Republican lawmakers stump for support as voters identify top concerns at GOP caucus

Sen. Carrie Ruud and Rep. Josh Heintzeman emphasized the importance of retaining the Republican party's majority in the Minnesota Senate and gaining it in the House at Tuesday's Crow Wing County Republican caucus, as voters identified chief concerns like Second Amendment rights and anti-abortion initiatives.

Keri Heintzeman (left) helps members of the Baxter 2E precinct during the Crow Wing County Republic caucus Tuesday, Feb. 25, at Forestivew Middle School in Baxter. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Campaign signs endorsing Sen. Carrie Ruud, Reps. Josh Heinzteman and Dale Lueck, and Congressman Pete Stauber greeted the roughly 150 Crow Wing County Republican caucusgoers who showed up to Forestview Middle School in Baxter Tuesday night.

Red “Make America Great Again” hats and shirts dotted the room as attendees sought out their precinct groups.

Both first-timers and caucus veterans came together to discuss the issues important to them as Crow Wing County Republicans, namely Second Amendment rights, anti-abortion efforts, fair election processes that make sure military votes count, and the FairTax Act.

Both Heintzeman, R-Nisswa, and Ruud, R-Breezy Point, appeared at the caucus to advocate for those top issues and the importance of electing Republican representation in both the Minnesota House and Senate.

“When I found out at 4 o’clock in the morning that we took the majority in the Minnesota State Senate, it was like the ‘Miracle on Ice.’ It was amazing,” Ruud said in her opening remarks to the audience.


Ruud mentioned several Democrat efforts Republicans were able to combat with a majority in the Senate, including single-payer health care, pro-abortion laws, recreational marijuana legalization, voting rights for felons and cuts to nursing home funding.

“It goes on and on,” she said. “And we were able to stop those things in the Minnesota Senate because we have the majority. And so we have to keep the majority in the Senate in Minnesota.

“We also need to take the House because … we can't just be the people that stop things. We have to be able to get things done. And so I asked you to really work hard on keeping Minnesota in the majority in the Senate, and to take back the House. We have to live with this governor (Gov. Tim Walz) for another couple of years, but we can sure make his life miserable.”

State Sen. Carrie Ruud speaks Tuesday, Feb. 25, at the Crow Wing County Republican Caucus Tuesday, Feb. 25, at Forestview Middle School. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Ruud also mentioned Heintzeman’s push to make a Crow Wing County a Second Amendment sanctuary county, inducing the audience to erupt in applause when she contrasted the measure with what she noted as the Democrats’ push to make Minnesota a sanctuary state for immigrants.


Heintzeman elaborated on his recent proposal, explaining it’s not the answer to protecting Crow Wing County but more of a buffer.

“If the federal government or the state of Minnesota decides to really get ugly, it can impact that sanctuary,” he said. “But it gives you an added layer of protection.”

Heintzeman also spoke of eliminating Minnesota’s tax on Social Security benefits and the importance of being able to have a choice when it comes to health care.

District 10A State Representative Josh Heinzteman speaks to Crow County Republican Caucus attendees Tuesday, Feb. 25, at Forestview Middle School. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

District 10B Rep. Dale Lueck spent time Tuesday in his home county of Aitkin, but sent a letter to be read in Crow Wing County, part of which his district also covers.

In his letter, he said Republicans in the Minnesota House have stopped extreme liberals and Walz’s continued effort to increase taxes. With a state surplus and adequate budget reserves, Lueck wrote the state should be reducing taxes and eliminating the state income tax on senior’s Social Security retirement benefits.

“Minnesota’s economy has improved over the past two years, but growth is still hampered by unreasonably high business taxes and mountains of regulatory red tape,” Lueck wrote. “I will continue to fight to free up our businesses from excessive taxation and heavy-handed regulation so we can continue to create new good-paying jobs in our area.”


In another letter to Republican caucusgoers, Congressman Pete Stauber described the country as a thriving, flourishing nation under President Donald Trump.

“The president’s economic policies I helped champion have given new life to the American economy, delivering prosperity and new hope for American workers and businesses, including the potential for a blue-collar boom right here in our part of Minnesota,” the letter stated.

Stauber also urged Republicans to continue fighting for the “economic engine” in the 8th District that includes mining, manufacturing and agriculture; the Enbridge Line 3 replacement project; greater border security; Second Amendment rights; and rights of the unborn.

Dan and Helen Swanson say the Pledge of Allegiance Tuesday, Fen. 25, at the opening of the Crow Wing County Republican caucus at Forestview Middle School in Baxter. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

For caucus-veteran Allen Jenkins, of Nisswa, a couple of the top issues were the FairTax Act and making sure military votes get counted.

“Our military that are overseas, to me, that is the most important vote. They’re the ones that are putting their lives on the line,” he said, noting past elections when absentee military ballots were not received on time and therefore not counted.

Jenkins and his wife Dianna Jenkins also spoke in support of the FairTax Act of 2019, introduced in the House Jan. 3, 2019, which would impose a national sales tax on taxable property in lieu of the current income tax, payroll taxes and estate and gift taxes in the U.S. It would replace those taxes with a 23% federal retail tax administered by state sales tax authorities. Under the bill, families who are lawful U.S. residents would receive a monthly sales tax rebate based on criteria related to family size and poverty guidelines.


As someone who has been to several caucuses over the years, Dianna Jenkins said she enjoys being able to meet others in her immediate neighborhood who think the way she does.

“This is local. This is where government starts, right here in a little neighborhood. This is our little neighborhood of Nisswa right here at this table,” she said, emphasizing the importance of getting involved in government at the precinct level.

Baxter resident Kirsten Smith felt similar, saying events like caucuses are important because voters can learn what they’re neighbors are thinking, which can help move conversations forward.

While Tuesday’s caucus was the second for Kirsten Smith, it was the first for her husband Lowell Smith, who said he didn’t quite know what to expect but enjoyed the experience and felt it’s an important process to participate in.

“By being involved, that gives you the ability to shape the narrative,” he said. “So if you don’t have input and shape the narrative, you’re basically getting what’s given to you.”

He then expressed concern at what he views as the Democrat party’s shift toward socialism. Hearkening back to Ronald Reagan’s view of socialism in the 1980s, Smith said the policy ensures the same things as prison does — free food, free education and free housing.

“It’s against accumulation of wealth,” Smith said. “And yes, like Reagan said, I like to dream of owning a yacht. But under socialism you can’t.”

Though Minnesota moved away from the caucus system in favor of a primary for the presidential vote this year, Crow Wing County Republican Chair Forest Hyatt hopes to see the grassroots element of precinct caucuses continue, noting people like to feel involved and feel a sense of community.


“They air their grievances, they want to talk about stuff,” he said. “... This is their only venue. And if all we have is the primaries, people are going to become disillusioned with everything that’s going on. And I think it takes away a lot of power from the people and places into the hands of the parties.”

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at .

Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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