So far four Duluth Democrats are vying to replace 11-term veteran
The last time folks on Duluth’s east side had an open seat to fill in the Minnesota House of Representatives, President George H.W. Bush was running for re-election, the sitcom “Cheers” was still on the air, and Duluth residents eligible to vote for the first time this fall had not yet been born.
But those first-time voters will not see Rep. Tom Huntley’s name on the ballot this time, because the 22-year legislative veteran announced late last year he would not be running for re-election. In his place, four DFLers are vying for the party endorsement for House District 7A, a seat the DFL is favored to retain.
“I’m excited that we have four very good candidates, all of whom would do a great job representing the district,” said Richard Edwards, Senate District 7 DFL Party chair. “It will be hard to choose, and whether anyone comes out of this with the party endorsement is a good question.”
The four candidates are: Gary Anderson, 54, a community organizer who headed the Duluth area’s Minnesotans United for All Families campaign efforts in 2012 and 2013; Pete Johnson, 34, a local DFL party official and head of the Duluth firefighters’ union; Linda Krug, 56, a Duluth City Council member; and Jennifer Schultz, 42, a professor at the University of Minnesota Duluth and local labor official.
Coming off of a St. Louis County Commissioner special election for the area that saw the progressive candidate elected over the more conservative one, it will be interesting to see how this race shakes out, said Aaron Brown, a blogger/commentator from northern Minnesota whose Minnesota Brown website follows area politics.
“Duluth has gotten younger and moved more to the left in recent years,” he said. “It’s full of established local political figures who would like to make this jump to the Legislature, but you’re also seeing a new generation moving through the pipeline of the Duluth DFL.”
Besides the generational and insider/outsider calculations, Brown said he’ll be interested to see how the debate over copper/nickel mining in northern Minnesota affects the DFL’s choice in the race, as environmental and labor interests within the party collide.
Sen. Roger Reinert, a DFLer who represents the Duluth Senate District in the Legislature, said he hopes the local party will emerge from its March 22 endorsement convention with a candidate and not require a primary to decide matters.
“I tell all my DFL friends we can’t take this seat for granted. If a Republican can win in Duluth, it will be on the east side,” he said. “I’m not endorsing until after the convention, and any candidate that skips the endorsement process or doesn’t abide by it won’t get my endorsement.”
But only two of the four announced candidates have promised to abide by that endorsement process, making the possibility of a primary contest significant. Also, two Republicans have already announced their intention to take on the eventual DFL candidate in the general election this fall.
First one in
Schultz, a professor of economics and health care management, filed her candidacy papers just two days after Huntley made his announcement last December.
The former delegate to the Duluth Central Labor Body and current Northeast Area Labor Council and Education Minnesota member is a first-time candidate for public elected office.
She emphasizes her work with Huntley on health care panels and reform efforts in the past, but says she wants to move health care reform further than he was willing to go in his time as chairman of the House Health and Human Services Finance Committee.
“Sen. [John] Marty is revising his [single payer] health care plan, and I would like to help him in the House with that,” she said. “Minnesota was a leader at one time in health reform, and I want to help us get back on top.”
Other top issues in Schultz’s campaign include raising the minimum wage to a “livable wage” of at least $9.50 an hour and increasing and refurbishing the supply of affordable housing stock in the state.
She comes down on the side of stricter state requirements being necessary before approving a permit for PolyMet and other new mining operations.
“As an academic, I want to hear all sides,” she said. “We need an environmental benefit-cost study to find out the true costs and benefits of nickel/copper mining in northeast Minnesota beforehand.”
Schultz said she will abide by the results of the DFL endorsement process, and she has received the endorsement of John Schwetman, the former Senate District 7 DFL chair.
From organizing to legislating
Anderson didn’t consider himself a political activist until recently. His involvement in the progressive faith community in Duluth led to his role as lead organizer for the Duluth Vote No campaign, which worked against the 2012 marriage amendment and then worked to convince northern Minnesota legislators to support legalizing same-sex marriage last year.
“I’m very proud to say that Duluth was the biggest city in the state in which every precinct voted no,” he said. “And I’m just as proud that every legislator from up here voted for legalization.”
Anderson said he considers himself one of the new wave of political activists spurred to political involvement by the marriage campaigns, and notes that, as a gay man, it was a personally important issue.
But he wants to continue the fight for social and economic justice in the Legislature, and said Duluth is ready for a strong, progressive voice to represent it.
Anderson also advocates for creating a single-payer health care system in Minnesota similar to Vermont’s, and for strengthening labor and raising the minimum wage significantly.
On PolyMet, Anderson said there are several new potential mining projects planned for northern Minnesota and he would not support issuing new state permits until a process is in place to “take a comprehensive look at the cumulative effect of all these potential projects, not just one at a time.”
Anderson said he will seek the DFL endorsement, but won’t close the door to a primary campaign if he doesn’t receive it.
“I’m relying on my team, the voters and supporters to help me decide what to do,” he said. “The party will be a factor but not the only factor.”
Many of the people Duluth has sent to the Legislature in recent years — including Huntley and Reinert = have come from the Duluth City Council, and Krug is the only candidate so far who fits that bill. In fact, she’s the only one with experience running for elected public office.
Krug, a 27-year Duluth resident, co-directs the Masters in Advocacy and Political Leadership program at the University of Minnesota-Duluth.
Now in the third year of her first term on the City Council, she describes herself as the “most centrist, or center-left” candidate seeking the DFL endorsement.
“Like the district, I have progressive values, but I’m concerned about pocketbook issues,” said Krug, who married her longtime partner, Assistant St. Louis County Attorney Leslie Biers, in California in 2008.
Krug said she believes existing state laws should be sufficient to regulate Polymet’s mining operation and that, if they agree to abide by them, there should be no reason to deny them a permit.
“This is being billed as a jobs-versus-the-environment issue, and I’m not a fan of such dichotomies,” she said.
Krug said she is seeking the endorsement, but like Anderson won’t decide beforehand whether to abide by the endorsement.
Serving the public
The most recent entry to the race is a five-year member of the Senate District 7 DFL Board of Directors who has campaigned for local candidates since 2009.
Johnson likens his career as a firefighter and party activist to his desire to serve in the Legislature.
“When somebody calls the fire department, we go and help, no matter what. We solve problems, and we have to be able to establish trust and let people know that we’re there for them immediately,” he said.
Jobs and building the state’s infrastructure top Johnson’s list of priorities. He supports a robust state bonding bill and increased investment in K-12 and higher education.
He said he’s skeptical of issuing a permit for PolyMet, but is willing to learn more about the issue before deciding.
“We really need to be careful with something like this,” he said. “We have strong environmental regulations here in Minnesota that have to be followed to a ‘T’.”
Johnson said he would abide by the party’s endorsement.