Tribune

Last update: September 12, 2006 – 10:23 PM

Minnesota's only openly gay Republican legislator, Sen. Paul Koering of Fort Ripley, faced a strong primary election challenge Tuesday from a Brainerd City Council member whose campaign received assistance from a Twin Cities-based group that advocates a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and civil unions.

In one of the most closely watched of 20 legislative primary contests in the state, Minnesota Citizens in Defense of Marriage leafletted cars at Brainerd-area churches Sunday to publicize Koering's failure to vote three years ago on a floor amendment to prohibit the promotion or teaching of homosexuality and bisexuality in public schools.

The amendment failed overwhelmingly, with six members of the GOP Senate minority voting no.

Koering led real estate broker Kevin Goedker in early returns as this edition of the Star Tribune went to press Tuesday night.

Goedker and marriage amendment proponents also have emphasized the senator's mixed record on procedural votes concerning the proposed constitutional amendment, which has not passed the DFL-controlled Senate and thus has been kept off the general election ballot. Goedker says Koering's sexual orientation, which Koering publicly revealed last year, isn't the issue, but rather his votes on gay rights, taxes, the minimum wage and other conservative concerns.

Koering disputes that.

"This campaign has reached an all-time low," he said Tuesday during a break from last-minute door-knocking. "Whatever happens, it's really a sad day."

Koering, who unseated longtime DFL Sen. Don Samuelson on his third try in 2002, was not without support in this campaign. He won the Republican Party endorsement after seven ballots and also received backing from Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, which touted his unwavering opposition to abortion.

Goedker said voters' reaction to independent groups' involvement in the campaign was mixed.

"It'll be interesting," he said. "I think it comes down to the senator's liberal voting record."

Gay rights issues also were at the heart of a primary election challenge to Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar, who had comfortably won nine elections in his west-central Minnesota district dating to 1978 without once facing a contested primary. On Tuesday, however, he was up against retired state trooper Michael Cruze, who campaigned against Johnson's opposition to the proposed marriage amendment.

Johnson held a comfortable lead in early returns.

Only three other legislators had primary-election opponents from within their parties.