DULUTH — After publicly funded recounts in two tight legislative races in northeastern Minnesota, Republican Natalie Zeleznikar has unseated longtime DFL Rep. Mary Murphy, and the GOP's Roger Skraba edged out DFL state Rep. Rob Ecklund.
Zeleznikar, after the recount, had just 33 more votes than Murphy in Minnesota House District 3B; Skraba had a 15-vote advantage in District 3A. The results are unofficial until they are certified by the State Canvassing Board on Dec. 15.
The recounts, which were publicly funded because of the vote margin was extremely close, began earlier this week and ended Wednesday in Lake County.
"Every vote counts," said Skraba. "Trust me. And more than anyone knows. Now when people see me, they say 'Wow, it really does count.'"
Zeleznikar, 56, is new to politics. She is from Fredenberg Township and has been a nursing home owner and operator for 30 years. A breast cancer survivor, she published a book on her cancer journey, "The Scars you Can't See," in 2021. Zeleznikar billed herself as a "fresh leader " — in comparison with Murphy's 46 years leading the district.
"It's been a roller coaster of emotion," Zeleznikar said. "I knew it was going to be a hard race. I knew it was going to be really close. It's like a hockey game. It could be 3-2 or 10-3 — there's a winner and a loser."
The self-described entrepreneur said she considers the job change "leadership in a new way."
"I work in a very regulated, policy-driven profession serving seniors," she said. "This will be using collaboration and working with people — Republicans and Democrats — to get good legislation."
Murphy was elected in 1976 and served 23 terms in the district that mostly extends through Hermantown, Proctor and Two Harbors. She was the committee chair for redistricting and vice chair of capital investment. She taught at Duluth Central for 33 years.
"No one will ever be able to fill the shoes that Mary Murphy is leaving behind, because there is no one who will ever match the size and scope of Mary Murphy's impact on the state of Minnesota," DFL House Speaker Melissa Hortman said in a statement, crediting her with 2020's largest jobs and construction bill in state history. "Mary served with honor, compassion, toughness, selflessness and kindness."
Skraba, 61, is a native of Ely who has served three terms as mayor of Ely and three on the Ely City Council. He described the weeks since the election as being a sort of "purgatory." He is eager for the votes to be certified, he said.
"There is still that last bit of business that needs to be done," he said. "It's just a formality, but I'm that kind of person that wants to make sure all the i's are dotted and t's are crossed."
Ecklund first represented District 3A in 2015 when he won a special election to replace the late David Dill. He was the chair of the Labor, Industry, Veterans and Military Affairs committee. The district covers Silver Bay, Ely, International Falls and beyond.