It’s only been two weeks since David Gaither was named chief of staff to Gov. Tim Pawlenty. But the race to fill the first-term Republican state senator’s seat in District 43 is already taking shape.
The results of a special election will determine the successor to Gaither’s western suburban district that includes Plymouth and part of Minnetonka. So far, no special election date has been set, according to a spokesman for Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer.
But candidates have already made plans to have their names on the eventual ballot.
Plymouth Mayor Judy Johnson, who was already running for state House as a Republican, registered her candidacy for the state Senate seat last week.
On the DFL side, two candidates have entered the race. Minnetonka Planning Commission member Terri Bonoff filed her candidacy shortly before the news that Gaither would leave to become Pawlenty’s chief of staff. A couple days ago, Minnetonka City Councilman Tony Wagner announced his candidacy.
Transportation issues are on candidates’ minds, with traffic along highways in the west metro experiencing frequent gridlock. The candidates are also talking about another type of gridlock, the political kind, as memories linger of this year’s partial government shutdown.
After Plymouth Republican Rep. Jeff Johnson announced he was running for state attorney general, Judy Johnson, who is unrelated, launched a candidacy for the House. She was visible during the 2005 legislative session, advocating for cities as the president of the League of Minnesota Cities (LMC).
As LMC president, she supported an increase in the state motor fuels tax to pay for transportation improvements. While the price of gasoline has increased noticeably this summer and fall, she said she still sees the wisdom of adding revenue to pay for transportation.
“It actually costs more to do nothing,” Johnson said.
Bonoff is a former marketing executive who was featured in Time magazine after she decided, in 1999, to stay at home with her children. As co-chairwoman of the Hopkins School District Legislative Action Coalition, she made frequent trips to the state Capitol last session to push for more education funding in the 2006-2007 state budget.
Bonoff filed her candidacy with the state Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board on the Tuesday before Gaither was assigned his new job.
She describes herself as a moderate and supports a gas tax increase for transportation projects. She said she will abide by the DFL endorsement scheduled for Oct. 8.
“I have been concerned about the fighting and the bickering and that the majority’s voice isn’t being heard,” Bonoff said.
Wagner, who is director of business development at Minnetonka-based Carlson Wagonlit Travel, was first elected to the Minnetonka City Council in 2003. His term expires January 2008.
A phone call to Wagner wasn’t immediately returned.
District 43 has been Republican territory in the state Legislature. When Gaither was elected in 2002, he received 54 percent of the vote, while his DFL challenger received 34 percent and an Independence Party candidate received 11 percent.
Recent presidential election results in the district, however, suggest the GOP doesn’t have a lock on the area. President Bush beat Al Gore by less than 2 percent in 2000, with Green Party candidate Ralph Nader getting almost 4 percent of the vote.
The district was narrowly divided again in the 2004 presidential election when Democrat John Kerry received 50 percent and edged out Bush’s 49 percent.
The DFL made an inroad into neighboring Minnetonka’s House District 42A in the 2004 general election when Maria Ruud pulled off an upset over then-Republican Rep. Peter Adolphson.
Clint Faust, District 43 DFL chairman, said he likes his party’s chances in the special election.
“I think it’s excellent. John Kerry won this district. We are looking at two solid candidates that will run great campaigns against the Republican-endorsed candidate,” Faust said.