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Despite a deadlocked endorsing convention, Jerry Hertaus is the lone GOP candidate for one of the safest Republican House seats in Minnesota.

And then there was one

Staff photo: Peter Bartz-Gallagher Jerry Hertaus won election as mayor of Greenfield two years ago with 59 percent of the vote.

Despite a deadlocked endorsing convention, Jerry Hertaus is the lone GOP candidate for one of the safest Republican House seats in Minnesota

Last month GOP delegates in House District 33A gathered at Wayzata Middle School to choose a candidate for endorsement. There was no incumbent in the mix because two-term Rep. Connie Doepke had opted to run for the district’s Senate seat, which is being vacated by retiring nine-term veteran Gen Olson.

The endorsement contest drew three challengers: Greenfield Mayor Jerry Hertaus, St. Bonifacius City Council member Joe Arwood and college student Tyler Abens. From the first ballot, it was clear that Arwood and Hertaus were the chief contenders. On the third ballot they deadlocked with exactly half of the votes each. Delegates then opted to adjourn without endorsing a candidate, and it appeared that the nomination would be settled in a GOP primary.

But when the filing deadline passed earlier this month, the only candidate who had registered to run was Hertaus. That’s particularly surprising because House District 33A, which includes Wayzata and Maple Plain, is one of the safest Republican House seats in the state. In fact, an analysis by Common Cause Minnesota of the new legislative districts created through redistricting, determined that it had the strongest partisan GOP index in the state at +29. That means Hertaus (pronounced HER-toss) is very likely headed to St. Paul in 2013.

Hertaus points out that at one point there were five challengers for the nomination, but a couple of them dropped out while waiting for the endorsement convention to be scheduled. “It got put off a very long time,” he noted, “and there was just a lot of attrition in the campaign leading up to that.”

Arwood said he simply wasn’t prepared to spend the money, time and effort that it would take to win a primary. After consulting his family, he opted instead to back Hertaus. “I put aside my ambition to go out and focus on getting our endorsed candidates elected,” Arwood said.

Jonathan Aanestad, vice chair of the GOP in Senate District 33, points out that Arwood previously was campaigning for the Republican nomination to take on U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar. “Quite frankly, I think Joe got a little bit burned out,” Aanestad said. “He’s been campaigning for like a year.”

But even without Arwood in the mix, many local political observers expected at least one other challenger to enter the contest. The candidate most widely expected to join the contest? Doepke. That’s because she lost the Senate District 33 endorsement contest to Mound City Council member David Osmek. Many of Doepke’s House colleagues – including Speaker Kurt Zellers – encouraged her to run for re-election to the lower chamber rather than challenge the endorsed Senate candidate.

“I am surprised that Connie Doepke didn’t step into this race after not wining the endorsement for the Senate seat,” said Arwood. “That was really the most surprising part of it. The endorsement process has got to mean something and it’s got to have some teeth to it.”

But Doepke said that she’d already committed to seeking the Senate seat.
“It was never about running for the House,” Doepke said. “I have been thinking about running for the Senate [since] about the time that Sen. Olson announced her retirement. It was really about where I could use my talents the best for our district.”

That leaves Hertaus officially as the lone GOP candidate in 33A. He won election as mayor of Greenfield two years ago with 59 percent of the vote. Hertaus has also served as president of the Rockford-Greenfield Chamber of Commerce since 2010 and previously chaired the Greenfield Planning Commission for six years. His professional resume includes working as a real estate agent and homebuilder for more than two decades. Prior to that, he owned a garden and nursery center. He has lived in Hennepin County since he was a kid.

Despite the overwhelmingly Republican makeup of the district, if elected Hertaus promises to represent all constituents at the Capitol. “A lot of times it seems people get elected and they’re no longer a representative,” Hertaus said. “It’s only what’s on their personal agenda instead of representing their constituents.”

He won’t win the House seat without opposition, however. Businessman Todd Mikkelson secured the DFL endorsement in March and is the only Democrat in the contest. Mikkelson argues that residents in the district are angry about last year’s government shutdown and state borrowing from school districts. He claims to be unfazed by the partisan makeup of the district.

“Although a lot of my friends are Republicans, they and I agree on many more things than we disagree on,” Mikkelson said.

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