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Endorsement time brings new faces to House races

After seven ballots, University of Minnesota-Duluth professor Jennifer Schultz won the endorsement of House District 7A DFLers to succeed Rep. Tom Huntly of Duluth. (Submitted photo)

After seven ballots, University of Minnesota-Duluth professor Jennifer Schultz won the endorsement of House District 7A DFLers to succeed Rep. Tom Huntly of Duluth. (Submitted photo)

Already, a dozen Minnesota legislators have announced their impending retirements, telling constituents that they would serve out the 2014 session but not seek re-election later this year. That trend has opened doors for politically minded residents in those districts, and the prospect is especially attractive in areas known to lean heavily toward one party or the other.

Races in those districts are typically seen optimistically, as chances for an infusion of new blood to the Capitol. In another, less upbeat scenario, one freshman legislator was forced into an early “retirement” owing largely to his vote in favor of same-sex marriage.

House District 30B

With the exception of a brief, unsuccessful threat to House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, no incumbent’s endorsement challenge has approached the level of attention seen in House District 30B. Rep. David FitzSimmons, R-Albertville, was one of four House Republicans to vote in favor of the same-sex marriage bill during the 2013 session. FitzSimmons, a freshman, carried an amendment that introduced the phrase “civil marriage” to the bill, in a move aimed at garnering more moderate GOP votes.

That decision upset some Republican activists in FitzSimmon’s central Minnesota district, and inspired Dayton City Council member Eric Lucero to mount a rematch against FitzSimmons, who defeated Lucero for the endorsement in 2012. Rather than face a seemingly imminent defeat in the endorsement battle, FitzSimmons withdrew, effectively handing the local party’s support to Lucero.

FitzSimmons later floated the possibility that he might run in a primary election, but has since said he will not pursue that option. Some GOP activists are still bitter about Lucero’s victory, and have taken issue with the negative approach he used to oust FitzSimmons, who had spent years as a dedicated Republican activist and campaign operative.

Wright County Republican Party chair Ken Beamish said the endorsement of Lucero has left a fissure in the local party unit, with two camps still pitted against each other.

“You’ve got the two ends of the Republican Party,” Beamish said. “They’re total opposites on a lot of issues.”

Senell Jaster, an attorney and Republican activist, was a late and unsuccessful entrant for the party endorsement. Jaster said she was drawn in by the negativity she saw from Lucero’s campaign, especially around the gay marriage issue. Jaster lost, and did not comment on whether she might consider a primary run, though she said she is aware of “grumblings” to that effect from a number of Republicans.

“I don’t know any decisions that have been made,” Jaster said. “I have been very disappointed to date, and I have yet to hear what Lucero’s issues are.”

Lucero has kept a low profile since winning the endorsement, and did not return a phone call regarding this story.

House District 7A

The retirement of Rep. Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth, signals the end of a long legislative career representing a strongly liberal district. Four possible successors soon emerged in the Democratic field, including Jennifer Schultz, a University of Minnesota-Duluth professor, and Pete Johnson, a firefighter and union organizer.

It took seven ballots, but Schultz ultimately outlasted Johnson in the local DFL’s March 23 endorsement convention. Schultz said her strategy, aside from making connections with as many delegates as possible, involved reaching out to activists who had already chosen another candidate as their first choice. She stressed the importance for the party to reach an endorsement decision, and urged those backing her competitors to make Schultz their second choice if their candidate dropped out.

“Delegates really didn’t want to leave that day without an endorsement,” Schultz said. “That’s why it took all day.”

Schultz brings a profile similar to that of the departing Huntley, who was also a UMD professor when he entered the Legislature. In introducing herself to delegates, Schultz focused on her background as a health care economist, making her a fitting replacement for Huntley, who has chaired the House Health and Human Services Finance Committee on three occasions.

Schultz’s Republican opponent is

St. Louis County Commission member Becky Hall. DFL activist Sarah Lewerenz said Hall’s previous electoral success should not pose much of a threat for Schultz, especially because county-level seats are technically nonpartisan. Lewerenz observed that previous attempts to transition from local offices to legislative campaigns have failed, especially for conservative candidates.

“They’re not able to carry their strength in a nonpartisan office over into strength running as a Republican,” she said.

House District 19B

Rep. Kathy Brynaert, DFL-Mankato, has been one of the most outspoken and recognizable figures in her caucus on the subject of education, taking a lead role on policy issues in particular. Brynaert surprised Democrats in her district by announcing in late March that she would not seek re-election after serving out this, her fourth term in office.

Brynaert’s easy election victories — she won with more than 65 percent of the vote in 2012 — had apparently managed to scare off potential Republican foes, none of whom had declared a candidacy in time for the local party’s March 8 endorsing convention. So far, only one Democrat has thrown her hat into the ring: Karen Foreman, a Mankato City Council member who also chairs the Senate District 19 DFL.

Foreman said she had been in contact with “emeritus” political figures in the district prior to making her decision, both in a search for advice, and to find out which other Democrats might join the race. To date, only her fellow Mankato City Council member, Jack Considine, has publicly expressed an interest in the endorsement, which will be decided at the local DFL party’s mid-May convention.

Foreman worked for three decades as an administrative assistant at Minnesota State University-Mankato, and was also an active member of the AFSCME employee union. She touted her campaign experience, pointing out that she lost twice in her pursuit of the city council seat before winning in 2012.

“I know what it means to win, and I know what it means to lose,” Foreman said.

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