The filing deadline has come and gone. Candidates for the Minnesota Legislature are hitting the stump. But Democrats in 13 House and Senate districts and Republicans in 10 others will have to win in August to compete in November. Here are 5 DFL legislative primaries to watch. Click here for 5 GOP Legislative primaries to watch.
SD 50: Taking the Chaudhary challenge
Not to put too fine a point on it, but the two DFL candidates for the District 50 state Senate seat have had kind of a crazy week.
And there’s no reason to expect that the tumult will ease up any time soon, as three-term incumbent Sen. Satveer Chaudhary, DFL-Fridley, fights to keep not just his seat in the Legislature but his party’s endorsement to run for a fourth term.
Chaudhary’s endorsement lost some of its luster with his constituents when, in the waning days of the 2010 legislative session, he attempted to pass legislation that would have improved fishing on a lake in northeastern Minnesota where he owns a cabin.
The amendment made it into the omnibus game and fish bill, which was vetoed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty. In his veto message, the governor specifically cited the provision, saying that it may have been “improperly inserted” into the legislation.
Chaudhary appeared last week before a Senate ethics subcommittee, which ultimately found that although there was no indication of a conflict of interest, his actions “threatened public confidence” in the Legislature.
Chaudhary’s opponent, former state House member Barb Goodwin of Columbia Heights, filed just before last week’s deadline to challenge him in the August primary.
“I was heavily lobbied by the citizens,” Goodwin, 61, says with a laugh. “Very heavily lobbied. I finally got the picture.”
And as one might expect from a woman who served three terms in the Legislature — and spent more than a decade before that working for the House DFL Caucus as its legislative services director — Goodwin chooses her words carefully when she’s asked directly about her opponent.
“I personally feel that he’s been around a long time and should have known better than to approach [the amendment] the way he did,” she says. “People in the district are telling me that it’s not just the one incident — that it was the straw that broke the camel’s back, but that they were feeling embarrassed by the senator before this.
“They’re not feeling the trust. They want to feel like they have real, honest representation.”
Chaudhary, 40, believes that he can continue to provide that representation. “I woke up this morning with a very happy and clear conscience that I did the right thing by stepping up and getting the facts on the table, but more importantly admitting under oath and in public to a mistake that I certainly deserve being admonished for,” he says.
The district’s 30-member DFL Central Committee has scheduled a meeting for June 28 to vote on whether to rescind Chaudhary’s endorsement, which would take a two-thirds majority. Goodwin, who hopes not only that he will lose the party’s support but that she will be endorsed in his place, says she has called about half the members of that committee and has received positive responses.
Chaudhary disagrees with that assessment. “I’m not getting that sense in the least,” he says. “I’ve gotten a lot of support within the central committee, and I’ve never seen my supporters more fired up on my behalf.
“I think it’s going to be an extremely tough road to get two-thirds of the central committee to vote to un-endorse me. I just don’t think that’s going to happen.”
Chaudhary spent two terms in the state House before winning election to the Senate in 2000. In 2006, he won re-election by a healthy 26 percent margin over a weak Republican challenger, Rae Hart Anderson (who is running again this year as an independent).
The district’s two House members are also DFLers, and it’s been a reliable DFL stronghold in every election of the 21st century: Voters have favored Obama and Al Franken, Amy Klobuchar, John Kerry and Walter Mondale.
The Republican endorsee who will face either Chaudhary or Goodwin on the general election ballot is Gina Bauman, a member of the New Brighton City Council. (Sundquist)
SD 28: Difficult hold for DFL
When Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, announced in January that he was retiring after nearly two decades at the Capitol, Joe Fricke almost immediately began exploring a run for the seat. The 28-year-old Red Wing resident was finishing his final year of law school and had long harbored an interest in politics. “I thought this would be a good time for me to step up and give it a shot,” said Fricke.
By contrast, Bruce Montplaisir hadn’t really given the contest too much thought until last month. He was eyeing retirement as superintendent of the Lewiston-Altura Public School District. But on the next to last day before the filing deadline he jumped into the race. “People here were kind of bugging me about it,” Montplaisir said.
The primary contest is particularly surprising because Democrats had struggled to find a single candidate to run against incumbent Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, in House District 28B. Murphy generally won re-election by comfortable margins, but the Senate seat will be a tough hold for the DFL. Both House seats in the district, which includes parts of Goodhue, Wabasha and Winona Counties, are held by Republicans. Four years ago, Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty carried the area by a 49-42 percent margin. Red Wing Mayor John Howe, the GOP-endorsed candidate for the Senate seat, is expected to be a formidable opponent.
Fricke touts a decade of experience as a seasonal worker for the city of Red Wing while he attended college and law school. Among his duties: garbage removal, welding and mechanical repairs. “That really gave me a sense of what state funding can do for cities and what happens when it’s not there,” Fricke said. “I feel like I’m in touch with the regular people of the district in a better way than at least my Republican opponent.”
Montplaisir believes his experience as a superintendent will serve him well at the Capitol. In particular, he’s concerned about the $1.8 billion in delayed K-12 education payments that was part of the deal to close the budget deficit in the current two-year fiscal cycle. “Just shifting money around back and forth is not a reasonable way to manage an entity the size of Minnesota,” Montplaisir said, “just kind of pretending you have the money.”
Because of Montplaisir’s late entry into the DFL contest, there was no endorsing convention in the district. But party officials are contemplating holding one later this month. Even if that happens, though, both candidates’ names will still appear on the ballot in August.
Fricke believes a primary could actually be helpful in establishing name recognition for whichever candidate ultimately gets the DFL nomination. “As the situation is right now, I think we can use it to our advantage,” he said. (Demko)
HD 65A: St. Paul’s first black legislator
No matter who wins the DFL primary contest in House District 65A, it will be a historic election. Barring a completely unforeseen development, the winner — either Jeremiah Ellis or Rena Moran — will become the first African-American to represent St. Paul in the state House.
There is one GOP challenger, but he’s a perennial candidate in a district that tilts heavily Democratic. No Republican has received more than 20 percent of the vote in a state or federal legislative contest during the last three election cycles.
It’s historically fitting that the district will be the first to be represented by a black legislator. The area includes St. Paul’s Rondo neighborhood, the historic center of the city’s African-American community, which was bulldozed to make way for Interstate 94.
Initially there were four contenders for the DFL nomination. But Ellis emerged from a March convention with the party’s backing. Moran’s prospects for winning the endorsement were marred by the fact that she intended to run in the primary no matter the outcome. She’s backed by the liberal advocacy group TakeAction Minnesota and the St. Paul Federation of Teachers.
Beyond ethnicity, the candidates have little in common. Ellis has deep roots in the area. His great grandfather owned the Booker T. Cafe & Tavern in the Rondo neighborhood. He’s worked on constituent services for U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-MN4, and currently is employed by the St. Paul Public Schools.
Moran arrived in Minnesota from Chicago a decade ago with six kids in tow and no place to live. The family initially stayed at a homeless shelter. She’s gone on to become a homeowner and serve on the boards of several neighborhood organizations. Currently Moran works for a nonprofit group that seeks to prevent child abuse.
The winner will replace Rep. Cy Thao, who’s stepping down after four terms in the House. (Demko)
SD 7/HD 7B: Shouldn’t be close
Duluth’s House and Senate legislative primaries on Aug. 10 probably won’t be close, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t be dramatic. In both Senate District 7 and House District 7B, well-connected candidates are running against individuals that are euphemistically referred to as “frequent” candidates.
The primary challenges are the result of the political chain reaction that started with Sen. Yvonne Prettner Solon’s decision on May 24 to join Mark Dayton’s DFL gubernatorial campaign as his running mate. The announcement came midway through the state’s two-week candidate-filing period, leaving little time for the party to endorse a successor.
First-term Rep. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, announced he would seek Prettner Solon’s seat even though Prettner Solon backed City Council member Patrick Boyle. But Boyle chose not to enter the race. That left only a couple days before the deadline to fill 7B.
Another Duluth City Council member, Kerry Gauthier, filed to run as a DFLer, as did frequent candidate Jay Cole.
Cole ran in 2008 for the open seat in 7B as an Independence Party candidate to succeed Rep. Mike Jaros, DFL-Duluth, who retired after 32 years in the House. Cole garnered 6.9 percent of the vote. Reinert, who had served on the Duluth City Council for five years, received 73 percent, and Republican Allan Kehr received 19.9 percent.
Cole has a colorful history in the Northland, including an episode 25 years ago in which he drove a car through a Twin Harbor’s car dealership’s showroom window in what he later termed “a twisted PR stunt.” Cole also has a long history of television and real estate ventures in Duluth.
Independence Party candidate Tony Salls and Republican Travis Silvers are running this year in the 7B general election without intra-party challenges.
In Senate District 7, meanwhile, Reinert is the frontrunner in a changing-of-the-guard election. The district was heading for its 38th consecutive year as the Solon seat in the Minnesota Senate until Dayton picked Prettner Solon, who had succeeded her late husband, Sen. Sam Solon, in 2002. He had represented the area in the Senate since the early 1970s.
The DFL primary in SD 7 will feature Reinert and frequent candidate Harry Welty. Welty is a former Duluth School Board member with a history of conservatism. The cryptic fulminations about something called “the Red Plan” featured at Welty’s campaign website make for delightful summer reading for fans of political hyperbole. (The plan concerns school facility construction in Duluth.) Among the disclosures on Welty’s campaign site: He also plans to write a book called “The Amazing Colossal Red Plan.”
Reinert, with his base of support as a legislator and former City Councilor, will be hard to topple. The winner will face Republican Rilla Opelt in the general election.
Aaron Brown, who writes the Iron Range-based Minnesota Brown blog, notes that both Cole and Welty offer an alternative to the DFL from the middle of the political spectrum.
They represent an “interesting outside voice that will resonate better in this election year than most others.” (Shaw)
HD 58A: Mad at Mullery
State Rep. Joe Mullery, a DFLer representing north Minneapolis, thinks he might be able to blame inaccurate reporting for the fact that he’s got a primary challenger this year.
Mullery, endorsed by his party to seek an eighth term in the state House to represent District 58A, filed to run on the second day of the two-week filing period. For almost two weeks, it appeared that he’d be running unopposed.
Then, on the last day of the filing period, two opponents popped up: Republican Chris Hiatt, and DFLer David Anthony Boyd, whose sudden appearance as a primary opponent caught Mullery by “complete surprise.”
But Mullery, an attorney who devotes himself full time to his legislative duties, thinks he knows what happened.
Boyd says he was encouraged to run by a group called Minnesotans for Impartial Courts, which pushed legislation this year that would have allowed Minnesotans to vote on a constitutional amendment establishing judicial retention elections.
Mullery, who chairs the House Civil Justice Committee, said that he scheduled the bill for a hearing three times, and each time its author, Rep. Steve Simon, DFL-St. Louis Park, withdrew it because he knew he didn’t have the votes.
But, although Mullery admits that he disagreed with the group’s position, it was inaccurately reported in various media outlets that he refused to give the bill a hearing.
“I became kind of passionate against their position,” says Mullery, who turns 66 this month. “And not only did I disagree with it, but they were wording the constitutional amendment so nobody would know they were giving up their constitutional right to vote in judicial elections. But it wasn’t that I refused to hear it; we kept scheduling it and it kept getting pulled back.”
For his part, Boyd, 42, calls himself a “child of the neighborhood”: He says he grew up in north Minneapolis, spent some time in the Army and earned a degree in political science from Augsburg College. He owns a small construction company that specializes in carpeting and flooring.
“I feel it’s time for a change,” Boyd says. “It’s not so much that I’m anti-incumbent; there are a lot of very good things that Joe’s come out with, but I want to improve it.
“We need to grow our community. Joe does a great job, but I believe I can do better.”
This won’t be Mullery’s first experience with a primary. In 2002, he was challenged by fellow DFLer Timothy Davis, who ended up with less than 20 percent of the vote, and in 1996, when Mullery won his seat, he faced no fewer than four primary challengers: Dick Rainville, Carol Ann White, Brian Gorecki and Orvin Olson. Mullery collected 25 percent of the vote to Rainville’s 22, and he’s won every election since then with consistently strong numbers: In 2008, he defeated Republican challenger Grant Cermak 82 percent to 18 percent.
He’s resigned to the reality of a primary, although he’s not particularly happy about it.
“It sure hurts the district when [there’s a primary],” claims Mullery, who says he was in the process of setting up numerous legislative working groups over the summer but must now focus his efforts on the Aug. 10 primary. “And you always have to worry. I’m always worried about misinformation getting out.
“I think anybody who studied what the two of us have done, and all the things I’m getting done for our area, would agree that I’m the right choice. But will the voters know that? You never know what could happen.” (Sundquist)