DFL Primary Guide 2016

The 2016 Primaries take place on Tuesday, August 9, with early voting having started in June. On the DFL side of things there are 17 competitive state races, seven for the state senate, and 10 for the House. This is a guide to who is running where, and why.

Senate District 1

Longtime DFL Senator LeRoy Stumpf is retiring from the seat he has held since 1983. In his place, Kip Fontaine won the DFL endorsement unopposed, only to be challenged by Jual Carlson. Carlson ran for the seat in 2012 as well, in the Republican primary. Fontaine is an attorney who manages public defenders offices in Thief River Falls and Crookston. Fontaine’s website is heavy on biography and very scant on policy positions. Carlson’s presence online meanwhile seems to be contained to a letter to the editor in the Crookston Times in which he refers to himself in third person.

Stumpf won this seat with 60.6% of the vote in 2012.

Senate District 15

Chilah Brown won the DFL endorsement in April. She works as a legislative aide for the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe (of which she is a member,) and is studying for her Masters in Tribal Administration and Governance from the University of Minnesota-Duluth. The issues page on her website is broken, but according to her biography, her focus is on bridging the gap between native peoples and the rest of society. Rob Passons is the other Democrat running, and is a former reporter with the Mille Lacs Messenger according to the Mille Lacs County Times. He has a 0% rating from the National Rifle Association.

Incumbent Republican Senator David Brown is not seeking re-election to the seat he won with 56.6% of the vote in 2012.

Senate District 23

John Lillis, a retired union construction worker, is the endorsed DFL candidate in this district. He is a strong supporter of fully legalizing marijuana, arguing that it will be a boon to the state’s economy. His platform also includes allowing pipeline constructions, single payer health care, lowering the income gap, and investing in infrastructure. His opponent is Barbara Ann Lake, who has worked as a school administrator and reporter. Her website is not filled out from its template, but her Facebook page is much more active than Lillis’.  Lake’s main campaign goal  is to increase funding to rural school districts. Lake claims she challenged Lillis to a debate and he declined.

Republican Sen. Julie Rosen is the incumbent, and has served since 2003. She won 64 percent of the vote in 2012.

Senate District 24

Incumbent DFL Senator and self described moderate Vicki Jensen was first elected in 2012, and out of the redrawn district she won 52.7 percent of the vote. She and her husband co-own an insurance agency in Owatonna, and she served on the town’s Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors. Her main issues are infrastructure development in rural areas and workforce development programs. Now in her first re-election campaign, she faces a primary challenge from Rich Bailey.

Bailey registered with the DFL in order to run, telling the The Post-Bulletin that he did so because he couldn’t run as an independent. He is a Navy veteran, serving in Operation Desert Storm, and has also worked as a prison guard and policeman. While he is pro-union, he agrees more with Republicans on issues such as gun control and abortion, reports the Mankato Free Press.

Senate District 52

Incumbent DFL Senator Jim Metzen was slated to retire at the end of his term, but died of lung cancer on July 11, 2016. Matt Klein is the DFL endorsed candidate. Klein is a doctor working at the Hennepin County Medical Center. He has served as a member of the school board for Independent School District 197. Klein wants to grant additional funding to schools in order to close the achievement gap, and his issues page states that healthcare should be “more efficient, more effective, and more compassionate.”

Klein’s opponent is Todd Podgorski, whose website describes him as “a more moderate Democrat.” He has served on the South St. Paul school board and is currently a two-term member of the city council, and works full time as a deputy sheriff. Podgorski supports universal Pre-K, tax credits for stay at home parents, open primaries, harsher sentences for sex offenders, gun control, and body cameras on police officers.

The late Sen. Metzen won this district in 2012 with 62.1 percent of the vote

Senate District 59

Incumbent DFL Senator Bobby Joe Champion is finishing his first term in the senate, having previously served two terms in the house. He won SD59 with 82.4 percent of the vote in 2012. Champion’s website boasts of his 96% lifetime voting record with the Minnesota AFL-CIO, as well as his working relationship with Governor Dayton. Champion wants to offer “disadvantaged businesses” low income loans, increase funding to Minneapolis schools, and use state bonding money to create affordable housing. Both Champion and his challenger Patwin Lawrence support universal healthcare.

Lawrence is a three time chair of the Minnesota State Council on Black Minnesotans, having first been appointed by Governor Dayton in 2011. Lawrence’s economic platform is very focused on developing businesses owned by minorities. Highlights from the rest of his platform include universal Pre-K, requiring cities of 60,000 or more people to create agricultural development zones, single payer health care, strong police presence to keep communities safe, and giving felons back the vote.

Senate District 62

Incumbent Senator and Deputy Majority Leader Jeff Hayden was first elected in an October 2011 special election, and won the 2012 election with 87.2 percent of the vote, competing against an Independent candidate. Hayden’s platform is heavy on rhetoric advocating for increased taxes on the upper class, and also supports additional funding for schools and single-payer health care.

Hayden’s challenger Mohamoud Hassan is a Somali immigrant who has lived in the area for over 20 years. He was the co-host and producer of the KFAI-FM radio program “Somali Voices.” He told the Star Tribune that his primary complaint with Hayden is his inaccessibility to his constituents, a challenge Hayden firmly denied.

House District 1B

Michael Moore (no, not that one) is the DFL endorsed candidate in 1B, and the owner of two small town newspapers, Thirteen Towns, and the Kittson County Enterprise. His opponent is Erwin Rud, whose website is sparse on personal details but with a massive issues section to make up for it. Rud especially hits out at Citizens United, and supports massive reconstruction of state highway infrastructure.

Rud created a stir of controversy in filing several complaints against Moore regarding campaign finance laws. Moore’s campaign is based in the same building as Thirteen Towns. Candidates are not allowed to accept donations of any kind from corporations, but as Moore told Inforum, he owns the building personally. Rud also alleged that Moore charged him for running a letter to the editor, whereas other papers had not, and Moore was violating equal access laws for politicians access to media. Moore contends that Rud’s letter was self promotion and therefore an advertisement, reports Inforum. The complaints were filed August 2.

Incumbent Republican Representative Deb Kiel won the district with 55.6 percent of the vote in 2014.

House District 6A

Incumbent DFL Rep. Carly Melin decided not to seek re-election, and the race to fill her seat did not result in a party endorsement in May reported the Hibbing Daily Tribune. Tom Whiteside won 52 percent of the DFL delegates, and the young man has served as an aide to Congressman Rick Nolan. Whiteside is endorsed by Nolan, the Minnesota Nurses Association, and the Duluth News Tribune. Ben DeNucci won 34 percent of the delegates, and is the Mayor of Nashwauk and owns a small business. His focus is on reducing environmental regulations and getting iron range residents back to work.

Julie Sandstede is endorsed by the SEIU, United Steelworkers, and Education Minnesota. She did not receive any votes for endorsement at the convention, as 14 percent voted “no endorsement.” Finally, Mike Thompson’s key issues are the economy, college affordability, and drug law enforcement and treatment. He works as a car salesman.

Melin won the district with 69.4 percent of the vote in 2014.

House District 7B

Current Rep. Erik Simonson is running for the state senate, and last won the district with 71 percent of the vote. Duluth community organizer Liz Olson is the DFL endorsed candidate and has an impressive list of endorsements including NARAL Pro-Choice America, the SEIU, and the AFL-CIO. Her main goals are a living wage, and expanding easy access to voting, including for felons.

Olson’s opponent Bryan Jensen has allowed his website’s domain to lapse, but his campaign’s Facebook page discusses his willingness to work with diverse communities, mental health resources, and making healthy food affordable for all.

House District 13A

Anne Buckvold is a lobbyist and the endorsed DFL candidate in 13A. She was a leader in the “Finish Northstar” campaign which targeted an expansion of the rail line to St. Cloud. She cited this as her primary reason for running for the House. Her platform on poverty targets affordable healthcare, childcare, and transportation. Buckvold’s education plan calls for universal Pre-K, more funding for schools, smaller class sizes, and free lunch for all K-12 students. Her challenger Jane Leitzman is an executive committee director for the SD 13 DFL, and has a zero rating from the NRA. She has little to no online presence.

Incumbent Republican Rep. Jeff Howe won the district with 60.5 percent of the vote in 2014.

House District 40B

Incumbent Rep. Debra Hilstrom won re-election in 2014 against Republican Mali Marvin with 67.4 percent of the vote. They are slated for a re-match, unless Hilstrom’s DFL challenger Jim Richards pulls off an upset.

Hilstrom has served in the House since 2001 and was previously a member of the Brooklyn Center City Council from 1995-2000. Hilstrom’s platform includes raising the minimum wage and paid family leave. Her platform also emphasizes rebuilding roads, increased education funding, and clean air and water. In 2007, she helped pass a law requiring schools to have a policy regarding cyber bullying.

Richards is running to unseat Hilstrom from her 21 years in public office. He told the Sun Post that his top priority would be criminal justice reform with harsher sentencing guidelines. He also wants to target job creation and affordable housing.

House District 50B

Andrew Carlson is a professional project manager and a member of the Bloomington City Council. Carlson’s primary focus is improving education and infrastructure as a way to improve the economy. He also told the Sun Current that he plans to address “racial and economic disparities.”

Chris Seymore is a retired public school teacher and a precinct chair for the DFL in the 3rd Congressional District. He told the Sun Current that this race will be a stepping stone for a 2018 run for governor. His website attacks Carlson as “not a real Democrat” and claims Gov. Mark Dayton and Sen. Al Franken’s endorsements of Carlson are lies. Seymore also supports creating a new tourism tax in Minnesota.

Incumbent Republican Rep. Chad Anderson won the district in a 2015 special election against Carlson with 51.2 percent of the vote following DFL Rep. Ann Lenczewski’s resignation. Lenczewski won with 65.6 percent of the vote in 2014.

House District 56A

Incumbent Republican Rep. Drew Christensen won his first term in 2014 with 55.8 percent of the vote against Dan Kimmel. Kimmel was ready for a rematch this year, until a controversial tweet in November in which he said “ISIS isn’t necessarily evil” lost him the support of his party and caused him to suspend his campaign. He reactivated his campaign in July, however, House Minority Leader Paul Thissen still refuses to support Kimmel. Kimmel works in the technology and operations department for US Bank. He has also served on the Township High School Board of Education in Lockport, Illinois.

Jared Christiansen stepped in to fill the DFL slot temporarily vacated by Kimmel, winning the DFL endorsement in April. He is a student at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. His platform includes universal Pre-K, expanding the light rail to the south suburbs, and he told Sun This Week that he supports an increased gas tax to pay for road repairs and expanded public transit.

House District 59A

Incumbent DFL Rep. Joe Mullery was first elected to this seat in 1996 and won reelection in 2014 with 82 percent of the vote. He is the lead DFLer on the Health and Human Services Reform Committee, and also serves on the Education Finance, and the Government Operations and Elections Policy committees. Mullery is endorsed by the AFL-CIO, Sierra Club, Planned Parenthood, the SEIU, the IBEW, and NARAL, among many others. His issues page emphasizes his fight for women’s issues, including paid family leave and affordable child care.

His opponent Fue Lee is of Hmong descent and was born in a refugee camp in Thailand. Lee has worked for the Minnesota House DFL, Congressman Keith Ellison, and currently works as an aide in Secretary of State Steve Simon’s office. Lee’s platform focuses on criminal justice reform, paid sick leave, easy access to democracy, and educational equality.

House District 60B

22-term incumbent Phyllis Kahn won reelection in 2014 with 76.9 percent of the vote. She also beat a primary challenge from Mohamud Noor. Noor is back to challenge Kahn again in 2016, with Ilhan Omar entering as the third primary candidate this year. Both Noor and Omar are members of the district’s Somali population, and contend that Kahn no longer represents the district she was first elected to in 1972. The endorsing convention could not decided on a candidate, though Omar came the closest.


Kahn serves as the DFL lead on the Legacy Funding Finance Committee, and also serves on the State Government Finance, and Ways and Means committees. She referred to Omar as a candidate who attracts “what we call the young, liberal, white guilt trip people.” Kahn’s endorsement list includes the SEIU, IBEW, Gov. Dayton, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Planned Parenthood, and the AFL-CIO.

Omar is a community organizer and has been involved in the campaign to raise Minnesota’s minimum wage to $15 an hour. Her platform also includes returning voting rights to felons and in her economic section she states her desire to “eliminate the disparities” in Minnesota along gender and racial lines. Omar is endorsed by the Minnesota Nurses Association, and the youth wing of the DFL.

Noor has served on the Minneapolis school board and has also worked for Hennepin County and the state government. Noor’s platform states that healthcare is a right, early childhood education availability should be expanded, and that college is for all.

House District 65A

Incumbent DFL Rep. Rena Moran was first elected in 2010, and won reelection against Republican and Green candidates in 2014 with 71.2 percent of the vote. She serves on five committees, including the Health and Human Services Committee of which she is Vice Chair. Moran’s platform supports universal Pre-K and tax credits for college students. She supports a $15 an hour minimum wage, and has worked on criminal justice reform legislation.

She is being challenged by Black Lives Matter St. Paul leader Rashad Turner. Turner told Alpha News that Moran has not been doing enough to address racial disparities in Minnesota. Turner’s platform includes ending police brutality and mass incarceration, legalizing marijuana, ending the Grand Jury process for cases involving police officers, making MNSCU (Minnesota State Colleges and Universities) developmental courses free, and raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Anders Koskinen