House District 5B: Monson says he understands legislative commitment
Monson’s decision to run for House District 5B came after careful consideration of what the responsibility would mean for him and his wife, along with encouragement from legislators with whom he’s worked on various county legislative priorities.
BRAINERD — Sheldon Monson is so serious about his run for elected office, he put his life as a sheep farmer on hold to keep his time and energy focused on the campaign.
Monson’s decision to run for House District 5B came after careful consideration of what the responsibility would mean for him and his wife, along with encouragement from legislators with whom he’s worked on various county legislative priorities. And it came once he knew his herd of Katahdin hair sheep on his rural Wadena farm was in the good hands of a friend.
“Before we made the final decision, we wanted to make certain that we were fully aware of, what does it mean to be a rep? And what does it mean to be a rep’s wife or spouse?” Monson said during a Monday, Aug. 1, phone interview. “ … We spent a lot of time making certain that we understood the responsibility. And it was Rep. (John) Poston who told me there won’t be a day of the year that you don’t put your rep hat on — there’ll be a phone call or an email or something. It isn’t just a five-month position when you’re in session.”
The 57-year-old father of six and grandfather of two is one of two Republican candidates seeking to represent the newly forged district, facing Mike Wiener in the Tuesday primary election.
Monson might have sought insiders’ points of view to inform his decision to run, but he’s no stranger to political and civil service, both in the nonpartisan and partisan worlds.
A master electrician by trade and former electrical contractor, Monson has worked as an electrical inspection area representative for the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry for 22 years. He and his wife also both served as part of the Hackensack First Response Team when they lived in that community.
After moving to the Wadena area, Monson joined the Wadena County Fair Board, overseeing the 2010 county fair occurring just weeks after a devastating tornado destroyed swaths of the city. Helping to coordinate recovery efforts with various governmental entities brought him closer with county officials, he said, and after some encouragement to run, he won the 2014 election to become a county commissioner.
Meanwhile, Monson also became involved with the local Republican Party, serving as chairman of the Wadena County Republicans for 10 years and as a member of the 8th Congressional District Republican board for more than six years.
“The best part about being involved is I've met so many great people that are really invested and care about their communities, their state, their country,” Monson said.
As a county commissioner, Monson said he’s worked extensively with area legislators on making changes to the county program aid formula, which he said in its current state has a negative impact on counties like Wadena. With fewer than 15,000 people and a low tax base, the county features the third highest county property tax rate in the state, despite carrying no debt and running on what Monson described as a lean budget.
If elected to the Legislature, Monson said reworking this aid would be a focus in pursuit of less impact on local taxpayers to support the costs of state and federal mandates.
Tax relief in general would be his No. 1 priority, he said, given the state’s surplus and the economic conditions straining Minnesotans. He would also seek to end the taxing of Social Security benefits among senior citizens.
“Inflation, gas prices have been plaguing everybody and crushing families. And real estate prices, of course, have been climbing dramatically,” Monson said. “ … The surplus, I really believe, needs to be given back in tax cuts to the taxpayers.”
Passing a requirement for voters to present an ID at the polls would be another top concern of Monson’s, he said, pointing to the various situations in life when one is required to confirm their identity.
“You go to the clinic, you go to the doctor, there's so many. You go get a combination hunting/fishing license, you need a driver's license and a Social Security number. And now your spouse needs to be there with you when you get that license,” Monson said. “There are just so many other aspects commonplace where we're using photo ID already, but it just authenticates that in our voting process.”
Monson said he’s ready to work with legislators across the aisle to ensure legislation helpful to his district comes to fruition and noted he intended to take a page from Poston’s book. Poston represented the area for six years before announcing his retirement earlier this year. Monson said while in the minority in the House of Representatives, Poston wasn’t afraid to ask a DFLer to sponsor a good piece of legislation, even though his name wouldn’t be on it.
“I think that we can find a lot of common ground that we can work on together for the greater good. And just being separated all the time into your two camps, it doesn't accomplish that for the greater good for what people want,” Monson said.
Two policy areas Monson sees as crossing party lines are public safety and community corrections. Everyone should be concerned about crime in the Twin Cities metro, he said, as well as an impending shortage of law enforcement officers. He noted the state has failed to increase funding for local community corrections departments for at least a decade while the responsibility for managing probation cases grows.
Monson must make it past his primary opponent first if he is to have a chance to pursue these priorities. Despite garnering the support of Poston and state Sen. Paul Utke, R-Park Rapids, Monson did not earn the party endorsement.
As a former party official, Monson said he wanted to be able to support the endorsed candidate but ultimately did not feel the experience was there. He noted with the way the caucus process works, the endorsement decision ultimately rested on no more than eight minutes of candidate speeches in the hands of 65 people, yet the district includes nearly 25,000 registered voters.
“After doing research and a lot of thought … I just didn’t see that he had much of a background of knowledge, and I just looked at the extent of my experience. And I had other people in my life that were encouraging me to consider going on to the primary.”
Monson hopes voters see he is more than just a name on the ballot — he’s someone who takes his commitments seriously.
“It’s the experience that I can offer, and it’s my background. My whole life has, in one form or another, been dedicated to community service — whether it was as an EMT (emergency medical technician), youth leader, 4-H leader, fair board, commissioner,” Monson said. “We’ve always been invested in our community.”