John Burkel (Republican) of Badger captured 72.74 percent of the vote— 15,148 votes— to defeat Connie Lindstrom (Democratic-Farmer-Labor), who finished with 27.2 percent of the vote (5,664 votes), according to unofficial numbers on the Minnesota Secretary of State website, to earn the Minnesota District 1A Representative seat.
Burkel attributed this wide victory not necessarily to him but his predecessor and the man who first asked him about potentially running for the District 1A position in the first place about nine months before— current District 1A Representative Dan Fabian.
Based off Fabian’s past successes at the polls, Burkel felt that getting anything below 70 percent would have been a little disappointing.
“At the same time, in an open seat, you can’t expect everything. So I was really heartened by the fact that the support I got in District 1A kind of tracked what Dan’s done in the past,” Burkel said. “… To be honest, I think it says a lot more about Dan Fabian, and the legacy he’s left versus me. But I do appreciate the fact that people feel I can do the job and their support is really appreciated. That’s for sure.”
A fourth-generation turkey farmer who lives in rural Badger, Minn., Burkel discussed, in a November 7 interview, his decision to eventually run for representative of District 1A— an area that covers Kittson, Marshall and Roseau counties and a northern part of Pennington County, including Thief River Falls— and his predecessor, Fabian.
Burkel also discussed his reaction to the election victory, his constituents biggest concerns, what he looks forward to most about representing his district at the state capitol, his family and work life, and what occupying this position means to him.
According to Burkel, Fabian first called him back in February, telling Burkel that he was thinking about retiring after serving as the District 1A Representative for 10 years (five terms). Burkel said he would think about running for the position, but was not really in the mode at that time to do so.
“I told him, I said, ‘I’ll consider it. Just give me some time.’ And then I kind of just forgot about it,” Burkel said. “We got into the turkey thing, again, got to March, and he called again and said, ‘No, this is it really. I’m really seriously going to probably retire here. But I don’t want to retire unless I know there’s someone willing to at least consider running as a Republican in my place.’”
Burkel mentioned how he had been approached in prior years about this, but his children were younger then. Now, three of his five children are off on their own and his two youngest are still in school, including Jack, a Badger High School senior, and Emily, a Badger School seventh grader. After Fabian’s March call, the Burkel family sat down to have a serious conversation about doing this.
He has always been interested in the agriculture side of things, working on the Minnesota Turkey Growers Board and the National Turkey Federation Board, including doing some legislative committee work. This gave him a taste of the legislative background.
“I definitely have a feel… for that side of the legislative agenda,” Burkel said. “So that’s really where my interest lies… I’m kind of in Dan’s mode. I mean, he spent a lot of time on those committees, too, as well.”
The representative role may put Burkel at the state capitol more often, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be forgetting about his life growing turkeys, currently converting over to organic birds.
“I just think going to St Paul and coming back and not getting some dirt under my fingernails at some point would be a bad thing,” Burkel said. “… I think the turkeys and the ag world and just how we do things up here and just the culture of being part of agricultural will keep me grounded and (will) a little more keep my ear to the ground on the issues that ag is facing, in particular, because that’s really where I’m focusing my efforts.”
His intention is to be part of the Agricultural and Environmental Committees at some point at the capitol.
Burkel relayed this focus of staying grounded to his roots when asked how Representative Burkel sounded to him. He at first highlighted that he is currently Representative-Elect Burkel, not yet a Representative officially until he’s sworn in on January 5, 2021, but he said he is having a hard time getting used to it. As he added, he doesn’t want to make this role about him, but instead his district. He also doesn’t plan to let this role change him.
“This is really about District 1A and you’re just kind of the voice and really nothing’s changed, I would hope,” Burkel said.
His family has lived in Badger for over 30 years and doesn’t think anyone should look at him differently.
“You’re still going to see me go uptown in my shoes full of manure and gas up my car and I just, I don’t feel like it’s going be different for me. I really, I don’t want it to be,” Burkel said. “… I just feel like it’s going to be the same. And that might be naive, but I don’t want anything to change in that realm. So yeah, it’ll be representative Burkel down in St. Paul, but up here it’s just going to be me.”
To see the complete story, read the November 18 issue of The Tribune or the November 19 issue of the North Star News in print or online.