Two DFLers have joined a special election that will determine which party controls the state Senate.
Stearns County Commissioner Joe Perske and Michael Willemsen, a site supervisor at a group home, are vying to be the DFL candidate. They join Republican state Rep. Jeff Howe, who announced his campaign this week.
The three men — and potentially other candidates — will compete in a special election this November to fill the St. Cloud-area seat left vacant by Lt. Gov. Michelle Fischbach.
Fischbach resigned her seat last week, leaving the Senate with an even split of Republicans and Democrats.
Perske, 62, taught physical education and other topics for nearly four decades before retiring two years ago. He has served as a county commissioner for the past two years and was previously mayor and a City Council member in Sartell, where he lives. He ran against Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer in 2014.
DFLers and Republicans have encouraged him to run, he said, and he plans to work closely with legislators of both parties to get legislation passed. Perske said he dislikes how the offices of Republicans and DFLers are divided into separate wings at the State Capitol, adding, "They might have to put my desk in the hallway."
Willemsen, 36, of Sauk Rapids, said he brings a more progressive view to the race and is hoping for the support of groups like the Democratic Socialists of America, as well as younger voters.
Both will face an uphill battle in the GOP-leaning district. Fischbach, a Republican, had represented the district for the past 22 years. She announced Thursday she would be gubernatorial candidate Tim Pawlenty's running mate.