by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter
Republican House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt sat on the farmhouse porch with a smiling lab at his feet and a cooing mourning dove in a nearby tree.
“When I am in St. Paul, I am so busy — and I really love what I do down there. But I can’t wait for the weekend to come,” Daudt said of returning to Crown.
Although Daudt spends many nights in St. Paul, his cabin on Spectacle Lake, the farm his grandfather bought in 1938, about a mile from the crossroads of Crown in southwest Isanti County, is old home ground.
Daudt did not grow up there.
He grew up on a sheep farm near Princeton, a big operation with as many as 400 animals, But after graduating from the University of North Dakota, it was on his grandfather’s farm, 62 remaining acres, Daudt went to live.
Daudt and his brother Shane share the place, along with a coop of Cornish Cross chickens who will not live to see the autumn, six Black Angus, three of which are calves, and a black lab, Kurt Daudt’s pet, Lucy.
The lights of Crown do not blemish the evening sky.
“We say it’s a gas station, a bar, and church. And that’s what Crown is,” Daudt said, smiling.
Even so, Crown has old names.
Daudt is one of them.
The windmills Grandfather Louie Daudt, a folk artist as well as inventive mechanic, fashioned out of scrap still cut the wind here and there around Crown, Daudt said.
Another old Crown family name is Grams, former Republican U.S. Sen. Rod Grams having a farm not far away.
Not that Daudt’s vistas have been defined by fence lines.
“I’ve always been the kind of person who wants to get involved in things,” Daudt said. “And maybe even to a fault.”
At age 24, Daudt was elected to the Stanford Township Board, a “thankless” job where he heard complaints about plugged culverts, flooded yards, but learned a lot about basic government.
“And I learned most of all, people just want somebody to listen to them,” Daudt said.
Next stop was the Isanti County Board — Daudt beat an incumbent.
“I’ve always been kind of tapped, or recruited, to run for something else,” he said.
Daudt left the county board in his second term to successfully run for the Minnesota House.
In St. Paul, at the beginning of his second term, Daudt’s Republican House colleagues voted him minority leader, the quickest rise to that position in a century.
“I kind of think it will happen,” Daudt said of becoming speaker of the House, predicting the Republicans will reclaim majority status.
“If I’m successful at that,” Daudt said of advancing the Republican message, “I believe my team will reward me.”
Daudt foresees Republican fortunes brightening.
Democrats have gummed up the state’s economic recovery, he argues, and been plainly self-serving at times.
“I don’t think it takes a rocket scientist to figure out why they were doing that,” he said of day care and long-term care unionization legislation, “because unions give them a lot of campaign money.”
The legislation allows for a unionization vote.
Daudt has been urged to run for Congress in the 6th and 8th congressional districts, he said.
He lives in the 8th, but the border of the 6th District, the home of the bulk of his legislative district, is a stone’s throw away.
But Daudt indicated he has promises to keep.
“It would be really self-serving for me to serve three years in the Minnesota House, and then announce I’m running for Congress,” Daudt said.
Asked if his Republican colleagues would feel let down, Daudt thought they would.
“I think so. And I wouldn’t blame them a bit,” he said.
Daudt, though saying he hasn’t really thought about going to Washington, doesn’t wholly dismiss the idea.
“I have a feeling, if I would go out there (to Washington as a congressman), I could be influential,” Daudt said, saying he’s good at building relationships.
“(But) I truly believe we need to put Republicans back in the (Minnesota House) majority,” he said.
“I’m really committed to that,” he said.
To tour the farm with Daudt is to hear about future projects.
The Daudts recently tore down an old two-bunker corn crib, and give other old farm buildings hard glances.
Kurt Daudt jokes about sparing the raspberries growing next to one weather-beaten structure.
There’s talk of a new pole barn.
Nudged by a familial gene for mechanics perhaps, Kurt Daudt looks to restoring his weekend ride, a rustless 1966 Ford Bronco he purchased from the City of Havre, Mont.
Proof of origin can be seen in fading letters on the Bronco’s door.
Like Grams, the Daudts collect tractors.
There’s a 1947 John Deere B used in the fall to haul firewood — the Daudts heat with wood, cut 10, 12 cords a year.
There’s another John Deere, vintage 1937, Grandpa Daudt’s tractor, with distinctive spoked wheels. A 1941 John Deere H, one with a single front tire for crops with narrow rows, sits with the other two tractors in partial cover.
Other tractors are here and there.
“I’ll probably do the Bronco before I do any of these,” Daudt reflectively said.
“Lucy loves riding in it.”
The Daudts don’t work the farm fields. Instead, they rent 24 acres to a neighbor who works the land.
In the fall there’s deer hunting, pheasants, a pond for waterfowl,
Tucked into a garage there’s a mini-bike for Kurt Daudt’s nephew to ride.
Daudt talks of work on the farm as a labor of love, if ceaseless love.
“As you can see by the lawn,” he quipped, pointing out a patch of tall grass.
“Sometimes I have to tell myself to relax,” Daudt said.
“But my mind is always kind of thinking, whether it’s stuff at the Capitol — what can we do to fix this, improve that — or whether here at the farm or at lake,” he said.
“I’m always thinking about my next project,” Daudt said.
Yet Daudt, 39, insists he’s never plotted out an overall course for his life.
“I have always reacted to where there’s need and where’s there’s opportunity,” Daudt said.
“If you are successful, then there will be another opportunity.”
Rep. Marion O’Neill, R-Buffalo, views Daudt as doing a good job leading the House Republican Caucus.
With Democrats controlling state government, it’s a tough go, she said.
O’Neill, a freshmen, appreciates Daudt making time for caucus members.
“He’s always available,” she said.
O’Neill views Daudt as “comfortable” leading House Republicans.
“I think he’s doing great,” former Republican House Minority Leader Marty Seifert said.
Seifert views Daudt as having the respect of his caucus. Leading the caucus is a balancing act, Seifert said, because traditionally the Republican House Caucus is evenly split between rural and metro.
The role of minority leader is tough, Seifert said.
You have a message, a microphone, a vote button — not much else, he said.
But Seifert, too, views Democrats as leaving House Republicans with opportunities.
Daudt, in looking ahead to the 2014 legislative session, which begins next February, spoke of bonding and other concerns.
“I look for our bonding (bill to be) under $1 billion,” Daudt said, arguing one reason the House Democrats’ $800 million bonding bill crashed on the floor last session was lack of communication.
“They didn’t include me in the conversations,” Daudt said.
House Democrats must have Republican votes to pass a bonding bill.
Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton intends to seek public support over upcoming months for a transportation initiative. Daudt speaks of focusing on roads and bridges — we can’t walk away from these investments, he said.
Daudt, who once rode Northstar Commuter Rail to a Vikings’ game and fond the experience pleasant, takes a cautious stance on transit.
Asked whether someone in Crown would know about the proposed Southwest Light Rail Line, Daudt doubted it.
“They’d think it’s a airline or something,” he quipped.
Daudt spoke of addressing the Democrats’ expansion of the state sales tax to repairs and warehousing.
He dislikes the idea of farmers needing to pay the sales tax on repairs of machinery. And Daudt argues that extending the sales tax to warehousing indirectly will cause commodity prices to rise.
Daudt views himself as a steadying influence in the House.
“I think what (House Speaker Paul) Thissen and (House Majority Leader) Erin Murphy figured out from me, is they could trust me. And when I tell them I’m going to do something, I’ll do it,” Daudt said.
He didn’t want the final hours of last legislative session to become “ugly,” Daudt said.
And they weren’t, he said.
Tim Budig can be reached at [email protected]