House deputy minority leader faces primary challenge

One of the highest ranking Republicans in the Minnesota House is facing a primary challenge from a candidate who says the three-term Republican is not conservative enough for the Eden Prairie-based district.

Republican Sheila Kihne says she’s challenging state Rep. Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, the House deputy minority leader, because Loon hasn’t taken a more active role in reducing government spending. Kihne says she’s also unhappy that Loon voted to legalize same-sex marriage.

“People want a choice,” Kihne said. “I was at a point where I felt like I couldn’t vote for her.”

The primary is expected to highlight the contrast between grassroots Republicans who want candidates who strictly adhere to  conservative principles and those who want candidates who are more likely to attract independent voters.

Kihne says she’s disappointed that Loon and other Republicans failed to cut government spending when they had control of the Legislature in 2011 and 2012. She said, if elected, she’ll push to cut spending, not lower the rate of increase. On same-sex marriage, Kihne  said Loon voted wrong.

“It was a matter of keeping your word to the people who elected you,” Kihne said.

Republican delegates voted to not endorse Kihne or Loon when they met in for their endorsing convention in March. At the time, Loon said she was surprised that Kihne sought the endorsement. Opponents of same-sex marriage hailed Kihne’s challenge as a signal voters were upset with Loon’s vote on the issue.

Loon downplayed Kihne’s challenge, saying anyone has a right to run in the primary.

“We thrive on competition,” she said. “That extends to everything including the political arena.”

Loon said she’s going to focus her campaign on keeping taxes low, improving the state’s education system and making the state more business friendly.

She also said she does not regret her vote to legalize same-sex marriage.

“It was something that I thought about for a long time,” Loon said. “I cast my vote believing that it’s what the majority of the people in my district would have wanted me to do, and I stand behind it.”

The primary could involve outside interest groups. Minnesota for Marriage, a group opposed to same-sex marriage, said it will target candidates who voted to legalize same-sex marriage. Other groups, including the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, are expected to back Loon.

GOP House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt says the House Republican Campaign Committee will spend money to help Loon get re-elected.

“We very strongly support her and we’ll put the full weight of the HRCC behind her reelection,” Daudt said.

The primary election is Aug. 12.