Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

All eyes on the primary: Six DFL challengers are vying for a Mpls Senate seat

Briana Bierschbach//August 31, 2011//

All eyes on the primary: Six DFL challengers are vying for a Mpls Senate seat

Briana Bierschbach//August 31, 2011//

Listen to this article
Rep. Jeff Hayden of Minneapolis has the DFL Party endorsement in the race to fill the Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Linda Berglin, who is retiring. Five other DFLers are competing in a primary election set for Sept. 13. (Staff photo: Peter Bartz-Gallagher)

In a Democratic safe haven like Minneapolis, it’s no surprise that the political drama in electing a replacement for retiring Sen. Linda Berglin is among DFLers.

In the weeks leading up to the Sept. 13 primary election for the Senate seat, six DFLers have lined up for a shot at the upper chamber, including current Minneapolis Rep. Jeff Hayden, and accusations of a faulty endorsement process have flown after the two-term House member easily won the DFL Party’s blessing over the weekend.

For Hayden’s part, he is not surprised by the Democratic fervor surrounding the seat. “Sen. Berglin was there for 30 years as a senator and eight years in the House before that,” he said. “Some people see this as a once in a generation seat.”

Vying against Hayden in the primary for the Senate District 61 seat is a graphic designer, a tax auditor, a former Minneapolis civil rights director, a Web developer and a longtime civil rights activist. All six will go head-to-head for the DFL ballot slot in a district that has swung for candidates like President Barack Obama and Gov. Mark Dayton by overwhelming margins, and will almost certainly vote DFL in the Oct. 18 special election.

If Hayden claims victory, as many politicos are predicting, some of the Senate candidates — plus a few more challengers waiting in the wings — will be in the mix for a House special election.

A trio that ‘works’

DFL Rep. Karen Clark, who represents Hayden’s neighboring House district, has more than 30 years of experience in the chamber. That’s exactly why she didn’t want to jump over to the state Senate.
“I have a lot of seniority that I don’t want to lose in the House, and if you go to the Senate, you’re back at the bottom again,” she said. “I think we have a good shot at winning back the House and the Senate in 2012, and I would be in line to chair my own committee.”

With only two terms in the House on Hayden’s resume, he wasn’t worried about the prospect of losing seniority in the Senate. Clark, Berglin and Hayden started talking nearly a year ago about how succession would work if Berglin were to retire.

Hayden promises to bring his ardent support for single-payer health care to the Senate and continue to work to create economic development in distressed urban areas (he is working with Dayton’s office and DFL Rep. Bobby Joe Champion on the issue).

“I’m pretty confident that I can [win] if I continue to work hard, and then we have to get control of the two houses,” he said. “Last year was a real step back for us.”

In addition to the DFL’s backing, Hayden has the support of Berglin to take her Senate seat. For Hayden, the three legislators have been a trio that “just works.” Collectively they have pushed hard for things like affordable housing, health care and urban equality, Hayden said. “We just want to make sure that continues.”

A crowded field

Paulette Will is technically new to electoral politics. She has never held elected office and never mounted a campaign until now. But by her account, she is one of the oldest DFL hands in Minneapolis. Will worked in the Legislature in the 1970s, when party designations became official and Democrats took control of the Legislature after years of GOP control. In addition to work in the House index office — where staffers wrote bill identifications before computers — Will spent time as a staffer for former DFL Senate President Allan Spear.

She doesn’t like that some are treating Hayden’s victory as a foregone conclusion. “I like that it’s a special election, and it’s a fast, steep, high climb,” she said. “Anything can happen in a special election. No one is entitled to this seat.”

DFL candidate Elsa Batica — who previously served as deputy director of the Minneapolis Civil Rights Department and has run several nonprofits — feels the same way. She wasn’t exactly thrilled with the DFL endorsement process, which had an executive board on the district’s DFL central committee pick the candidate for endorsement instead of putting it to a vote. The same process was used in Senate District 46, where another special election is taking place to replace Sen. Linda Scheid, who recently died of ovarian cancer.

The process was unfair to every DFL candidate except Hayden, who sits on the DFL central committee, Batica said. “It seemed to me that the DFL central committee was closed-door,” she said. She also doesn’t think Hayden’s chances are as bright as many think. “Everyone is assuming he is the shoo-in, but according to my door-to-door knocking, a lot of people think that if he couldn’t do the job last session, why would we send the same person to the Senate?”

Also in the mix for the DFL primary is tax auditor Sadik Warfa, who ran against Clark as an Independence Party candidate last fall and garnered less than 12 percent of the vote; graphic designer Kristian Heuer; and recent University of Minnesota graduate and Web developer Kyle Wilson.

The general election will feature another familiar face in legislative elections: Green Party candidate Farheen Hakeem. She challenged Hayden for his House seat in 2008, earning 30 percent of the vote. The winner of the DFL primary will face Hakeem and Republican Bruce Lundeen in the Oct. 18 general election.

Special election, part two?

Batica won’t say whether she will run for Hayden’s House seat if he wins the primary and special election in October. “I’m focused on Sept. 13 right now,” she said. “Whatever happens, we can talk after that.”

Several of the Senate candidates would likely jump into a special election for the House seat, and several more, who opted out of the Senate race, are quietly waiting for Hayden’s seat to open up. “I’m aware of several people running for [Hayden’s] seat who are not running for the Senate district,” Clark noted.

Josh Bassais, who works in marketing in Minneapolis, has already registered to run for the HD 61B seat, should it open up, and attorney Susan Allen is another name running through DFL circles.

For Will, her chances start and end with the Senate. She lives on the opposite side of the Senate district and couldn’t run for Hayden’s open seat even if she wanted to. “Let’s just keep him in the House and save everyone some money,” she said. “It’s expensive to hold a special election, and he knows he has a seat when this is all over. I think it’s highly speculative that he is going to win. It’s anybody’s game.”

Top News

See All Top News

Legal calendar

Click here to see upcoming Minnesota events

Expert Testimony

See All Expert Testimony