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Supreme Court says Gutknecht can stay on ballot

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Rep. Gil Gutknecht
Republican Rep. Gil Gutknecht represents Minnesota's 1st Congressional District. His ballot status is being challenged by a Democrat in his district.
MPR file photo

 (AP) - U.S. Rep. Gil Gutknecht will keep his place on the Sept. 12 primary election ballot after the state Supreme Court turned back a challenge to the petitions he used to qualify.

      Tuesday's ruling came less than five hours after justices heard a DFL lawyer argue that the signatures the six-term Republican congressman collected shouldn't count because some were gathered well before the two-week candidate filing period.

Weinblatt argues his case
Attorney Alan Weinblatt, representing Democrat Louis Reiter of Elgin, Minnesota, argued before the Supreme Court Tuesday that Gutnecht's name should be taken off the November ballot.
MPR Photo/Elizabeth Stawicki

      "This decision is a victory for democracy and a defeat for dirty tricks," Gutknecht said in a written statement. "This was a frivolous lawsuit that was politically motivated."

      Chief Justice Russell Anderson didn't explain the court's reasoning in a one-paragraph decision.

      Another Republican will appear on the ballot with Gutknecht - Gregory Mikkelson, who has sought Gutknecht's seat before as both an Independence Party and a Green candidate.

      Democrat Tim Walz is unopposed in his party's primary. He will face the Gutknecht-Mikkelson winner in November.

This decision is a victory for democracy and a defeat for dirty tricks.

      Gutknecht filed for re-election on July 5 by turning in 1,626 signatures collected as far back as February. Since his first election to Congress in 1994, Gutknecht has always filed using a petition to avoid a $300 fee and highlight his fiscal prudence.

      A Democratic attorney argued in court Tuesday that the candidates should have to collect the signatures within a prescribed window.

      "If there is not a set of bookends for these signatures, they become meaningless," Weinblatt said.

      The law doesn't specify a timeline, Gutknecht's attorney Tony Trimble said. He said that was enough to keep Gutknecht on the ballot.

      "Right now, there are no bookends for candidates whether they're Democrat or Independent or Republican," Trimble said after the 45-minute hearing. "To apply them at this point would be folly."

Gutknecht's attorney
Attorney Tony Trimble represented Rep. Gutknecht in the Supreme Court hearing Tuesday.
MPR Photo/Elizabeth Stawicki

      This year's filing period technically ran from July 4 to 18, but candidates couldn't submit papers until July 5 because of the Independence Day holiday.

      Several justices keyed in on the signature collection window - or lack thereof - as they contemplated how to treat Gutknecht.

      "Could he use those signatures from 1994 to get on the ballot in 2006?" Justice Paul Anderson asked during oral arguments.

      Justice Alan Page seemed troubled that there is one standard for major party candidates and another for minor party candidates, who do have a specified window for obtaining signatures.

      A lawyer for Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer said striking Gutknecht would have carried other consequences because ballots have already been printed and absentee ballots with his name have been mailed out.

      Rulings are generally expedited in election-related cases, but they seldom come on the same day as the seven-member court hears arguments.

      Four justices were appointed by Republican governors, two were named by Independence Party Gov. Jesse Ventura and Page won his spot in an election.

             (Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)