The 20-year-old daughter of the leading DFL write-in candidate for a disgraced Duluth legislator's seat is alleging that her father abandoned her when she was 2, according to a Duluth News Tribune story on Wednesday.
Candidate Erik Simonson confirmed that he has not seen his daughter, Leah Simonson, in 18 years. He said it was wrong to say he abandoned her, pointing out he paid child support and health care bills as required in a divorce agreement with his ex-wife.
"To say the word 'abandoned' leads people to believe that I didn't do what I was supposed to do," he told the newspaper.
Erik Simonson, Duluth's assistant fire chief and a union leader, is the only candidate so far to declare his intention to seek the DFL endorsement on Saturday for the Minnesota House seat in District 7B. The party is meeting to switch its endorsement of the incumbent, Rep. Kerry Gauthier, who dropped his re-election bid after having a July sexual encounter with a 17-year-old boy at a highway rest stop.
In an e-mail to supporters sent Tuesday, Simonson said, "I did everything I was supposed to do, and I have nothing to hide. My previous marriage and daughter have been public knowledge for years, so I was not afraid of it coming out during this campaign."
Simonson said Wednesday that he is proceeding with his bid for the DFL endorsement.
Senate District 7 DFL Chairman John Schwetman said that Simonson remains the only declared candidate, but others could come forward for screening before the nominating convention begins Saturday.
Leah Simonson, a sophomore at the University of Minnesota Duluth, said her father didn't respond to her attempts to contact him as she grew up, including sending cards and school pictures when she was about 5 and a phone message at age 13.
"He has two other daughters, and he sees them every day," she said. "And I don't understand. I just don't understand."
Erik Simonson said he stopped contact with his daughter as a mutual decision with his ex-wife when they were divorced.
But ex-wife Carrie Simonson disputed that account, saying he stopped weekend visits with his daughter after a fight about how little time he spent with her.
Carrie Simonson said her ex-husband regularly paid $600 in monthly child support. She told the paper he paid health care bills only after she sent them to the county, which required him to pay them.
Erik Simonson, who remarried and has two other daughters, disagreed with his ex-wife's version of events and said he did not remember receiving cards from Leah.
"I stepped up to the plate, and I paid my child support on time through all these years," he told the News Tribune. "I'm not understanding why this is an issue now that needs to go to the media, but apparently somebody wants some attention, I guess."
In a forum on Wednesday, Simonson said that if he does not get the DFL endorsement on Saturday, he will suspend his campaign.