Jim Hovland, the mayor of Edina, is a good example of the conflicted political nature of the metro area’s western suburbs. A long-time Republican, he is not shy about expressing his frustrations over what he sees as the extreme nature of the current Republican party, calling it “a marching progression to a more consolidated base and a smaller party.”
Hovland supports abortion rights and is an advocate of mass transit.
He’s also thinking about running for Congress to replace Jim Ramstad, who has announced plans to retire after nine terms in Congress.
And if Hovland runs, he’ll be running as a Democrat.
Much to his surprise, Hovland was invited to a get-together with members of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Fourth District Congresswoman Betty McCollum and her chief of staff. They laid out some of the complexities of a potential congressional run in the rapidly changing Third District and what the DCCC could and could not do to help him.
“For years, I would characterize myself as a moderate-type Republican,” Hovland explained. “Over time, I felt like the Republican Party had moved farther and farther away from my philosophical beliefs. I find myself consistently philosophically aligning myself with Democrats,” said Hovland, a lawyer who has been on the Edina City Council for 11 years and mayor for the last three.
Those feelings have particularly manifested themselves over issues such as regional transit and transportation funding and local government aid. Hovland has done work with the Regional Council of Mayors and is the chairman of the
I-494 Corridor Commission. He’s also a member of the of the Metropolitan Council’s Transportation Advisory Board.
Hovland said he was surprised when the Democrats came a’ courtin. He joined some other potential Democratic candidates and state elected officials, including Rep. Steve Simon, Rep. Melissa Hortman, and Sen. Terri Bonoff. (Hortman has since announced that she would not be running.)
“I’ve loved doing stuff for our town and for our region and I like trying to push things along to make it a better place to live,” Hovland said.
“I consider myself service driven so when people start calling me from my town or people like Betty called and said ‘Would you think about this?’, first of all I’m kind of startled. First off it was something I never expressed to anybody, that I had sort of evolved this way over the past couple years.”
Hovland said he will spend the next couple of weeks going to DFL Senate District chairs and meetings to test the waters about how he might fit in.
“Am I the kind of guy that they would consider having me run for a congressional district seat or am I just wasting their time and my time?” he said.
Bill Harper, McCollumÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s chief of staff, said no one is making any endorsements of a Hovland candidacy, but added that Democrats believe he could effectively fit into the make-up of the district, a moderate suburban district with a pronounced independent streak where voters often seem driven to support a candidate rather than an ideology.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s kind of the Democratic side of Jim Ramstad. He comes off as kind of a new Democrat,Ã¢â‚¬Â Harper said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“People who know him who are Democrats respect him.Ã¢â‚¬Â
In 2006, Democrat Amy Klobuchar won the Senate seat in the district with 56 percent of the vote and Ramstad retained his seat with 65 percent of the vote.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“The profile of the district makes the hardcore ideological Democrat or the hardcore Republican a bit out of sync with the moderate, centrist district,Ã¢â‚¬Â he said.
As for the potential defection, state Republicans are not surprised, saying Hovland has not been an active member of the party.
“It sounds like he’s just a very ambitious guy who smells an opportunity here,” said Minnesota Republican Party spokesman Mark Drake.
“It is a district that is very competitive and we’re going to work hard and can’t take anything for granted,” Drake acknowledged. To his knowledge, though, Drake said the Republicans weren’t actively recruiting any Democrats to run.