Minnesotans who have long said they’d welcome more choices in primary elections have been granted their wish. By the time the candidate filing period closed at 5 p.m. Tuesday, a spate of multicandidate primary contests unimagined only a few days earlier had plopped onto the Aug. 14 primary ballot.
Many can be traced to DFL Attorney General Lori Swanson’s abrupt decision to leave that office after three terms to run for governor. When Swanson opted to challenge DFL endorsee Erin Murphy, would-be candidates for attorney general similarly felt no need to honor the party’s endorsement of DFLer Matt Pelikan. When U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison joined the attorney general race, a mad dash brought eight DFLers into nomination contests for Ellison’s Fifth District seat — which in turn made dominoes fall in several state House races.
By midday Tuesday, the Secretary of State’s elections desk had acquired a party atmosphere (complete with popcorn courtesy of Secretary of State Steve Simon) as newcomers and old political hands in both parties arrived to sign candidacy papers. The ballot lineups they created could still change. Candidates have until 5 p.m. Thursday to withdraw.
What isn’t likely to change is this take on Tuesday’s land rush: Primaries are now rapidly overtaking endorsing conventions as Minnesota’s preferred means for settling party nomination contests. Recognition of that reality should lead to a change in the political calendar long advocated by the Editorial Board: The primary election should move from August to June.
An earlier primary would not prevent a multicandidate scramble. But it would not let intraparty tussles such as the ones Minnesotans will see in the next 10 weeks steal resources and focus from the year’s main political event, the general election. June endorsing conventions followed by August primaries require candidates to spend too much time addressing their own party loyalists, not the broader electorate. That may enhance the clout of party insiders. But it inhibits bipartisanship among elected officials, and that inhibition is getting in the way of governance.
June primary bills got nowhere — again — at the 2018 Legislature. But House sponsor Rep. Kelly Fenton, R-Woodbury, said Tuesday she’s eager to try again in 2019. This year’s plethora of primaries should help make her case.