All 134 seats in the Minnesota House and one seat in the Minnesota Senate will be filled in the Nov. 6 election. Beginning today and through Thursday, the Editorial Board will offer recommendations in a dozen of those contests, 11 in the House and the one Senate special election. With the exception of the Senate contest — included because of its statewide significance — the districts we chose are all competitive seats in the metro area; all have been witnessing vigorous contests this season. Each candidate considered for endorsement was invited to an in-person interview with a panel of three or more editorial writers.
We invite responses to our endorsements. They should be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org by Nov. 1 to be considered for publication.
Senate District 13: Joe Perske
The special election in District 13 culminates a strange episode in Minnesota political annals — the ascension of a Republican Senate President, Michelle Fischbach, to become lieutenant governor in a DFL administration, followed by her surprise resignation from the Senate in May and an unsuccessful bid for the GOP lieutenant governor nomination in the Aug. 14 primary.
There’s one more wrinkle: Fischbach’s resignation left the state Senate evenly split between Republicans and DFLers, 33-33. The special election will decide not only who will complete Fischbach’s term, but which party will control the Senate.
Both parties found qualified candidates for the high-stakes contest. We admire the commitment to public service evinced by Republican Jeff Howe, 59, a three-term state representative, former City Council member, retired fire chief and retired officer in the Minnesota Army National Guard. But DFLer Joe Perske, a Stearns County commissioner, former Sartell mayor and retired teacher and coach, exhibits more potential to be a leader in the Senate and an attention-getting spokesman for greater Minnesota. Voters should not pass up the opportunity to send someone with his ability to St. Paul.
Perske, 62, is running with the DFL label, but he may be the most independent-minded candidate the Editorial Board met this year. Unlike many in his party, he opposes legal abortion, frets about Minnesotans being overtaxed, and wants to protect gun rights for hunters, though he favors requiring background checks of all gun purchasers. He says he would apply the determination of someone who has run more than 100 marathons to an effort to bridge the Senate’s partisan divide.
“I’ll move my desk into the hallway if I have to” rather than put his party’s interests ahead of his district’s, he said.
Howe’s positions align more nearly with his party’s. In the House, he worked with DFLers to win passage of a veterans’ preference requirement in local government hiring and a fire retardant chemical ban. But he was not among the Legislature’s more visible members. We predict that in short order, Perske would be.
Perske’s caliber — and not our preference for a DFL-controlled Senate — decided this endorsement. But we acknowledge that we also believe Minnesotans will be well served if DFL senators like Tony Lourey, Ann Rest and Ron Latz again hold committee gavels, as they did from 2013 through 2016. District 13 voters would do well to consider the good of the whole state as they choose a new senator.
House District 33B: Kelly Morrison; House District 39B: Shelly Christensen
Two Republican House members, Cindy Pugh of Chanhassen and Kathy Lohmer of Stillwater, discredited themselves earlier this year when they shared a Facebook post alleging that Muslims were trying to “infiltrate” Republican precinct caucuses.
Both Pugh and Lohmer told an editorial writer that their intention was to encourage caucus participation, and that they were not the original authors of the item they shared. “In no way did I endorse what was written,” Pugh said. Lohmer said she takes offense “by any accusations of racism based on a single Facebook post.”
In Pugh’s case, the January 2018 post was an echo of her 2012 post of a photo comparing Islamic women dressed in burqas to garbage bags. This year, Pugh praised her own precinct caucus for approving a resolution calling on the GOP to “minimize and eliminate the influence of Islam” within the party.
Neither Pugh nor Lohmer accepted the Editorial Board’s invitation to a screening interview. Pugh said she preferred not to seek our endorsement; Lohmer cited scheduling conflicts in declining.
Fortunately, both Pugh, 61, seeking a fourth term, and Lohmer, 64, seeking a fifth, are being challenged by promising DFL newcomers running vigorous campaigns. We recommend their election.
In the Lake Minnetonka area, Kelly Morrison, 49, offers the perspective of a physician (the state House now has none) who knows well the scourge of gun violence and has made its reduction a priority. She would bring welcome firsthand experience and depth of knowledge to the health care funding debate that will be a major feature of the 2019 session. Public service runs deep in her family: she descends from Dorilus Morrison, the first mayor of Minneapolis.
In the Stillwater-Lake Elmo area, Shelly Christensen, 63, touts her deep familiarity with a district in which she has spent her entire life. She’s a retired Stillwater High School English teacher and still-working track coach who is passionate about education and community involvement. “I lean toward local control as much as I can,” she said. Christensen is prepared to contribute to education policymaking and is keen to address climate change and protect water quality.
House District 36A: Zack Stephenson
The contest for the open seat in Champlin and Coon Rapids pits an energetic Hennepin County prosecutor against a longtime high school wrestling coach and physical education teacher. Our nod goes to the attorney, DFLer Zack Stephenson, for his leadership potential and the grasp he exhibits of major issues that will confront the 2019 Legislature.
Stephenson, 34, grew up in Coon Rapids and earned his law degree at the University of Chicago. He acquired his political spurs working on the campaigns of U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and House Minority Leader Melissa Hortman. His legal specialties include election law. He would be a valuable voice at the Legislature on matters such as early voting and the re-enfranchisement of former felons. He has thought deeply about the future of higher education, the state’s response to climate change and how to fund highways as electric vehicles make the gas tax obsolete.
Republican Bill Maresh, 57, calls himself “just a regular guy” with a desire to serve his community. Years in athletics taught him the value of competition, he says; he would seek to instill more of it in K-12 education with vouchers and in health care with more private insurance options and price transparency. He’s likable and earnest, but does not exhibit the familiarity with the state’s issues an effective legislator needs.