Senate District 5: Utke stresses the importance of experience
Paul Utke, the incumbent prior to the redrawn district lines, is looking for reelection of a new area against A. John Peters, the Democratic runner.
BRAINERD — State Sen. Paul Utke hopes to use the knowledge and experience he’s gained in the last six years in St. Paul for another term representing rural Minnesota.
The Republican from Park Rapids said there would be no learning curve for him and it won’t take him time to get accustomed to the job.
“You just don't walk in the first day and start moving things forward,” Utke said. “It takes a while to get everything in place. And so at this point, my office has covered a lot of ground and we've been very good at it.”
The recently redrawn Senate District 5 has changed the region Utke would represent. However, Utke doesn’t think the change will impact his office too much.
“I think we're doing a really good job of representing rural Minnesota, particularly the area up here,” Utke said, “My current district goes from northern Wadena County to the Canadian border. Now we're just gonna flip that around a little bit and go from just north of me in Hubbard County down south into Todd County, but it's very similar. We're still a rural district and it's been a good match. I think we've got a lot of good stuff done.”
Utke grew up in North Dakota and moved to Minnesota in 1980. The 65-year-old married father of two relocated with his family to Park Rapids in 1993. He spent 15 years working with Mack Truck dealers and 16 years operating a hardware and equipment rental store. He’s a certified legal videographer and a licensed insurance agent.
Before pursuing a legislative seat, Utke served seven years on the Park Rapids City Council and was a board member for the Hubbard County Developmental Achievement Center, which provides specialized services to people with developmental disabilities and mental illness. He also filled multiple leadership positions within the Republican Party, including as the local county chair, senate district chair and as a member of the executive committee of the 8th Congressional District.
Utke said he never planned on running for state legislator, but “had his arm twisted.”
”I was active on, I always call it the other side — the operational side of it, where you recruit and help and support candidates and all that kind of stuff,” Utke said. “We were looking for someone to run for this seat. And we had worked on it for a number of months. Finally, they started pointing fingers at me and I turned it down a few times. And I finally said I’ll think about it, and I guess the rest is history.”
If reelected, Utke believes public safety should be a huge priority. He said city councils and local governments are in control of their own police departments. However, there is more to be done about supporting police officers and showing them appreciation for the work they do.
Another priority Utke wants to focus on is permanent tax relief. Minnesota is seeing a potential for a high budget surplus and Utke wants the government to use the money for tax relief.
“We had a nice tax relief plan last session, which never got through,” Utke said. “We're going to have to revisit that because that will be a priority to get permanent tax relief in place. I would like to revisit the whole plan. We spend enough money already in Minnesota, we just have to spend it smarter, and get it to those that really need it.”
A third priority Utke wants to pursue is getting education back to where it was before the pandemic. COVID-19 created a big setback for younger learners, Utke said, and he doesn’t think those children will be able to catch up on their own.
“I know that in the last session in spring of 2022, we were putting emphasis back on those early learners and literacy, because that was something that they really had suffered on,” Utke said. “And so it's getting, we're going to have to put emphasis back on the basics.”
During his time in St. Paul, Utke has served on numerous boards and committees, including Energy and Utilities Finance and Policy, Jobs and Economic Growth Finance and Policy, Human Services Reform Finance and Policy, and Health and Human Services Finance and Policy, the last of which Utke serves as chair. He also is a member of the National Council of Insurance Legislators.
Experience is one of the main things Utke said set him apart from his competition. He said he has an understanding of how the government works and a proven track record. He also said it’s a team effort, not a one person job, and he knows how to work with others even when they don’t always agree.
“You treat everyone with respect and if you're working on a specific issue, you give them all the facts and data,” Utke said. “Basically you're your salesperson, you're selling your idea. In the end, we're all different and we all come from different areas, and not everybody's going to agree on everything. But I always start by treating everyone with respect.”
Utke said he gives everyone the respect of presenting their side and stressed about how feedback is good because it's what makes a better working relationship.
SARA GUYMON, Brainerd Dispatch, staff writer, may be reached at 218-855-5851 or