Tom Stiehm is a former Marine who had a 30-year career in law enforcement. He disagreed with the charges against Kim Potter, former Brooklyn Center officer, and three of the officers who assisted Derek Chauvin when George Floyd died.
This is an opinion that you may not hear from other Democratic politicians of Minnesota. However, Stiehm, who is running as a DFLer for the Austin state House — has made law enforcement central in his campaign.
span style=”font weight: 400 You know, one Democrat talks about defunding police and then the next thing you know it’s like all Democrat in Minnesota are for defunding police,” Stiehm stated. “When I began running, I stated that my motto should have been:’refund the police span>
But Stiehm claimed that the Jan. 6 attack by Trump supporters on the U.S. Capitol was what really propelled him back to politics. The ex-14-year Austin mayor, who is pictured on his website beside a motorcycle, bets that voters will not be attracted to “extremes within our parties”. This could lead to him backing what may prove to be a long shot bid for office in an area where the DFL has lost ground.
Austin was once a stronghold for Democrats, thanks in part to the union support in meatpacking. In 2020, voters defeated Jeanne Poppe, an eight-term DFL Representative and Sen. Dan Sparks was elected in legislative districts tilted toward Republicans during the Trump era.
Hormel, Minnesota is an example of how Republicans won almost all of Greater Minnesota, excluding a few large regional centres and a section of northeastern Minnesota .
span style=”font weight: 400 I think our area had just so many times when their representative had voted alongside metro Democrats” on bills like gun regulation bills,” said GOP Rep. Patricia Mueller, Austin who is one of two Republicans to represent the region in the House since 1962. “And that was .”
There are a few places in Greater Minnesota that the DFL could regain lost ground this year in its effort to maintain its slim House majority. Mueller’s House District 23,B is one example. The campaign highlights local divisions about Trump, the 2020 election, abortion and metro liberals, inflation, guns, farm policies and, most importantly, policing.
Stiehm faces a difficult task as the DFL and its allies are not investing money in the race. There is also a recent case of party success: Ex-Hormel CEO Jeff Ettinger, a Democrat, won Mower County with a strong margin in the August special elections for the 1st Congressional District.
In either case, Stiehm is a good example of the kind of candidate Democrats believe might win Greater Minnesota.
A cop who became mayor
Through many pivotal moments in Austin’s history, Stiehm’s life can be traced back to that time. He was stationed on patrol during the 1985 Hormel P-9 strike that rocked Austin.
After the city diversified, immigrants (many of them from Mexico or Guatemala) faced backlash from white residents. Stiehm stated that he was elected in 2006 because “everyone thought I was going to throw the immigrants out the town.”
Stiehm stated that he said he wouldn’t. “My opponent claimed he would .”
Stiehm said that he was “kinda more right-wing” politically, but he has since softened his position. After holding forums, he stated that he realized that Austin didn’t have the best interests to kick anyone out and that his politics were more in line with Democrats. After many immigrants arrived to the city to work at Hormel and Quality Pork Producers, the city has been praised for being more welcoming.
Mower County has a greater diversity than other counties in Greater Minnesota. According to the 2020 Census, the county has a higher proportion of Hispanic/Latino residents than the state, and a greater Black population than the surrounding counties. This is due in part to African immigrants who settled there.
Oballa Oballa is one of Stiehm’s most loyal fans. Oballa Oballa fled violence in Ethiopia in 2003. He immigrated to America a decade later, arriving from a Kenya refugee camp. He said that he moved to Austin in 2015 as a Riverland Community College student. He then declared that he wanted to get involved in the community. Oballa was appointed by Stiehm to the city’s Human Rights Commission. He was then elected to the city council a few years later.
Oballa stated that he is running for Stiehm. He said Austin needs to have a representative who is open-minded and welcoming of immigrants.
Oballa said that Mayor Tom Stiehm was like a father to his children and a mentor. Oballa left the council in order to run for an at-large seat. “You can call him at any hour of the night span>
Stiehm was a former mayoral candidate who is known for being a smart operator, but can also clash with others who disagree with him. He said that he’s proudest of maintaining city infrastructure during the Great Recession of 2007-2009.
Stiehm didn’t seek re-election in 2020 as mayor. He said he ran for the House in 2020 as a Democrat because he was disgusted by the Jan. 6, 2021 attack at the U.S. Capitol, perpetrated by Trump supporters to reverse the results of the presidential election.
Poppe is a former lawmaker who manages the campaign along with Stiehm’s ex-wife, son, and daughter.
Stiehm has attacked Mueller for attending an April 2021 event hosted by Minnesotans4Freedom. According to local reports, the organization was founded by a man who attended the Jan. 6 “Stop the Steal” rally and doubted the legitimacy and validity of the 2020 election. He later criticised the violence and stated that he remained outside the Capitol.
Mueller shared a Facebook update that she said it was fun to “join so many Patriots” at the event and to share a legislative update. Mueller said that Jan. 6 rioters were wrong and it was untrue to say she thinks they are patriots. Mueller, along with other state House Republicans, signed a Jan. 11th letter condemning violence in D.C., and the violent rhetoric at a St. Paul “stop the steal” rally. She said that she did not know that the Minnesotans4Freedom organizer was at the U.S. Capitol Jan. 6.
Mueller stated that she believes people are frustrated by changes to the election process made without legislative approval. Do I believe that the president is the true president? Mueller stated that he believes that the crazyness of this is something we will never understand. Do I believe there are enough votes to win the election? No.”
Stiehm, however, describes himself as a political centerist who was driven to the DFL from the far-right GOP. He believes that Trump support has diminished. He said, “I believe most people are in middle.”
He stated that he supports abortion access and said that it was a major issue in his campaign. Mueller is against state-funded abortion. He prefers to ban all abortions after 12 week, except in cases where the mother’s health is at risk. She expressed hope that Republicans would send to the voters a constitutional amendment that would repeal protections against abortion access as ordered by Doe v. Gomez, the state Supreme Court.
Police and endorsements by police are two of the most important issues
Another pillar of Stiehm’s campaign has been the police. This is the issue that Stiehm probably broke the most with the DFL. It’s also a topic that has captivated many around the 26,000.
Stiehm stated that this was in part due to an Austin officer killing Kokou Chistopher Fifonou (span style=”font weight: 400 ;”>,) in December 2021. Stiehm opposed “anti-police protests” following the murder. He claimed that protesters had called for the officer’s arrest for decades, before any investigation even began. The officer was not charged. Stiehm stated that police departments in the metro may have a trust issue, but not Austin, where officers kneeled alongside protesters at a rally against George Floyd’s murder.
Stiehm stated that police should be held to high standards. They should feel valued and appreciated, not as though they are constantly under scrutiny. Stiehm also called for increased police funding, and money to help potential officers obtain higher education in an age when the public expects more of cops. The police department in Austin has had difficulty finding applicants for open positions, as it does elsewhere in the state.
Stiehm stated that he believes that some officers involved in high-profile murders of Black men were wrongly treated.
Stiehm argued that Kim Potter, a former Brooklyn Center officer, should not be charged with first-degree murder for fatally shooting Daunte and Wright last year during a traffic stop. She called the shooting a “mistake” but she was convicted.
Stiehm said that it was also “bullshit to imprison the three Minneapolis police officers J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane, who were there with Derek Chauvin when Floyd died. Stiehm stated, “OK, they’re not right, fire them, and do whatever you want.” They would have been punished severely if they intervened.” The three officers were fired and convicted for violating Floyd’s civil right. Lane pleaded guilty in May to second-degree manslaughter aiding and abetting. Thao and Kueng will be facing state trials on this matter.
Poppe said to MinnPost that in 2020, after losing her election, she regretted not asking for the endorsement of Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association in an election that was based in part on fears of unrest spreading in the Twin Cities.
Stiehm was not endorsed by the MPPOA despite having been a police officer in Austin for 30 years. Stiehm laughed and said, “I left them an unpleasant message” in reply.
Mueller is a member of the House’s Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Finance and Policy Committee. The group backed him. The MPPOA spokeswoman cited the committee job and stated that Mueller had authored and passed legislation to enforce law.
Mueller’s pitch to the voters
Mueller stated that the MPPOA endorsement was “really big,” particularly considering Stiehm’s past. She has distributed advertisements promoting the support of police officers.
Mueller agreed with Stiehm, saying that “what was being shown in the news and what was being said about police was not the experience of southern Minnesota.” She said she also built relationships with the chief of her local police and the county sheriff to seek advice on legislation.
Mueller’s victory in 2020 was largely based on Poppe’s record on guns, which included a “C” rating from the National Rifle Association and the endorsement of the MPPOA. Mueller is supported by the NRA. She stated that voters were concerned about possible limits on guns, such as red flag laws, which allow judges to seize guns from people deemed to pose a threat to themselves or others.
Stiehm, a gun owner, said that he has two semi-automatic rifles and opposes the ban on assault-style guns. He is also supportive of gun rights. He said that he supports red flag laws and background checks, but he disagreed with them. He said that he quit the NRA in 1980 when they supported “cop killing bullets”.
Mueller, a teacher and a substitute teacher in Austin’s public schools, has received her doctorate in May. According to the Republican, she stresses to voters that she is able to bring “unique representation” in a party that is primarily based in the metro. Mueller stated that the area is not “the metro” and does not want one-size fits all solutions or big-government.
Mueller stated that the main concern of voters is inflation and the economy. She has supported tax cuts for individuals and businesses. Mueller expressed pride in a workshop she organized to help people open a child-care business. It was attended by many residents of different races. As in many other parts of the state there is a child care shortage.
Mueller stated that many people are still having trouble coming out of COVID. “Seeing your paycheck not go as far for many constituents .”
Ettinger’s CD1 performance boosts DFL hopes
This year’s legislative battlegrounds will be in the suburbs of the Twin Cities and northeastern Minnesota.
House District 23B, which is centered around Austin, also favored Trump by more than 6 percentage point over Biden. Perhaps this is why the DFL and its party allies have not shown any signs of investing in Stiehm.
Chair of the Mower County Republicans, Doran Kasel said Trump’s message resonated particularly in rural areas, which has fueled enthusiasm for other Republicans. Kasel stated that Mueller won in the county, outside of Austin, while keeping her losses within the city limits.
He stated that the top three issues in this year’s survey were inflation, crime and education. This is a good thing for rural areas. He believes that parents aren’t in agreement with critical race theory and pushing the transgender agenda. State officials claim critical race theory is not part state’s K-12 teaching standards. The DFL, which broadly opposes transgender rights, has opposed policies restricting teachers’ ability to address gender and sexual orientation.
There are also other districts that Democrats control with comparable or worse numbers for DFL. Ettinger’s race for the 1st Congressional District has made some people smile, even though he lost his special election in the 1st Congressional District to Republican Brad Finstad.
Trump won Mower County in 2020, where Mueller’s district is located, winning 51.8 percent. Ettinger won the county by a staggering 55.7 percent in the August special election. He ran partly as a centrist frustrated with Jan. 6. Ettinger will be back on the November ballot in a rematch against Finstad.
Mueller stated that she doesn’t believe there has been any DFL revival.
“Mr. Ettinger is a very involved citizen and has shown himself to be a leader in the area due to his moderate views on issues.” she stated. “I believe people are tired of political polarization and Ettinger seems like a safe choice. He is an influential figure in Austin and has been around for many decades .”
Stiehm believes he will fit the same criteria. He said, “I won five Austin elections.”