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As endorsing season looms, MN legislators scrambling to finalize election plans

Paul Demko//March 7, 2012

As endorsing season looms, MN legislators scrambling to finalize election plans

Paul Demko//March 7, 2012

In House District 38B, which includes part of White Bear Lake, Rep. Carol McFarlane will face off against a fellow Republican, House Majority Leader Matt Dean. (Staff photos: Peter Bartz-Gallagher)

House and Senate races across the state are rapidly shaking out after the release of the 2012 legislative map last month. And with local endorsing conventions set to take place throughout March, incumbents and challengers alike have little time to make decisions about their political futures.

There will be just two pairs of incumbent senators from the same party facing off against each other in endorsement battles. On the GOP side, Sens. Michelle Benson and Michael Jungbauer are each seeking party backing in a suburban district that includes Ham Lake and East Bethel. DFL Sens. Mary Jo McGuire and John Marty will face off for the endorsement in Senate District 66, which includes Roseville.

“Do I regret having to be in this spot? Yeah, I hate it,” Marty said. “I don’t like it at all. But I don’t know what you can do. She and I both have reasons we’re running.”

On the House side, there will be three sets of incumbents from the same party taking each other on. Most notably, House Majority Leader Matt Dean announced on Monday that he will run against fellow GOP Rep. Carol McFarlane in House District 38B, which includes part of White Bear Lake.

That could prove tricky for Dean, considering that more than half of the new district includes turf that McFarlane currently represents. But Dean has two palpable assets in the battle: his status as majority leader, a position of influence that many locals would presumably deem advantageous, and the fact that Dean’s executive assistant, Bill Walsh, happens to reside in the district and thus can offer his boss considerable help in working the delegate field.

In any case, the four-term legislator professed not to be worried. “The district is new for both of us,” Dean said. “It’s more conservative than both of our districts are currently. I think I’m a very good fit for the district. No district belongs to any one party or politician. The endorsement belongs to the delegates, and the seat belongs to the people.”

GOP Reps. Ron Shimanski and Glenn Gruenhagen are both seeking the endorsement in House District 18B in south central Minnesota. They have agreed to abide by the wishes of GOP activists at the endorsement convention on March 24. “Like so many things in life, you have to accept what the results are and make the best out of it,” said Gruenhagen, who is serving his first term. “Hopefully we can run in a way that will be an example to other politicians.”

On the DFL side, Minneapolis Reps. Frank Hornstein and Marion Greene will face each other in an intraparty battle. Greene is serving her first term, while Hornstein is closing in on a decade at the Capitol. “We both like what we’re doing and that’s why we’re running,” Hornstein said. “We both had to make the decision quickly because of the short timeline, and I think we both had clarity about wanting to continue on.”

There will likely be three House contests with DFL and GOP incumbents pitted against each other. The pairings:

• Reps. Tom Anzelc, DFL-Balsam Township, and Carolyn McElfatrick, R-Deer River

• Reps. Bill Hilty, DFL-Finlayson, and Roger Crawford, R-Mora

• Reps. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji and Larry Howes, R-Walker.

In the Senate, just one such matchup is anticipated: Tom Saxhaug, DFL-Grand Rapids, and John Carlson, R-Bemidji, will face each other in Senate District 5.

Other notable redistricting fallout from recent days:

District 11A: At least four DFL challengers are eyeing the open House District 11A seat in central Minnesota. It includes much of the territory currently in Rep. Bill Hilty’s district. But Hilty has been drawn into neighboring House District 11B and plans to run against GOP incumbent Rep. Roger Crawford. The DFL challengers in 11A include Cloquet Mayor Bruce Ahlgren; attorney and war veteran Jesse Berglund; attorney and pizza parlor owner Pete Radosevich; and labor leader Mike Sundin.

District 16: Former DFL legislator Ted Suss is running for this seat in southwestern Minnesota. Suss, who has been superintendent of Wabasso schools for the last nine years, served in the House from 1975 to 1978. The newly drawn Senate district map has added competitive DFL turf in Lac Qui Parle and Yellow Medicine counties. The district is home to GOP Sen. Gary Dahms.

District 16B: Rep. Paul Torkelson is moving into this district, which includes roughly 80 percent of the area he currently represents in southwestern Minnesota. That will avoid a matchup against GOP incumbent Rep. Tony Cornish.

District 17: DFL Reps. Lyle Koenen and Andrew Falk will avoid an intraparty nomination fight in this rural western Minnesota district. Koenen plans to run for the Senate against GOP incumbent Sen. Joe Gimse. Falk will seek re-election to the House.

District 20: Retired FBI agent Michael Dudley announced that he will seek the GOP nomination in this open district, which includes the college town of Northfield. Former DFL Sen. Kevin Dahle, who was defeated by Al DeKruif in 2010, is also seeking the post.

District 22: GOP Sen. Doug Magnus is retiring after a decade in the House and Senate. He chairs the Senate Agriculture and Rural Communities Committee.

District 23: DeKruif has opted not to run for re-election after being paired with a fellow Republican incumbent, Sen. Julie Rosen, in this southern Minnesota district.

District 32B: Rep. Bob Barrett, who was paired with fellow GOP incumbent Rep. Bob Dettmer, announced that he will move into the adjoining Chisago County district and seek re-election. He will likely run against another familiar face at the Capitol: former DFL Sen. Rick Olseen. Two years ago Olseen lost his re-election bid to Republican Sean Nienow of Cambridge. Olseen anticipated running for the Senate again but changed his mind after studying the maps and deciding the House was a better fit.

District 33A: St. Bonifacius City Council Member Joe Arwood, who pulled the plug on his U.S. Senate candidacy last month, is running in this west metro district. That seat is held by Rep. Connie Doepke, who is running for the Senate.

Rep. Steve Smith is likely to face a GOP challenger in his west metro district. The 11-term incumbent has bucked party orthodoxy on issues like the gay marriage amendment and labor unions and could face repercussions from GOP activists. Pam Langseth, a member of the Minnetonka School Board, is strongly considering a run and expects to make a decision within a week.

District 35: There will be a battle for the GOP endorsement between state Rep. Branden Petersen of Coon Rapids and political newcomer Martha Weaver. Petersen opted not run again in the House after he was paired with fellow GOP Rep. Peggy Scott of Andover. Weaver is a former television anchor with considerable political pedigree. Her cousin is former legislator Charlie Weaver, who now heads the Minnesota Business Partnership, and her father, John Weaver, served two terms in the House representing parts of Anoka and Hennepin counties. Both GOP candidates have agreed to abide by the party endorsement.

District 39: Karin Housley lost to Sen. Katie Sieben by 600 votes in 2010. She had been planning another run for the seat this year but ended up being drawn into a neighboring district with incumbent Sen. Ray Vandeveer. Housley considered moving back into Sieben’s district but decided against it. “I’m going to help Ray win,” Housley said. “He’s a good guy.”

District 42A: Former Rep. Paul Gardner has decided not to run for the open seat in this House district, which includes parts of Blaine and Arden Hills.

District 42B: Two DFL candidates — Jason Isaacson and Peter Strohmeier — have filed to run in this district, which includes Vadnais Heights, Shoreview and Little Canada. The seat is held by DFL Rep. Bev Scalze, who is running for the Senate. Strohmeier is a legislative assistant and former committee administrator at the Capitol. Isaacson teaches communications at Century College and served as campaign manager in 2010 for Maureen Reed in the 6th Congressional District contest.

District 53: Sen. Ted Lillie announced last week that he will move into neighboring Senate District 53 and seek re-election. Lillie had been paired in the new Senate District 39 with Vandeveer, a fellow Republican.

District 55B: Eric Pratt, who has served on the Prior Lake-Savage school board for more than a decade, plans to seek the GOP endorsement in this open district, which includes part of Scott County.

District 58A: Rep. Mary Liz Holberg, the influential chairwoman of the Ways and Means Committee, is moving into House District 58A, which includes much of the territory she currently represents. That leaves an open seat in her new HD 56B, which Terry McCall, who serves as chair of the GOP in the 2nd Congressional District, will seek.

There will undoubtedly be a flurry of more filings in the coming days. Already candidates are reaching out to delegates to secure their support. Benson and Jungbauer are working to win over potential new constituents while balancing their legislative duties.

“I’m calling delegates,” said Benson, a freshman legislator from Ham Lake. “I’m trying to reach them through email. I’m working pretty hard down here, with deadlines coming up, and so that is challenging, but I’m doing my best.”

Both candidates say they intend to abide by the endorsement. But Jungbauer doesn’t completely rule out a primary bid, he said, if the state party or Senate caucus interferes in the process. “I believe we need to educate our own delegates and alternates and live or die by the endorsement,” said Jungbauer, who is from East Bethel. “If I don’t get endorsed, it would have to be something pretty egregious before I would go to a primary.”

Both candidates also promise to run positive campaigns. That resolve could be tested as the fight for delegates intensifies.

“You will never find anybody that supports me out there saying something bad about Benson, because I have always argued that Republicans are the best at eating their own, and I will not be a part of that situation,” Jungbauer said. “We know that’s not the way to do business. And if I ever catch somebody saying something bad about her and I find out about it, you will see me publicly chastise that person, because that’s not part of my belief system.”

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