August 13, 2020

Primary Election Results – DFL Shakeup

Tuesday was Primary Election Day in Minnesota, there were several highly contested primaries across the state involving both congressional and legislative races.  With a record number of absentee ballots being cast, and a quarter of the 644,000 absentee ballots requested but not yet returned, the final votes will not be known for days.  Ballots postmarked on August 11th will have two days to still be received and counted.  However, given the margin of victory in most races it is likely only a couple of close legislative primaries could be impacted by the delay. 
The most high-profile primary involved Congresswoman Ilhan Omar who is seeking re-election to her second term in Minnesota’s Fifth Congressional District.  DFL newcomer Antone Melton-Meaux offered a strong challenge to the sitting member of Congress raising millions of dollars and exposing a large fracture between progressives and other traditional DFL coalition members.  With more than $10 million spent in the primary between the two campaigns, this is likely the most expensive congressional primary in the county during the 2020 election cycle.  Last night’s victory all but guarantees the Congresswoman will return to Washington for a second term.  While she will face a well-funded Republican in Lacy Johnson, the Fifth Congressional District is the power base for the Minnesota DFL and historically generates the votes needed to propel statewide DFL candidates into office.
In Minnesota’s Seventh Congressional District, former GOP State Senator and Senate President Michelle Fischbach was able to top a five-way Republican Primary and will now face Congressman Collin Peterson.  Given President Trump’s strong showing in the Seventh Congressional District in 2016, Congressman Peterson tops the list of republican targets in 2020.  Fischbach was the candidate of choice and endorsed by the state party and national GOP Congressional Leaders.
DFL members of the Minnesota House and Senate faced the strongest challenges in yesterday’s primaries.  While GOP Leaders in the House and Senate also had primaries, their opponents were less organized and were recruited by members of the New House Republican Caucus, a splinter group of conservative House Republicans. As of this morning, it appears as though two DFL members of the Minnesota Senate and two DFL members of the Minnesota House have been defeated.  While final votes will not be reported until Thursday, the margins of victory appear too broad to be overcome by last minute or outstanding absentee ballots.  The incumbent DFL losses represent a major victory by the progressive wing of the party in districts known for their strong DFL ties.
In the Senate, Assistant Minority Leader Jeff Hayden (DFL-Minneapolis) was defeated by his DFL endorsed opponent Omar Fateh, by a margin of 55% to 44%. Hayden, one of two African American men serving in the Minnesota Senate, has long been a leader on issues related to racial economic and academic disparities, civil justice reform and was the author of Minnesota’s last increase in the minimum wage.  His opponent, a Somali-American will be the Senate’s first Democratic Socialist.  Duluth DFL Senator Erik Simonson was also defeated by a candidate endorsed by the Democratic Socialist Party.  Jen McEwen, a Duluth attorney, and environmental activist was able to secure the DFL Party endorsement in the local conventions and built a campaign able to overcome the endorsements of Senator Simonson by Governor Walz and organized labor.  Simonson’s defeat is a blow to Governor Walz’s political operations in the Duluth region and further demonstrates the fracture in the Minnesota DFL between labor and environmentalists. McEwen’s margin of victory was impressive, winning the primary with 74% of the vote.  Senate Minority Leader Susan Kent and DFL Senator Sandy Pappas were able to defeat their DFL challengers.
In the Minnesota House, the DFL lost two members who also served as committee chairs.  Representative John Lesch, (DFL-St. Paul) is currently trailing by 20% to Athena Hollins.  Lesch had defeated Hollins this spring at the DFL Party endorsing convention.  Hollins had originally committed to abide by the delegates decision, however following the civil unrest related to the death of George Floyd she decided to challenge Lesch in the primary. The Chair of the House Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Committee had a reputation for working across the aisle on issues related to privacy and for his aggressive debating skills on the House Floor.  Representative Ray Dehn (DFL-Minneapolis) also appears to have lost to his DFL endorsed opponent, Esther Agbaje.  Unlike the other DFL Primaries, the less than 500 vote difference could still be overcome by outstanding absentee ballots. Rep. Dehn is likely going to wait for all the ballots to be counted before he makes any announcements regarding the outcome.
Republicans had two highly contested legislative primaries.  In the Senate, Julia Coleman, the daughter-in-law of former US Senator Norm Coleman, handily defeated her opponent Thomas Funk.  Coleman a member of the Chanhassen City Council, beat Funk the Mayor of Victoria, and will be the Republican candidate looking to replace retiring GOP Senator Scott Jensen. Former State Representative Bob Loonan was unsuccessful in his attempt to return to the Minnesota House.  The former House member who lost the local endorsement and primary to Erik Mortensen in 2018, was hoping to turn the table this year and defeat Mortensen.  Mortensen went on to lose the 2018 general election to Rep. Brad Tabke and turned a long-held GOP seat over to the DFL.  The House Republicans who had thrown their support behind Loonan were hoping to pick this seat up in the fall elections.  The New House Republican Caucus recruited Mortensen to challenge Loonan in 2018, and backed his campaign again this year.
Walz Administration – Changing Personnel
Governor Walz announced Commissioner Myron Frans, the Dayton Administration holdover at Minnesota Management and Budget, would be leaving for a senior leadership position at the University of Minnesota.  Frans, who has been at the center of budget negotiations for some time will be replaced by Jim Schowalter who preceded Frans as MMB Commissioner early in the Dayton Administration.  Schowalter played an instrumental role in helping Governor Dayton and the Minnesota Legislature resolve a $6.2 billion budget deficit in 2011.
Special Session III
The Minnesota Legislature has returned to St. Paul for Special Session III.  With the Governor’s decision to again extend his Emergency Orders related to the management of COVID-19, the Governor must call the Legislature back and give them an opportunity to reject his order.  Efforts to reject his order once again passed the Minnesota Senate and failed in the Minnesota House.  Both bodies have passed a bill making technical corrections to the law enforcement reforms adopted in Special Session II and a bill providing grants to living service providers, services, and training to the disabled.  The Senate also rejected the state’s Labor and Industry Commissioner Nancy Leppink.