FAIRMONT - It's been years since a Democrat has been elected to state office in the Fairmont area, but that doesn't mean the party shouldn't try to reach out to local voters, says DFL state chairman Ken Martin.
Martin was in Fairmont Wednesday, touring this part of the state to promote the DFL agenda and its candidates.
Running against solid Republican incumbents, in a battle to represent this area's constituents in the Minnesota House and Senate are Kevin Labenz of Welcome and Paul Marquart of Eagle Lake. Labenz faces House veteran Bob Gunther, who was first elected to state office in 1995. Marquart is up against Julie Rosen, who has served in the Senate for nine years.
"I feel pretty good about our chances to take back both chambers," said Martin, referring to Republicans' success in gaining majority control of the Senate and the DFL losing its veto-proof power in the Senate over the past couple election cycles.
How will they reclaim Minnesota as a blue state?
"By being honest with voters," said Martin, more than implying that Republicans have done the opposite.
GOP lawmakers have been "disingenuous," according to Martin, by claiming they have created a budget surplus after last summer's government shutdown fiasco. By January 2013, he projects a $3 to $4 billion deficit.
"Republicans employed very misleading tactics," he said. "They used smoke and mirrors to balance the budget."
An example he cited is the money the state borrowed from cash-strapped schools, many of which have had to take out low-interest loans until the state pays up.
Restoring funding for pre-kindergarten through higher education is one goal DFL candidates are promising to pursue if elected, along with ending state cuts to cities' and counties' local government aid.
These issues can be addressed, the DFL party believes, by asking the wealthy to pay their fair share of taxes. It's an approach some conservatives have compared to socialism.
That would be true, Martin said, if the wealthy were paying more, but with today's tax system, the wealthiest households in Minnesota are paying a smaller percentage of their income than the middle class or the poor.
"The GOP believes you can boost the economy if you give tax breaks to the wealthy and corporations. But trickle-down economics have never been proven to work," he said.
But many people across the state - and country for that matter - are fed up with the two-party system, the political posturing and the stalemates. Minnesotans have always been an independent lot, Martin said, voting less along party lines than for the candidates they truly believe in.
"This is a Republican area, no doubt about it," he said. "... I think some of my predecessors had written off certain parts of the state, but I feel you'll never change an area from red to purple to blue until you start communicating with people and talking with them about the issues."
One of the hot-button issues in Minnesota this year is the proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.
"Conservatives might think gay marriage is wrong, but it's redundant to further define this form of discrimination," said Martin, referring to the Legislature's vote in favor of banning same-sex marriage in 1997.
"I think we will defeat that amendment," he said, noting that more people, regardless of their religious belief, are changing their attitudes about gay marriage - not because they necessarily support gay marriage, but because they don't support discrimination.
Businesses, most recently General Mills, and prominent Republicans have spoken out against the constitutional amendment, leading Martin to say the issue is political, but not partisan.
"I think we will be the first state in the union to defeat this," he said, despite voters' approval of banning gay marriage in all 31 states that have put the question on a ballot.
"I have no doubt, in 10 to 15 years, same-sex marriage will be legalized," Martin said. "It's just a question of how we decide now."