A razor-thin GOP majority in the Minnesota House and a legislative district in the western Twin Cities suburbs that appears evenly split between Republicans and Democrats — that’s just part of the political drama in this year’s race for the seat that will be vacated by veteran legislator Ron Abrams.
Abrams, a lawyer and moderate Republican from Minnetonka, was first elected to District 43B in 1988. Late last month, Gov. Tim Pawlenty appointed Abrams to the trial court bench in Minnesota’s Fourth Judicial District.
The race to fill Abrams’ seat in November is generating buzz among political insiders and bloggers.
The Minntelect political blog (http:// www.minntelect.blogspot.com/) predicts that District 43, along with legislative races in District 25 around Northfield, will be among the most competitive contests in the November elections.
“District 43 joins 25 as two of the most important districts in 2006. Either party can realistically win any of the six races in these two districts. In addition, with two open seats in the House, District 43 will have serious impact on control of the House,” the blog said.
The other House seat in District 43 belongs to Jeff Johnson, R-Plymouth, who is running for Minnesota attorney general. House Republicans currently have a 68-66 seat edge over DFLers.
Abrams’ appointment comes somewhat late in the candidate selection game for Republicans in District 43. On April 22, GOP delegates to the district’s convention endorsed Abrams for re-election.
The executive committee of the District 43 GOP will meet and set a date for a special endorsing convention, said John Knight, GOP co-chairman. Attendees from the caucuses in District 43B will be invited to attend, he said.
The western suburbs had been regarded as Republican terrain in recent memory. The area has a revised political image, however, as a purple district that could go either Republican or Democrat since Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry carried the district in 2004. In a special state Senate election last year, Terri Bonoff, a DFLer, defeated the Republican candidate, Judy Johnson, who is mayor of Plymouth.
Knight said he expects a competitive race.
“We strongly believe that it is a competitive district, and we are encouraging a variety of Republican candidates to enter the race,” Knight said.
DFL activists endorsed John Benson, who taught in Edina schools for 35 years before retiring.
Benson is making his second run for the House seat. In 2004, he lost a close election to Abrams by less than 5 percent of the vote.
“Our district is moderately progressive,” Benson said. “They want to see that their tax money is not wasted. But on the other hand, they want good education, they want accountability, they want results.”
Benson said K-12 education is the most important issue in his campaign. He is also concerned about cuts by state lawmakers to the MinnesotaCare health insurance program for low-income working Minnesotans. Highways in his district are also increasingly stressed as the local population grows, Benson said.
Independence Party Chairman Jim Moore said District 43B is a good fit for his party’s supporters and candidates.
“We will be looking to find a candidate for that race,” Moore said.
At the District 43 convention, Plymouth Mayor Johnson was endorsed for a rematch with Bonoff. Bonoff and Johnson were both endorsed by their parties last fall in a special election to replace former Sen. David Gaither.
In April’s endorsing convention, Republicans chose Plymouth Planning Commission member and House GOP legislative services staffer Sarah Anderson to run for the House seat being vacated by Johnson, the attorney general candidate.
The endorsed DFLer in the 43A race is Plymouth City Council member Sandy Hewitt.