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Marty/McGuire contest, 14-person scrum in District 59 among races to be settled

Briana Bierschbach//March 28, 2012//

Marty/McGuire contest, 14-person scrum in District 59 among races to be settled

Briana Bierschbach//March 28, 2012//

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DFL Sen. John Marty of Roseville will face DFL Sen. Mary Jo McGuire of Falcon Heights in an endorsement battle on Saturday after they were placed in the same Senate district. (Staff photo: Peter Bartz-Gallagher)
Minneapolis DFLers lost another legislator last weekend. Freshman Rep. Marion Greene, who replaced former DFL House Speaker and gubernatorial candidate Margaret Anderson Kelliher in the chamber, fell in an endorsement contest against DFL House colleague Frank Hornstein.

It was a discomfiting standoff for Minneapolis delegates. The new House District 61A consists mostly of Greene’s old turf, but Hornstein is a 10-year veteran of the Legislature. Former lawmakers and activists spoke on behalf of the candidates, including Kelliher, who called on delegates to support Hornstein — not her successor, Greene — for the DFL endorsement. After three ballots, Greene conceded to Hornstein, who was slowly nearing the 60 percent threshold needed to earn the party’s blessing.
Their endorsement battle is emblematic of contests playing out across the state in the coming weeks. This weekend alone the DFL Party is holding more than 20 conventions, many of them featuring vigorously contested endorsement battles. That includes a total of 14 candidates running for three seats in North Minneapolis; a six-way DFL race for two open seats in new Senate District 42; and several contests that will force incumbent lawmakers to fend off challengers from outside the Legislature. And like Greene, DFL Sen. Mary Jo McGuire will face a more senior DFL legislator, Sen. John Marty, in an endorsement battle after they were placed in the same Senate district.

Here are five key endorsing conventions to watch this weekend.

Senate District 66: No matter what the outcome of the Senate District 66 convention on Saturday, most activists will walk away at least slightly disappointed. That’s because incumbent senators and political allies Marty and McGuire are going head-to-head for the endorsement after the maps placed Marty’s home base of Roseville in the same district as McGuire’s Falcon Heights home.

For McGuire, it is a bit of déjà vu. She served in the House from 1989 to 2002, when redistricting combined her district with that of close friend and fellow DFL Rep. Alice Hausman. McGuire stepped aside to avoid an endorsement battle but was able to return to the Legislature one year ago in a special election triggered by the retirement of St. Paul Sen. Ellen Anderson. This time she has opted to go for the endorsement and take on Marty, who is serving his eighth term in the chamber and has launched multiple bids for governor.

Marty and McGuire agree on most issues and share allies in the ranks of the DFL, meaning the race will likely come down to a gender competition, Roseville DFL Rep. Mindy Greiling says. “It’s clearly a battle of how far do we go endorsing a woman versus a man,” she said. Greiling, who is not openly endorsing in the race, points out that the competition has become a priority for the advocacy group Women Winning, which is clashing with groups like the Stonewall DFL and the Minnesota Nurses Association, both Marty endorsers. “I think it’s a quintessential, classic battle between those two camps.”

McGuire is doing all she can to avoid being booted from the Legislature again. “I’ve been out for 10 years and now I’m back in, and I feel like I bring a really good perspective and a fresh perspective,” she said. “And we are in danger of losing our representative democracy as far as looking like the population. We are losing women every week, it seems. … I feel strongly that we need women here representing us.”
Both candidates have said they will abide by the DFL endorsement. “I just think it’s the most uncomfortable, awkward, terrible situation we could ever have,” Greiling said. “I think the delegates are going to have a terrible time.”

Senate District 59: DFL Rep. Bobby Joe Champion isn’t naming favorites ahead of the Senate District 59 DFL convention this weekend. A total of 14 candidates are vying for the endorsement in the district’s three seats, two of which are open for the taking. “I don’t have any predictions,” Champion said. “All I know is I’m coming in for a long day.”

Champion’s endorsement will likely be the quickest portion of the North Minneapolis convention. The two-term House member represents House District 58B, but he is hoping to replace retiring DFL Sen. Linda Higgins in the new Senate District 59. Champion will go head-to-head for the endorsement against Troy Parker, who has launched several bids for elected office.

The race to replace Champion will be the most-watched endorsement contest next weekend for many DFLers. Seven candidates are in the mix, including one former legislator and a slew of community activists. Topping the list for several northside political activists is Terra Cole. Cole’s resume includes past chairwoman of the Hawthorne Area Community Council and director of the District 58 DFL. Cole has worked as a senior planning analyst for Hennepin County for the last 16 years.

Rounding out the rest of the field is activist Raymond Dehn, who challenged Higgins for the Senate endorsement in 2010; former DFL Rep. Willie Dominguez, who lost the DFL endorsement to Champion in 2008; Nancy Pomplun, a Harrison neighborhood resident who has worked extensively on health care issues; Ian Alexander, a board member for the Folwell Neighborhood Association; and community activists Ken Lawrence and Michael Jones. Jones entered the race just last weekend, announcing his candidacy at a forum and joining the others on stage to debate. “This is an always evolving situation,” Champion said.

On the other side of the district, DFL Rep. Joe Mullery will face a crowded endorsement field for his House seat. Mullery is no stranger to primary battles; the eight-term lawmaker has faced intraparty contests in the last two election cycles. Taking him on this weekend is activist David Boyd, who challenged Mullery in 2010 and lost by more than 50 percentage points; Jon Olson, who also previously ran against Mullery and made a run at the 5th Congressional District in 2006; David Younk, a board member of the Victory Neighborhood Association who is considered one of the strongest candidates; and activist Marcus Harcus. In 2009, Harcus challenged Minneapolis City Council President Barb Johnson and finished third among four candidates.

House District 41A: An awkward situation is brewing in House District 41A. The district, which now covers the city of Fridley and portions of Spring Lake Park and New Brighton, has already played home to one DFL-on-DFL pairing. When the maps were released, incumbent Reps. Tom Tillberry and Kate Knuth both landed in the district. After much hemming and hawing, Knuth decided to avoid an endorsement battle and retire from the Legislature. But Tillberry will not go unchallenged at the district’s endorsing convention this weekend; former DFL Rep. Connie Bernardy is also seeking the party’s blessing.

“I just don’t like pitting friends against friends and neighbors against neighbors,” Tillberry said this week, noting that he took over for Bernardy when she retired from the House in 2006. “It will be interesting to go against someone I replaced here.”

Bernardy, a Fridley resident, served in the House from 2001 until 2006 and was an assistant minority leader and whip. She was also the chief recruiting officer in 2006, when the DFL switched from the minority to the majority with 29 DFL freshmen. After her retirement later that year, she took a job lobbying with Education Minnesota. More recently, she has worked as an independent consultant. Initially Bernardy planned to challenge first-term Republican Sen. Pam Wolf in Senate District 51, but redistricting placed her in Senate District 41, where Barb Goodwin is the incumbent. Instead of challenging Goodwin for the endorsement, Bernardy opted to vie for the House seat.

Tillberry admits he was surprised when he heard she was running for the House instead. “Usually people talk about this stuff when they do that type of thing,” he noted. “I supported her for the Senate, but then the lines get redrawn and it doesn’t pan out the way you want.”

Tillberry said he feels good about his chances heading into the weekend. “I think that the burden is going to be on the former representative,” he said. “People will want to know, what have you done in the last five and a half years while I’ve been serving down here? What decisions did you have to make?”
Senate District 50: DFL Minneapolis Sen. Ken Kelash moved to an open seat in Senate District 50 to avoid a post-redistricting pairing with his Minneapolis DFL Senate colleague Scott Dibble. But Kelash will not go unchallenged in the new district, which covers Richfield, part of Bloomington and a sliver of Minneapolis. Bloomington School Board Chairwoman Melissa Halvorson Wiklund announced intentions to run for the seat shortly after the redistricting maps dropped, and she has the backing of some key legislative Democrats.

“She’s going to be the next senator, contrary to what you might hear. I’m telling you right now,” said DFL Rep. Ann Lenczewski, who said she and fellow DFL Rep. Linda Slocum are backing Wiklund’s bid. “She’s going to be the new senator from Bloomington.” It’s going to be a tough race, according to a handful of DFL activists watching the district. Kelash represents roughly half of the district and will likely have support from delegates he’s carrying over into the new district. But the Bloomington contingent will put up a fight to see one of their own in the Legislature, one lobbyist knowledgeable of the race said.
Senate District 42: Seven DFL candidates will vie for endorsements in three open seats in the district, which covers cities like Vadnais Heights, Arden Hills and Circle Pines. There’s little mystery in the endorsement battle for the open Senate seat in the area — Little Canada DFL Rep. Bev Scalze is the only candidate seeking endorsement in the race. But her move to the Senate has created an open seat in House District 42B, and three candidates are hoping to take her place. That includes Roseville City Council Member Tammy Pust, Century College instructor and longtime DFL activist and campaigner Jason Isaacson and Vadnais Heights City Council Member Sheila Kelly.

Redistricting also created an open seat in House District 42A. Three DFL candidates will vie for the open seat on Saturday. (A fourth candidate, House DFL legislative assistant Peter Strohmeier, dropped out of the race.) The three are Arden Hills City Council Member Nick Tamble; longtime DFL activist and campaigner Josey Warren; and Barbara Yarusso, a former high school and college chemistry teacher who has been active in the district’s DFL Party unit in the area for decades.

Former DFL Rep. Paul Gardner, who represented the area until 2010, notes that Warren is “enthusiastic” and probably has the most campaign experience, but he characterizes both House endorsement contests as wide open. “As much as you call the delegates, you’re probably not going to get a lot of firm commitments until you get to the convention,” he said. “They are all qualified, but I think the question people will ask is how they are going to win the general election. I think people definitely see these as seats that are in play this year and could go our way in both the House and Senate.”

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