For former DFL Sen. Jim Carlson, it was a matter of a little reflection and time to “lick my wounds” before he knew he was ready to run again for the state Senate. Carlson, who served one term in the chamber, was ousted last fall by Republican newcomer Ted Daley as part of a massive GOP wave that saw the party take control of both the House and Senate for the first time in nearly four decades.
But with a margin as slim as 3.5 percentage points, Carlson sees a win in 2012 as a very real possibility in his former Eagan swing district. Carlson is not the only vanquished Democrat eyeing a return in 2012. Several other DFL casualties of last November’s election are already raising money and have confirmed they are running, and a host of others are quietly awaiting the completion of redistricting maps before they make their run official, Carlson said.
“I can’t breach any confidences,” he told Capitol Report, “but I would say that there are a lot of people who are waiting in the wings and are ready to step up again. Once you make that statement public, you are in the limelight again.”
DFL Rep. Erin Murphy, who is running 2012 candidate recruitment for her caucus, said the budget stalemate has generated a lot of interest in running under the DFL banner. “The end of session has really created some enthusiasm, both from past legislators as well as new potential candidates,” she said. “It’s generating a lot of interest across the state.”
DFLers jump in
After the 2010 election night bloodbath, which saw the Minnesota Senate undergo the biggest proportional shift of any legislative body in the country, Democratic senators met in December to talk about what went wrong, Carlson said.
While they chatted about issues with voter turnout, messaging and what Carlson called some “faulty advice,” everyone decided to leave his or her money accounts open and wait to see what happened with the 2011 session and redistricting. “But then I’d say as the session began, we were seeing how it appeared to be pretty dysfunctional,” Carlson said. His early move to announce a run was engendered partly by the news that Eagan Mayor Mike Maguire will also seek the DFL endorsement in the race.
Former Rochester Sen. Ann Lynch, who was ousted by Republican Carla Nelson in the fall, is also already raising money for a likely 2012 Senate bid to reclaim her old seat. The Rochester Post-Bulletin reported in April that Lynch sent a letter to supporters asking them to contribute “$25, $50 or even $100”″ to her campaign.
“The Republicans in St. Paul, including Carla Nelson, are proposing a budget that doesn’t reflect a balanced approach,” she wrote in the letter. “Their proposal raises no revenue and makes huge cuts in state services and knowingly targets public employees. As Democrats we need to be prepared to let all the citizens of our communities know what this will mean to all of us.”
Lynch, who represented Senate District 30 for one term, told the paper that she was not prepared to officially announce a run. But she added: “It’s fair to say that I really feel like my work isn’t yet done.” Nelson, a former Minnesota House member, beat Lynch by nearly 10 percentage points in November.
Several former House representatives are gearing up for another run as well. Sandra Masin, who represented Eagan for one term, said she will run next year. She was defeated last fall by GOP Rep. Diane Anderson. “I definitely have been thinking about it,” Masin said, “and right now I am planning on it. It would be a lot easier to make definite plans if we had the new district plans, but I guess I’m not anticipating that my area is going to change that much.”
Masin said she is motivated by a desire to work with Gov. Mark Dayton and a DFL-led Legislature. “I know Dayton well enough to know that there was going to be some hope at the end of the tunnel,” she said. “I’ve been thinking it would be nice to have that experience.”
Former Northfield Rep. David Bly, who represented the area for one term, said the only thing holding him back from announcing a run is uncertainty over who he would run against in 2012. Republicans drew the maps this session in a way that would pit him against DFL Rep. Patti Fritz. While Bly said he refuses to run against Fritz, he doesn’t think the courts will end up adopting those proposed district lines. His district has to get smaller, he said, and he believes it’s unlikely he would have a chance to run against GOP Rep. Kelby Woodard, who beat him last fall.
Keeping the lawn signs
Former Coon Rapids DFL Rep. Jerry Newton gave some advice to his ousted colleagues after last fall’s election: “Don’t panic until we hear what the courts say.” He was talking about redistricting maps, of course, and many seem to be heeding his advice. Former Rep. Gail Kulick ran against GOP Rep. Sondra Erickson three times before winning in 2008. Erickson defeated Kulick to reclaim her seat in last year’s wave, but Kulick is nonetheless considering another run.
Redistricting will play a major role in her decision. Kulick said Mille Lacs County was her strong area in the last election, but she did poorly in Sherburne County. If the map is drawn to benefit her, she will considering jumping in the race. “I’ve been following [the session] more closely than I want to admit,” said Kulick, who was present as a visitor on the House floor on the first day of the session this year.
“If you would have asked me this on the last day of [the 2011] session, I would have said, ‘Hell, yes, I’m running,’” former Eagan Rep. Mike Obermueller said. “But this thing isn’t done yet. We have to give them a chance to fix this before I can make any final decisions.” Obermueller, who was deemed a star freshman by then-DFL House leadership during his lone term, was defeated by GOP freshman Rep. Doug Wardlow last fall.
Since losing in the fall to former Republican legislator Linda Runbeck, ousted Shoreview Rep. Paul Gardner said he has started a recycling consulting business, and several large companies are interested in working more expansively with him. “I’ve mastered the lingo now; you never say never,” Gardner said. But, he added, he has high hopes that his business “could blossom into something successful.”
He added that he needed the time to “detoxify.” “When you are in the Legislature,” Gardner observed, “it makes you more partisan. It’s nice not having to have my undies in a bunch every five minutes. And campaigning just takes a lot out of you, especially in a swing district like this.”
Al Juhnke, who spent about 14 years in the Legislature representing House District 13B, noted that he “did not throw my lawn signs away. They’re still sitting in my garage. I’m keeping my options open.”
Former Rep. Will Morgan of Burnsville said he is not ready to comment publicly about a run yet. DFLers Capitol Report confirmed are mulling a 2012 run: former Sens. Lisa Fobbe and Sandy Rummel and Reps. Julie Bunn and Robin Brown.
Newton thinks that DFLers who do jump back into the fray need to change their emphasis the next time around. “The DFL should focus on messaging and less on spending money on individual candidates,” he said, “so we can increase turnout and give people a reason to turn out to vote. If we can’t do that, then I think we are going to be in the minority for a long time.”
‘Life is moving on’
Some of the Democrats defeated last fall have no interest in trying again. Former DFL Sen. Mary Olson said there are a lot of reasons she doesn’t want to mount another run for the state Senate, one being the free time she has come to enjoy.
“The commitment to that job for me was a full-time commitment,” Olson said. “The back-and-forth driving was an extra day every week. I involved myself in a lot of different things. It was a very, very full-time job for me when I did it, and that’s the only way I would want to do it.
“I don’t intend to spend another year of my life campaigning,” she added. “I guess I just feel like my life is moving on.”
Former Sen. Sharon Erickson Ropes is also opting to stay out of the race next year, Carlson said. Erickson Ropes could not be reached for comment, but a Senate campaign staffer confirmed that she does not plan to run.
The campaign account for former Fridley Sen. Don Betzold was closed last week, and the former senator of nearly 20 years confirmed that he is done running for office. “I had said, win or lose, that last year’s campaign would be my final one,” Betzold said. “I could continue to do the work at the Capitol for a few years now, but the campaigning is something I can’t do again.”
Betzold said he has had back injuries and a knee replacement, and the rigorous demands of campaigning in his swing district are too much for another year. “The people that get the seniority and leadership roles in any majority are the people from the safe districts,” he said. “It was discouraging sometimes. I’m doing all of this work, and even when I’m in the majority, those people in the safe districts are the ones setting the agenda, and that agenda doesn’t usually consider my voters. There’s a frustration that sets in.”