Rachel Larson Bohman wasted no time getting into the race for Minnesota secretary of state. Within an hour of DFL officeholder Mark Ritchie’s Tuesday announcement that he would not seek a third term in 2014, Bohman (formerly Rachel Smith) released a statement putting her name in the ring as a Democrat.
Bohman, who has worked on the staffs of two former secretaries of state, had left her job days earlier at Hennepin County, where she was working as elections manager. Before that she worked on elections in Anoka County, including a role there as recount manager during the contentious 2008 U.S. Senate race between Norm Coleman and Al Franken.
She quickly launched a campaign Facebook page and a Twitter account, and she started traveling to DFL convention meetings around the state. By Thursday she was officially registered to run for the office with the campaign finance board and had set up a campaign team. Former longtime DFL Secretary of State Joan Growe plans to serve as Bohman’s campaign chair, while DFL Rep. Jason Metsa will serve as treasurer.
“I think I’m very qualified to do the job,” Bohman said as she registered at the campaign finance board’s office in St. Paul. She plans to seek and abide by the DFL endorsement. “I want to serve the people of Minnesota,” she said. “In my opinion, it’s really about continuing that public service, just on a bigger scale.”
Other Democrats professed surprise at the announcement, though many said they had heard rumors that Ritchie was considering retirement. His move has left a large, bipartisan scrum of legislators scrambling to talk to activists and family as they consider campaigns for the office. Their ranks include DFL Reps. Steve Simon and Ryan Winkler, state Sen. Roger Reinert and former DFL Rep. Jeremy Kalin. Republicans, who had no declared candidates for the office prior to Ritchie’s announcement, have also seen a sudden spike in interest for the now-open seat. Republican Reps. Pat Garofalo and Joyce Peppin are considering campaigns, as is GOP elections activist Kent Kaiser.
Dems tout legislative work on elections
Simon keeps what he admits some might consider a “nerdy” birthday present on display in his legislative office in St. Paul. It’s a year 2000 Palm Beach, Florida voting machine used during the infamous George W. Bush versus Al Gore election that eventually sent Bush to the White House.
“It’s a reminder to me that, regardless of what one’s political affiliations are, elections matter and they are often close. It’s important that they are administered correctly,” said Simon, who lives in Hopkins. “Election law is a great passion of mine. It has been since before I was in the Legislature.”
Simon is seriously considering a run for secretary of state, and plans to make a decision “sooner rather than later.” He chaired the House Elections Committee this session, working with Democrats and Republicans to pass an omnibus elections bill that will inaugurate no-excuse absentee balloting in Minnesota. Dayton had indicated that he wouldn’t sign a bill that lacked bipartisan support, and Simon says his ability to deliver one proves that he can work across the political spectrum, an important quality for any secretary of state. “It was fair and measured, and that’s the kind of approach I would take,” he said. Simon says he would abide by the DFL endorsement if he ran.
Simon’s House district-mate Winkler, of Golden Valley, is also scoping out the field for secretary of state before he makes any final decisions. “My first interest is making sure we have a secretary of state who would do a good job of maintaining our terrific election system, like we’ve had [in Ritchie],” Winkler said. “I don’t know who all would be candidates and who looks like they would be strong. I want to evaluate that before I decide if I should step in.”
Winkler authored this year’s omnibus campaign finance bill. He also authored a bill that stepped up disclosure requirements for third-party political groups after the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, as well as the elections reform bill in 2010 that aimed to clean up issues experienced during the 2008 U.S. Senate recount.
In the upper chamber, Duluth Democrat Reinert is considering a run for the office, citing his background in the Navy and his work as a civics professor as good qualifications for the job. “I’ve worked to make sure our service members are included in the process, and I’ve spent my career as a civics teacher,” he said. “I really appreciate the civic standard in Minnesota and the level of participation in our election process.” But Reinert added that his position in far outstate Minnesota could be both an advantage and a disadvantage in mounting a run for the office. “That will take some thinking on my part,” he said. Reinert isn’t up for reelection in the Senate until 2016.
During his two terms in the House, Kalin, of North Branch, worked with Ritchie and Republicans to pass the Military Overseas Voting Act and said he has always had an interest in elections issues. “I’ve spent the last 10 years building up engagement in the DFL Party, especially in a district where Democrats never thought they would win,” Kalin said. “There’s no question that any of the candidates on the DFL side would make phenomenal secretaries of state. It’s a question of who can raise the money and who can build political coalitions and the kind of grassroots campaign that the DFL will need to win.” Kalin said he would seek the DFL endorsement if he ran.
Republican interest spikes
Before this week, Republicans weren’t talking openly about candidates they could field for secretary of state in 2014. Ritchie had once again stirred the party’s ire in 2012, after he attempted to change the titles of two controversial GOP ballot initiatives, one to ban gay marriage and another to require photo identification to vote. Republicans were gleeful when Ritchie’s efforts were struck down by a court, but there has been little talk about possible contenders to take on the two-term Democrat in 2014. Ritchie beat Republican challenger Dan Severson 49-45 percent in 2010, despite its being a strong year for Republicans.
But with the seat now open, several current legislators are eyeing a possible run. That list includes Peppin, who chaired the House Government Operations and Elections Committee when Republicans held the majority in 2011-12. She lives in Rogers and is serving her fifth term in the Legislature. “I’m interested and I will give it some consideration,” she said. “Obviously having elections on the committee I chaired gave me some experience and opinions on what should be done there.” Peppin is graduating from law school in the fall.
Garofalo, also serving his fifth term, has been consulting with fellow Republicans about a possible run for secretary of state. He has been active in elections issues in the Legislature, particularly in his activism for installing a National Popular Vote system in Minnesota. “I would say that Minnesota deserves a better secretary of state than we’ve had,” the Republican from Farmington said. “I’m giving it some consideration.”
Kent Kaiser, a longtime GOP elections activist who worked in the office of former Republican Secretary of State and current state Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, is also considering a run for the office. Kiffmeyer couldn’t be reached for comment this week on whether she is considering another run. GOP Sen. Warren Limmer challenged Kiffmeyer for the GOP endorsement for secretary of state in 1998, and while he’s not willing to completely rule out a run for the office this year, he says the prospect is “doubtful.”
One Republican legislator who works on elections issues has already taken himself out of the running: GOP Sen. Scott Newman said he has “no interest at all” in running for Ritchie’s job. Newman, who authored the 2012 failed photo ID constitutional amendment, said he’s “happy where I’m at.”