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Alumna Makes Move from Nation's Capitol to State Capitol

Saint Paul Legal Ledger: 
After years working for GOP in D.C., freshman in St. Paul will focus on education and small business

Jenifer Loon first developed a passion for politics during her senior year in high school when she served as a page in the South Dakota Legislature. Her uncle, who lived across the street from Loon’s family, was a state legislator at the time.

“That was kind of the first light-bulb moment that I was really interested in how government worked,” she recalls.

Nonetheless, Loon, 45, initially planned to study nursing when she went off to Augustana College in Sioux Falls. But the realization that she wasn’t particularly comfortable with the sight of blood caused her to shift her focus to government affairs. During college, Loon served as an intern in the Washington office of then-South Dakota Sen. Larry Pressler. After she graduated, the Republican legislator offered her a job on Capitol Hill.

Loon wound up spending the next 13 years in Washington, working a variety of legislative and lobbying jobs. She developed an expertise in issues affecting small businesses, such as regulatory and tax policies. “I really felt like I found my niche,” Loon says.

In the early 1990s she joined the office of former GOP U.S. Rep. Jan Meyers. When Republicans took control of the House in 1994, Loon became staff director for the Committee on Small Business, which Meyers chaired. Loon was responsible for serving the needs of the committee’s 43 members.

Despite her success inside the Beltway, Loon and her husband yearned to return to the Midwest. They wanted their two young daughters to be closer to their grandparents. So in 1998 they moved to Eden Prairie.

Once settled in Minnesota, Loon started dedicating herself to volunteer work related to her children. She served as president of the Parent Teacher Organization at Eden Lake Elementary School and chaired the curriculum advisory committee for the Eden Prairie School District. In addition, she immersed herself in local GOP politics, volunteering on numerous campaigns.

Loon’s extensive background in politics and education made running for elected office one day a logical possibility. When Erik Paulsen left the 42B state rep post to run for Congress in the Third District, she jumped at the opportunity. “An open seat is generally a good time to throw your hat in the ring,” Loon says.

She beat out one other contender for the GOP endorsement and easily won the general election – 42B is reliably Republican.

Gary Stevens, a veteran GOP activist in the area, says he was undecided about whom to support in the contest until sitting down with Loon. Once he did, Stevens was so impressed with her command of the issues that he eventually became chairman of her campaign. “It’s kind of like when you go out fishing,” he laughs, describing the delicate practice of hooking a walleye. “That’s pretty much what Jenifer did to me.”

Loon’s extensive resume was also attractive to Republicans in the district. “I think her background is really an asset,” says state Sen. David Hann, who also represents Eden Prairie. “She comes to this with a lot of knowledge.”

Now that she’s secured a perch at the Capitol, Loon expects to focus on the economy and jobs. In particular, she hopes to come up with ways to help small businesses grow: “They tend to be the most flexible, the most nimble in terms of reacting to market conditions.”

Loon believes that the Legislature could ease some regulatory and paperwork requirements that often frustrate entrepreneurs. Business equipment purchases, for instance, are currently exempt from the state’s sales tax. But companies must pay the tax up front and then apply for a refund, creating unnecessary paperwork. Loon believes that the state should exempt such purchases from taxes at the time of purchase. “I would consider those to be minor common-sense areas that really could make the difference in the life of a small business,” she says.

The first-term legislator also believes it’s vital that the state hold the line on revenue increases, given the turbulent economic climate. “Overall the message I received loud and clear was don’t raise our taxes,” she says. “We are already struggling, or we’re concerned about our financial future.”

Loon also expects to immerse herself in curriculum and testing issues through her post on the K-12 Policy and Oversight Committee. She’s concerned, for example, about new math standards that even some college-bound students are struggling to pass. Loon wants to study why this is happening and assess whether the test covers appropriate skills.

To relax, Loon likes to cook and read. But since arriving at the Capitol the latter has largely been confined to work-related books, such as manuals on the state’s tax policies. “Right now pleasure reading is suffering,” she says.