House District 43A is an odd creation. It meanders from the border of St. Paul to the northeast and contains at least part of five cities, including Maplewood, White Bear Lake and Mahtomedi.
“It avoids all of the natural geography of the area,” said Jim Carson, a former chair of the GOP in the 4th Congressional District and a 43A resident. “It’s such a diverse and diffuse district in the sense that the communities are not connected.”
There is no incumbent, but on paper it should be favorable turf for DFLers. An analysis by Common Cause Minnesota shows the district with a generic partisan advantage of 14 percentage points for Democrats. The two other seats in Senate District 43 are currently held by DFLers, Rep. Leon Lillie and Sen. Chuck Wiger.
Peter Fischer is the endorsed DFL candidate in the district. He survived a five-candidate contest at the March convention, winning endorsement on the seventh ballot. Fischer spent five years on the Maplewood Human Rights Commission and 18 years on the city’s parks commission. His work on DFL campaigns dates back to former Congressman Bruce Vento’s first run for office in the late ’70s. Fischer currently runs a Minneapolis-based nonprofit group that works with homeless youth. “A lot of what drives me is because of what I’m doing for my career right now,” Fischer said.
Challenger questions DFL bona fides
But Bob Hill — an attorney who briefly sought the DFL endorsement to run against U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann in 2008 — is running against Fischer in the primary. Hill initially promised to abide by the endorsement, but has reneged on that pledge. Hill says it’s primarily because he believes Fischer is not fully committed to supporting abortion rights and misled delegates about that stance. He points to an email that Fischer wrote to a delegate in which he acknowledged attending the state DFL convention in the 1980s as a pro-life delegate. “If you’re pro-choice, you’re pro-choice,” Hill said. “It’s not for the government to tell women what to do with their bodies, never has been.”
But Fischer says this is a misrepresentation of his stance. He acknowledges that he’s personally struggled with the issue of abortion, owing to his Roman Catholic background, but doesn’t support further restrictions to access. “He can make whatever claim he wants,” Fischer said. “It doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s true.”
Fischer said that he sees the need for access to a full range of family planning services, including abortion, in his work with homeless teenagers. “I would never want to do anything that would put their rights at risk,” he said.
Hill also questions the integrity of the endorsement process. He claims that candidate questionnaires weren’t distributed to delegates as promised and that Fischer deceived some delegates about who was backing his candidacy. “I’m standing up to these guys and they don’t like it,” Hill said.
But Dick Ottman, SD 43 DFL chair, doesn’t believe that there are any legitimate grounds for contesting the endorsement. “There were no issues that Hill or anybody else raised,” Ottman said. “The party is committed to helping Peter Fischer.”
Denny Fendt, a teacher and veteran DFL activist in the area, was also at the convention and says he saw nothing to justify Hill’s complaints. “I’m not here to put him down, but I think his disappointment with the endorsement process was that he didn’t receive the endorsement,” Fendt said.
Another thorny issue in the contest is Hill’s party allegiance. In February he hosted an Independence Party caucus at his home. But Hill says that was only because he was planning to run against Republican Sen. Ray Vandeveer and wanted to secure both the IP and DFL endorsements in what he anticipated would be a conservative-leaning district. Redistricting eliminated that possibility. Hill points out that there were only three people at the IP caucus gathering, including himself and his wife. “I’m a lifelong Democrat. I’ve bled for this party,” Hill said. “To have these guys trying to pretend that I’m not a real Democrat, who the hell do they think they are?”
Hill claims he’s already knocked on more than 1,000 doors and has budgeted $50,000 just for the primary. He expects to send out 10 to 12 mailings to residents of the district prior to the August election.
Strong GOP candidate
Waiting in the wings is GOP endorsee Stacey Stout, who brings a formidable resume to the contest. She currently serves as associate director of public policy for the Minnesota Farm Bureau. Previously she worked as an attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice and as a staffer in both the U.S. House and Senate. “My background will serve me very well in this kind of a role,” Stout said. “All the things I’ve done up until now have prepared me well for this type of endeavor.”
Carson’s been out door-knocking with Stout and believes her message is resonating, even in the DFL stronghold of Maplewood. “I think she’s going to win and I think it doesn’t matter who the Democrat is,” Carson said. “Our impression is that the Democrats have not bothered to work Maplewood in some time, and the biggest response has been they’re surprised to see anybody at the door.”
Fischer is door-knocking the district too and is confident that he’ll survive the primary. But he does admit some worry that it could tarnish the DFL brand in the area.
“Any time you get Democrats fighting Democrats, that is a little bit of a concern,” he said.