Farmer, soybean champ, world-traveler and fourth-term GOP rep likes to hop on his Harley.
When visitors first meet Doug Magnus, R-Slayton, in his St. Paul office he likes to take them on a tour of the knickknacks, paintings, photographs and memorabilia that he's gathered from his district and visits to more than 40 countries.
Magnus, 59, may be the best-traveled representative in the Minnesota Legislature, having built up frequent flier miles during his many years as the international marketing chair and chairman of the boards of state and national soybean organizations.
He points to a photograph of his 1,300-acre farm and of himself on a Harley and shows off a little device he hits that produces a voice that says That was easy! when visitors ask him to accomplish something difficult. A framed record and photo on one wall showcase a favorite singer, Roy Orbison, and on a shelf sit jars representing the bounty of his district - corn, ethanol, dry distiller's grain.
Everything is here for a reason, says Magnus, a low-key but effective operator at the Legislature. As the three-term representative for Ag Alley - a region known for its focus on value-added commodities such as ethanol, wind and other byproducts - his largest accomplishment, by far, has been the creation of the Job Opportunity Building Zones (JOBZ) program, Gov. Tim Pawlenty's signature job-creation program that aims to help rural Minnesota compete through giving qualifying businesses willing to set up shop in rural areas a break on local and state taxes.
The program has been criticized for encouraging businesses within communities to shift their expansions and even headquarters to JOBZ districts - and for not creating many new jobs. But Magnus stands by JOBZ, pointing to an Iowa insurer expanding in Luverne and the new Sulzon Energy wind turbine plant in Pipestone that has grown from 200 to 400 jobs in the last two years. Neither would have happened without the appeal of JOBZ, he argues.
It's been a pretty good success - we've created thousands of jobs, he says. [JOBZ] is controversial, but it was set up to help rural areas because they weren't participating in the growth of the rest of the state. Metro folks don't like the program ... But to be honest, we've [the southwest region] probably had the best success in the state with the program.
That Magnus carried the program in his first session probably comes as little surprise to those who know him. Much of his career has involved promoting economic activity. A fourth-generation farmer, he grew up in a family with four sisters as my mother's favorite son. His mother, Alice, was a homemaker; his father, Clarence, raised corn, livestock and chickens.
After graduating from Slayton High School - where he played guitar, trumpet and piano as hobbies - he went on to earn a degree in animal science at South Dakota State University over a seven-year period. It took so long because of a major interruption: Vietnam, where he served in the U.S. Army in 1971 and 1972.
Magnus says he's one of the few House members who went to Vietnam.
After graduating from college in 1975, he returned to Slayton to work with his father on the farm and raise two kids with his wife, Brenda, who today works in a bioscience company in Worthington.
His association with the United Soybean Board began in the late 1980s, when he first joined a state board and then took a seat on the national organization. They told me the board met only four times a year - yeah, right, he says with a laugh. When I was chairman of the United Soybean Board I was spending 200 days a year on its business.
He was elected chairman of the state United Soybean and served in that post for several years. In 2002, a redistricting opportunity opened a seat in his district, an area where he believes Democrats and Republicans split almost evenly. At one time, he says, he was on five different business and nonprofit boards, elevating his name in the region.
I've never been much of a political person and I always vote not for the party, but for the best person for the job, Magnus says.
Outside of the JOBZ program, he likes to cite his legislative work on veteran's and agricultural bills, as well as a bill that contributed $6.5 million to the multi-state $500 million Lewis & Clark Regional Water System. The system pulls water from the Missouri River and pipes it to Sioux Falls, where it is then redistributed to southwestern Minnesota and other nearby regions in South Dakota and Iowa.
Why would any place in Minnesota be without water? My district is short of quality water, Magnus says, because it includes Rock County, the only county in the state without a lake. We're desperate for water. You can dig a well 35 feet deep and not find water - you can dig all the way to China and not find water.
Dean Simpson, R-Perham, says Magnus' folksy humor and mix of business and civic achievements play well in his district. He was the leader in getting JOBZ both created, with the help of policymakers, and passed, Simpson says.
Sulzon's decision to open an American plant in Pipestone and use the JOBZ program can be largely attributed, again, to Magnus and his business acumen and international experience, according to Simpson. He relates so well to people because he's got a great personality, and he's a good guy, Simpson adds.
For hobbies Magnus likes to hunt, boat, ride his Harley ("only in certain areas - I'm not foolish with it, I want to keep living"), and snowmobile. I just don't have time to fish much anymore, with the Legislature and farming, he says. He has two children, Lori, 31, and Clint, 28.
His political success stems, he says, from a devotion to moderation. When I discuss my political philosophy I tell people it's like when I'm driving on the two-lane roads in rural Minnesota - I stay slightly to the right because if you're in the middle you're going to get hit, and if I go too far to the left I'll get hit, he explains. If I go too far right something bad will happen, too.
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