A former executive who chose to be a stay-at-home mom and a former Russian linguist for the National Security Administration who now works for her family’s utility services business are the newest members of the Minnesota Senate.
Terri Bonoff, a DFLer from Minnetonka who was featured in Time magazine for her decision to quit her job as a marketing executive to raise her children, edged out Plymouth Mayor Judy Johnson, a Republican, in the District 43 election last Tuesday. Bonoff won with 54.4 percent of the vote, compared with Johnson’s 45.5 percent.
She will succeed David Gaither, a Republican who became Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s chief of staff in September.
Amy Koch, a Republican from Buffalo, won with 51.8 percent of the vote in District 19. DFL and Independence Party challengers received 31.4 percent and 16.6 percent, respectively.
Koch will take over for Mark Ourada, also a Buffalo Republican who has taken a job in Washington, D.C.
The pickup by the DFL of Gaither’s seat widens the party’s majority in the Senate to 36 votes over the Republicans’ 30. All legislative seats are up for election next November.
Two more special elections are ahead this year.
Last week, Gov. Tim Pawlenty scheduled the next special election for Dec. 27. That election will decide who takes the Senate seat vacated by Dave Kleis and the House seat of Joe Opatz. Kleis, a Republican, was elected St. Cloud mayor on Nov. 8. Opatz, a DFLer, joined Central Lakes Community College in Brainerd.
Pawlenty’s choice to hold the St. Cloud elections two days after Christmas drew criticism from Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson.
Johnson, DFL-Willmar, charged that Pawlenty’s “highest priority” in choosing Dec. 27 to hold the special election was “low voter turnout.”
Johnson said the governor could have chosen a date before mid-February that wouldn’t have coincided with a holiday.
“His decision is disrespectful to the voters, university students, and the local taxpayers who must pay the election bill,” Johnson said.
Pawlenty’s press secretary, Brian McClung, defended the governor’s decision. He noted candidates need time to file affidavits with the Secretary of State’s office, and there’s also the possibility of a primary election.
McClung noted the special election is cheaper in December rather than next year because of new regulations that become effective on Jan. 1 under the Help America Vote Act (HAVA).
McClung also listed the decisions of previous administrations.
“There is precedent for special elections to be called during the month of December by other governors who were seeking to fill vacancies in a timely fashion. Gov. Arne Carlson called a special election for two Senate vacancies on Dec. 29, 1994, and Gov. Jesse Ventura called a special election for a Senate vacancy on Dec. 14, 1999,” McClung said.
Looking ahead to 2006, more turnover at the Legislature is assured with a couple of legislators deciding not the seek re-election.
This week, Sen. John Hottinger, DFL-St. Peter, announced he wouldn’t seek a sixth term. Hottinger, who served as majority leader during the 2003 legislative session, said changeover is a good thing.
“I don’t believe in term limits. But I do believe in turnover,” Hottinger said.
Rep. Ruth Johnson, a DFLer who also represents the St. Peter area, has announced she won’t run again. Earlier this month, Rep. Jerry Dempsey, R-Red Wing, announced he would retire next year. Sen. Bob Kierlin, R-Winona, said earlier this year he wouldn’t seek reelection.
A couple of legislative seats are uncertain because their current occupants are running for Congress in the 6th District. Sen. Michele Bachmann, R-Stillwater, Rep. Jim Knoblach, R-St. Cloud, and Rep. Phil Krinkie, R-Lino Lakes, are running for the seat currently held by Republican Mark Kennedy. They have said they will abide by the GOP endorsement next spring.
The same uncertain future applies to legislators in the race for governor in 2006. They include Sens. Steve Kelley, DFL-Hopkins and Becky Lourey, DFL-Kerrick. Attorney General Mike Hatch has also entered the governor’s race.
In the attorney general’s race, also on the ballot in 2006, House Minority Leader Matt Entenza, a St. Paul DFLer, is running against House Assistant Majority Leader Jeff Johnson, a Plymouth Republican.