By Starrla Cray
LESTER PRAIRIE, MAYER, MN As a 21-year-old Republican college student, Lester Prairie native Ben Schwanke is a standout candidate for the Minnesota Senate District 59 seat in more ways than one.
“I had just been doing some volunteer work for the [Republican] party, and one thing led to another,” Schwanke said, explaining his decision to run for office.
Schwanke and five DFL contenders are vying for a seat vacated by Sen. Larry Pogemiller, who was recently appointed by Gov. Mark Dayton to direct the Minnesota Office of Higher Education.
A special election for Senate District 59 will take place Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2012.
“We are hopeful we can win,” said Schwanke, the son of Gerald and Nancy Schwanke of Mayer.
Schwanke, a 2008 graduate of Mayer Lutheran High School, is earning a degree in math and secondary education from Augsburg College in Minneapolis.
His siblings, Vanessa and Andrew, also live in the Twin Cities.
Schwanke has always been drawn to activities that benefit others, such as coaching youth sports, tutoring struggling math students at Marcy Open School, and helping seniors complete their high school careers at South High School.
In college, he began volunteering for the Republican Party.
“It was just getting involved and helping out,” Schwanke said. “They always need workers.”
Last spring and fall, Schwanke had the opportunity to intern at the state capitol.
“It’s interesting seeing the whole process of bill creation, and seeing bills work their way up the committee,” he said.
When the position for state senate opened up, Schwanke was ready to become even more involved.
According to a letter to the editor in the University of Minnesota’s campus newspaper, Minnesota Daily, Schwanke has “common-sense ideas” that will help college students and make the state a better place.
“As all of the candidates fought about who could best grow government, Schwanke stood out as the only one who seemed to really understand the spending problem our state faces,” Minnesota College Republican Chairman Ryan Lyk stated in the letter.
At a recent forum at the U of M campus, Schwanke empathized with students on high tuition and rent costs, and proposed that students pay a set tuition rate throughout their university career, according to a Nov. 29 article in the Minnesota Daily.
As a future high school math teacher, Schwanke said one of his goals is to help “reform the education system.”
“It’d be great to get more local control,” Schwanke said. “School boards know the students better than anyone else. More of the decisions should be made by them, not through state and federal mandates.”
Schwanke also has ideas to help with job growth.
“One goal I have is trying to help make a more business-friendly climate,” he said.
In the past few weeks, Schwanke has been busy getting to know people from various organizations throughout the district.
“I’d like to get students more involved in the political process,” Schwanke said, adding that college students make up about 35 percent of the district’s voter population.
If Schwanke is elected in January, he will be up for reelection in November 2012.
“I’d definitely seek reelection,” he said.
To contact the campaign, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
People who would like to donate to Schwanke’s campaign can do so through his website, http://www.voteschwanke.com/