District 53, 53A elects familiar faces

Susan Kent

JoAnn Ward

Susan Kent, 52, held on to her Senate District 53 seat by a narrow margin on Nov. 8, while her DFL colleague in the state House, JoAnn Ward of Maplewood, defeated her opponent in District 53A by nearly 20 percentage points.

District 53 comprises all of Landfall, a large portion of Woodbury and parts of Maplewood and Oakdale. 
State House District 53A is made up of Landfall, Oakdale south of Tenth Street, most of the south Maplewood leg and the northeastern section of Woodbury.

Susan Kent

Kent, a Woodbury resident, describes Senate District 53 as "divided" demographically and politically. 
In recent years, both Republicans and Democrats have been elected in the swing district, which includes affluent neighborhoods as well as lower-income, working-class neighborhoods. 

In an interview after the election, Kent said she anticipated the vote totals would be close and would not have been surprised either way, though she expressed gratitude to be heading back to the Legislature to represent District 53.

"This seat has split going back to 2002. Certainly, the Woodbury part of my district has been represented by first-comers for all that time, and I'm just really grateful that people realize that I work hard for my community, and I try to focus on people over politics, " Kent said.

Kent was re-elected to a second term with 50.38 percent of the district's votes. Her Republican opponent, Sharna Wahlgren, campaigned hard and was close on her heels with 49.51 percent of the votes. There was only a 399-vote margin. Write-in votes accounted for .1 percent.

"My whole term, I have had no pretense of job security. I knew I had to do my best job and I had to do as good a job as I could to communicate that to people ... so they could be aware of what I was doing, and then just let the voters make their decision," she added.

During the last session she was vice chair of the Transportation and Public Safety Budget Division, vice chair of the Transportation and Public Safety Committee, and a member of the E-12 Budget Division, the Education committee, and the Higher Education and Workforce Development committees.

Looking back, Kent said, "I was really proud of the Senate Education Committee under Chuck Wiger's leadership in that he let bills be heard from members of both parties. We crafted really strong bipartisan education bills, and I would hope that if we do have a Republican chair of the Education committee [in the next session] that that person will continue that tradition."

In addition to her duties as senator, Kent stays involved with the community through volunteering as PTA president and as an advocate for local schools. She is a graduate of the University of Texas and has more than 20 years of experience in marketing.

In the next legislative session she sees the priorities as "transportation, budgeting honestly, and taking care of infrastructure and the education system."

"I'm not going to be in favor of any budget things that will put us back in a deficit situation or that try to balance the budget by using gimmicks. It's important that we be honest about whatever we're doing, so that's a concern," Kent said.

JoAnn Ward

Ward, 70, was elected a third term with 59.03 percent of House District 53A votes. Her Republican opponent, Andy Turonie, 42, received 40.8 percent of the votes. Write-in votes accounted for .16 percent.

In the last legislative session, Ward served on the following committees: Education Innovation Policy, Public Safety and Crime Prevention Policy and Finance, and the Veterans Affairs Division.

In a pre-election questionnaire, Ward said that she plans to prioritize early childhood and family education. She added that a fully accessible education system, access to nutritious foods, health care, recreational resources and rich cultural opportunities are essential to a healthy economy.

Ward holds a master's degree in education from the University of St. Thomas and has experiences in other leadership positions in education, business and non-profit and community development.

Aundrea Kinney can be reached at 651-748-7822 or akinney@lillienews.com.



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