by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol Reporter
Sartell Mayor Joe Perske is starting the longest marathon of his life.
A physical education teacher and standout runner, the 57-year-old Perske is poised to enter the 6th District Congressional race as a Democratic candidate.
“The race in the 6th District is very much like an ultra-marathon,” Perske said.
Although having not yet formally announced, he brushed aside the idea of backing out.
“That’s not going to happen. I’ve had three months to consider this,” Perske said Sunday, Sept. 8, while at the University of Minnesota Humphrey Institute for a DFL seminar.
Mayor of a city with about 16,000 residents, Perske is the highest profile Democratic candidate so far.
Circle Pines environmentalist Judy Adams is also expected to run as a Democrat.
The race itself was thrown into disarray by 6th District Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann’s decision not to seek re-election. A set piece rematch completely dissolved after Democratic hotelier Jim Graves, who lost to Bachmann by about 4,300 votes in 2012, followed suit and also dropped out.
Bachmann’s departure had a handful of Republicans in rapid secession announcing congressional candidacies. Similar announcements have been slower to develop for Democrats.
Still, 6th District Democratic Chairman Bill Usher, of Ham Lake, said there’s plenty of time.
Perske, instead of embracing party politics, blames it for gumming up the political process. But more the unease of having a “D” trailing his name on the ballot, Perske must also confront the uncomfortable reality of needing to raise campaign dollars.
“I’m dreading that the most. It’s not my style,” Perske said of dialing for dollars.
Indeed, in city elections, he refused to take contributions, he said.
Still, Perske talks of having a runner’s grit and determination.
“When I’m in a race, I’m in to win,” Perske said.
Born in St. Cloud, Perske grew up in Sauk Rapids, where his interest in Boy Scouting had him achieving the Boy Scout Eagle Award.
Perske’s father was a railroad switchman; his mother raised seven children, Perske said in a biography.
A successful distance runner in high school and college, Perske competed at the 1980 and 1988 Olympic Trials, he said. He has run in some 100 marathons, winning more than 20, he said.
An honors graduate of St. John’s University, Perske and his wife, Jan, a special education teacher, taught overseas for seven years at Augsburg, Germany, for the Department of Defense. For more than 20 years, the Perskes, who have three daughters, have lived in Sartell. Perske cited fishing, bow hunting, wilderness canoeing and cross-country skiing as his outdoor pursuits.
Perske describes his entrance into city politics as primed by concern over growth.
“I’m probably one of the most frugal politicians you’ll ever see,” Perske said.
He clips coupons, changes his vehicle’s oil and gets his hair cut at a nearby beauty college.
In discussing issues, Perske described himself as a so-called pro-life Democrat.
“That’s just where I am,” he said.
Perske said he was “comfortable” with existing gun laws.
Although worried that he’ll be typecast as holding certain beliefs as a Democratic candidate that he may not, Perske said he views the party and himself in tune on one accord.
“The Democratic Party has been a party about people,” he said.
Tim Budig can be reached at [email protected].