by Dennis Dalman
In a stunning announcement Jan. 14, Sartell Mayor Joe Perske said he intends to seek the DFL endorsement to compete for the 6th U.S. Congressional District seat.
That seat is currently occupied by Rep. Michele Bachmann, who is now serving her fourth term and who said she would not file for re-election.
Perske had mentioned to some people for many months that he was considering joining the district race. Now it’s official.
The 6th District includes an area north and east of the Twin Cities, as well as most of the tri-county area of Stearns, Benton and Sherburne.
So far, Perske is one of three Democrats in the race. The others are Jim Read of Avon and Judy Adams of Circle Pines. Three Republicans have thrown their hats into the ring: former Minnesota representatives Tom Emmer and Phil Krinkie, as well as Anoka County Board Chair Rhonda Sivarajah. Voters will decide the Sixth Congressional District seat in the general election Nov. 4.
Perske said his decision to run stems from his major goal: to help strengthen the middle class and to enhance people’s ability to obtain the “American Dream.”
Perske is serving his second term as the mayor of Sartell. He is a physical education teacher at Sartell Middle School who just retired as a girls soccer coach after 10 years.
“This great nation cannot survive the collapse of its middle class,” Perske said in his announcement. “As a representative of the 6th Congressional District, I would work with others to restore the middle class and provide families the opportunity to realize the American Dream. This is an issue that stokes a fire that burns inside me and drives me to run for Congress in this election.”
Perske said he is proud of his roots in America’s middle class. Perske grew up in St. Cloud, one of seven children. His father was a union railroad worker, his mother a homemaker. A graduate of Apollo High School, he earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and psychology at St. John’s University and a master’s degree in physical education from St. Cloud State University.
Perske and his wife, Jan, taught school at U.S. Department of Defense schools in Augsburg, Germany for seven years. In 1988, they returned to St. Cloud. For the past 25 years, he has taught and coached in the Sartell School District.
The Perskes have three grown daughters. They are members of Celebration Lutheran Church in Sartell.
Perske is an avid bow hunter, a long-time member of the Rice Area Sportsmen’s Club, a member of the Minnesota State High School League and has a life-long history of involvement in scouting.
Perske is also a competitive runner. He has run in more than 100 marathons, winning more than 20. He competed in the 1980 and 1988 Olympic Marathon Trials and has been a member of two U.S. national teams in the World Cup Ultra marathons. He has run the Ultra Marathon all the way around Mille Lacs Lake.
“My wife and I lived a fiscally cautious life and raised our children to do the same,” he said. “It’s the only way we could provide our children with opportunities similar to the opportunities we had growing up in the 1960s and 1970s. Access to those opportunities is sadly slipping away from the majority of America’s citizens. I passionately want to do what I can to change that.”
Perske served six years on the Sartell City Council before being elected as mayor three years ago. He said he is proud of his part in keeping property taxes in check while at the same time helping bring many amenities and park-land development to the city. Perske said his most challenging moments as mayor were in the wake of the 2011 fire and explosion at the Verso paper mill, which killed one worker and caused the plant to close, leaving 250 people unemployed.
“I remain committed to returning jobs to the city and am diligently working with city staff and present property owners (of the Verso site) in constructing the site’s redevelopment plan,” he said.
Perske believes public service and his life experiences have prepared him for what he considers the most important “marathon” of his life: running for Congress.
“The U.S. House of Representatives is drowning in its own dysfunction,” Perske said. “Part of that dysfunction has been due to the extremely partisan conduct of our current representative (Bachmann). I am running to ensure the paralyzing gridlock in American government that has resulted from that type of partisanship no longer is coming out of Minnesota’s Sixth District. I am determined to once again have Minnesotans be proud of their Sixth Congressional District representative.”