Jake Coleman, a Republican congressional employee and the son of former U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, is following his father into electoral politics by launching a bid for a Carver County state Senate seat.
The 29-year-old Coleman, who was 7 years old when his father was elected mayor of St. Paul, said that in his younger years — as he watched up close while his father both won and lost statewide races — he never wanted to enter politics.
“But I’ve been very lucky and blessed in my life, and I wanted to find a way to give back,” Coleman told the Star Tribune on Tuesday. “Public service gives me that opportunity.”
Coleman enters legislative politics with connections beyond his father, who since leaving office in 2009 remains an active behind-the-scenes player in national and state GOP circles. The younger Coleman has worked since 2012 on the staff of U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen, whose Third Congressional District includes parts of Carver County’s Senate District 47.
Still, Coleman’s not a lock to be the Republican candidate. Scott Jensen, a longtime Carver County doctor, Waconia school board member and county GOP chairman, is also running. The seat is open with the news that Sen. Julianne Ortman, who has held it since 2003, will not seek re-election next year.
“It’ll be a contrast for voters,” said Jensen, who entered the race in July. “You have a long-standing, 60-year-old family doctor facing off against a bright, well-connected young senator’s kid. He’ll be a worthy opponent.”
Norm Coleman switched from the DFL to the GOP in 1996. He was the Republican candidate for governor in 1998 and finished second to Jesse Ventura. In a 2002 U.S. Senate bid, he beat former Vice President Walter Mondale, who stepped onto the ballot at the last minute after Sen. Paul Wellstone was killed in a plane crash.
In 2008, Jake Coleman was finishing college at the University of St. Thomas and helping coordinate social media for his father’s re-election campaign. Occasionally he was a campaign-trail surrogate. “Being in front of the public is not something I’m nervous about,” he said.
Norm Coleman lost that race to Democrat Al Franken after a photo finish and a protracted recount. As the U.S. economy cratered, Jake Coleman abandoned plans to pursue a Wall Street job, and a few years later graduated from the University of Minnesota Law School.
After an initial stint in Paulsen’s Washington office, Coleman moved back to Minnesota in 2013 and got a job as district outreach coordinator. He said he has no immediate plans to leave it.
Coleman moved to Chanhassen after Ortman announced her retirement. He said it wasn’t to make way for the state Senate race.
“It was about moving to a place I felt shared my values,” he said.
The district includes most of Chanhassen, and all of Chaska, Waconia, Watertown, Mayer and smaller Carver County communities. It’s a strongly Republican area, and state DFL Chair Ken Martin said it would be a difficult seat for his party to win.
Coleman said he would not run in the Republican primary without the local party endorsement; Jensen said he’s undecided about that.
Coleman called himself a “traditional conservative” who believes in lower taxes, less government regulation and decentralized decisionmaking in public education. Jensen said he wants to bring his lifelong experience in health care to the Capitol.
Jake Coleman said his father did not discourage or encourage his son’s foray into politics. “He really wanted me to show that if this is something I wanted to do, that I wasn’t going to rely on his name or his experience,” Jake Coleman said. “He’s happy that I’m striking out and doing it on my own.”
Patrick Condon • 651-925-5049