Hold on, who's running in the primary for state House?

Legislators debate a bill on the house floor.
Legislators debate a bill on the House floor inside the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul, Minn. on Tuesday, May 15, 2018.
Evan Frost | MPR News File

If you're still pondering who to vote for in races for U.S. Senate, governor and attorney general in next week's primary election, here's another challenge: There are also 20 Minnesota House contests on the ballot.

Most are DFL primaries. Many are for open seats. But a handful of incumbents, both Democrats and Republicans, are facing challenges.

The last-minute scramble among candidates filing for statewide office had an impact on several races for the Minnesota Legislature.

In Minneapolis, state Rep. Ilhan Omar's decision to run for Congress resulted in seven DFL candidates filing for her Minnesota House seat.

Three DFL candidates are on the ballot in Brooklyn Center where state Rep. Debra Hilstrom is running for attorney general.

Another crowded contest is in the Minneapolis district where longtime Rep. Karen Clark is retiring after 19 terms. Five DFL candidates are on the primary ballot there.

In total, there are 14 House Districts with multiple DFL candidates.

"I can't remember a time we've ever had so many contested primaries in the House," said House Minority Leader Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park.

Hortman believes the numbers are the result of the high energy she sees among Democrats this election year. She is counting on that energy to continue into November.

Four incumbent DFL representatives — Ray Dehn of Minneapolis, Mary Kunesh-Podein of New Brighton, Fue Lee of Minneapolis and John Lesch of St. Paul — are facing primary challenges. But Hortman is not concerned.

"It doesn't surprise me that we have more applicants for the job than there are seats available," she said.

There are five DFL candidates on the ballot in Apple Valley for the House seat that Erin Maye Quade gave up to be Erin Murphy's lieutenant governor running mate. But Hortman said only the party's endorsed candidate remains active.

The story is similar in Rochester where incumbent Rep. Tina Liebling has a primary challenger who is no longer actively campaigning.

A spirited primary contest is underway in the Iron Range House district that Rep. Jason Metsa, DFL-Virginia, gave up to run for Congress. The party's endorsed candidate is Shaun Hainey, a county employee from Embarrass.

"I think that there are a lot of people that are sick and tired of the political machine, or the big dogs running the show so to speak," Hainey said. "The average working person needs a voice in what's going on."

Hainey is facing Aurora Mayor Dave Lislegard, who says a primary challenge is a good thing.

"I think it brings out the best in candidates," Lislegard said. "It talks about issues, what's important to them, what's important to the people of this region. So, I think competition is good. I think people welcome that. They want a choice."

On the Republican side, there are eight House primaries.

Two Republican incumbents are in primary contests. Rep. Cal Bahr, R-East Bethel, is facing a challenge from former representative Tom Hackbarth. Rep. Bob Loonan, R-Shakopee, is running against Erik Mortensen, who defeated him for the Republican endorsement back in March.

Much of the attention is on the suburban contest between Maple Grove residents Brad Ganzer and Kristin Robbins. The seat was vacated by former House Majority Leader Joyce Peppin.

Ganzer, a business owner, is the party's endorsed candidate. He said recent revelations about a past bankruptcy and a burglary conviction as a college student are not getting in his way. Ganzer said voters prefer to talk about issues.

"We're just working very hard to speak with as many people as we can and to earn enough votes to win next Tuesday," Ganzer said.

Robbins, who has the backing of Peppin, is also focusing on issues and stressing her experience. Robbins is the executive director of the Economic Club of Minnesota and has worked at the Capitol on school choice legislation.

"I know how to get bills to hearings, through committee, how to count votes," Robbins said. "I know how to prepare testimony. So, I feel like in that sense I do know what I'll be getting into and how to how to be effective."

House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Zimmerman, said the timing of Peppin's decision left a narrow window for local delegates to pick a new candidate. For now, Daudt said he's not publicly taking sides in the contest.

"I think we'll wait and see what the voters decide," Daudt said. "I think the voters will make the right decision there."

Volume Button
Now Listening To Livestream
MPR News logo
On Air
MPR News