Abeler will make U.S. Senate race more interesting in 2014

Minnesota’s 2014 race for the U.S. Senate seat, now held by Sen. Al Franken, became more interesting Tuesday with the announcement that state Rep. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, is entering the race.

As legislators go, Abeler, in his eighth term, is one of the more thoughtful members and is somewhat of a maverick within the GOP. Some would even call him a moderate, which, in today’s polarized politics, is thought to be a fatal tag.

In 2008, he voted to override Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s veto of a gas tax increase, creating much opposition toward him in the GOP. Regardless, he overcame the intraparty resistance and easily won re-election.

The fact is, Abeler understands that government, in its ham-handed way, does try to help people, even as he understands that government neither can nor should fund every well-intentioned idea. His knowledge of the intricacies of federal human services mandates would make him a force to be reckoned with in Washington, should he be elected.

In 2011, the ECM Editorial Board interviewed Abeler between patients at his chiropractic office. At the time, the state was facing a budget deficit of more than $4 billion. As the chair of the Health and Human Services Finance Committee, he was charged with making huge cuts in human services programs that assist this state’s most vulnerable citizens. He told the board that he had finally had his first good night’s sleep in a couple of months just a few days before that meeting because he had determined that no one was going to die because of the cuts that had to be made. The same cannot be said about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) which Franken supported and essentially rations health care.

Still, conservatives would be wrong to dismiss him for not being doctrinaire right-wing. In his announcement, Abeler outlined the issues on which he plans to run, saying, “The personal and religious freedoms that were intended for us by our Founding Fathers are being steadily eroded. Government spending is out of control and unsustainable. Massive debt to foreign countries threatens our sovereignty. Our children and grandchildren are born into a future as indentured debtors of our country’s careless spending.”

Abeler faces a stiff battle just to get the Republican endorsement. Even if he does, Franken is sitting on $2 million in campaign cash, and will be the favorite for re-election. Regardless, Abeler, will talk about the issues in an intelligent, adult manner that is rarely seen these days. That could be interesting.