Left-wing school board member wins DFL primary for south metro House seat

Bianca Virnig bested three others in a special primary for the House 52B seat left vacant with resignation of Ruth Richardson.

Bianca Virnig bested three others in a special election primary for the House 52B seat left vacant with resignation of Ruth Richardson. (Bianca Virnig for House)

A progressive member of Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan School Board who cast the lone dissenting vote among her colleagues in March 2022 to end masking requirements for students won a competitive DFL primary contest on Thursday for a vacant south metro seat in the state legislature.

Bianca Virnig beat out three other candidates all competing to affix the Democratic-Farmer-Labor label next to their name on the Dec. 5 ballot for the House District 52B special election.

The first-term District #196 school board member captured nearly 40 percent of the vote, but just 81 votes more than second place finisher, Mendota Heights fire captain and city council member Jay Miller.

“Bianca Virnig has devoted her career to giving back to our public schools and the families they serve,” said DFL Party Chairman Ken Martin in a statement to the media following Virnig’s primary victory on Thursday. “When she gets to the Legislature, Bianca will fight for fully funded public schools, for more affordable childcare, and against corporate greed. We never take any special election outcome for granted, and we will leave nothing on the table as we work to elect Bianca as Minnesota’s newest state legislator.”

Virnig will move onto the Tuesday, Dec. 5 general election contest against Republican candidate Cynthia Lonnquist, who was uncontested in her primary. Lonnquist lost her 2022 state House bid to former Rep. Ruth Richardson by a 23-point margin.

Virnig’s primary win and Miller’s strong second place showing came as a surprise to some DFL insiders, as former Minnesota Senate DFL Caucus staffer Cynthia Callais finished in a distant third after capturing just 19 percent of the votes cast, despite raising more than $18,000 in campaign contributions during the 10-week campaign, compared to Virnig’s nearly $9,000.

Just under 2,000 people voted in the special DFL primary for the House district.

The district, which spans Mendota, Mendota Heights and most of Eagan, became subject to a special election after Richardson abruptly resigned from the seat in September. Richardson, who still serves as CEO for the regional Planned Parenthood chapter based in the Twin Cities, announced her resignation on Sept. 3, after several weeks of outcry from some former and current North Central Planned Parenthood staffers who accused Richardson of “union busting” activities that revolved around “extreme” and “severe” forms of discipline toward employees who were elected members of their union’s new bargaining team.

Callais, a lobbyist for the Minnesota Brain Injury Alliance and a board member of Pro Choice Minnesota, had received a number of endorsements coveted by progressive Democrats, including: Moms Demand Action, OutFront Minnesota, and FairVote Minnesota. She also was endorsed by a number of prominent Democratic legislators from the area, including Sen. Lindsay Port and Rep. Jess Hanson, both of nearby Burnsville. But DFL primary winner Virnig countered with her own trio of DFL Senate endorsements, coming from Jim Carlson of Eagan, Matt Klein of Mendota Heights and Erin Maye Quade of Apple Valley. She too was endorsed by Moms Demand Action and FairVote Minnesota.

Virnig is a “health and safety coordinator” for non-profit educational support cooperative BrightWorks, which contracts with school districts for a number of services. During the pandemic, she was a regional Covid coordinator to several Twin Cities metro area schools. In February 2022, Virnig, as a new school board member for District 196, publicly engaged in verbal exchanges with parents at a board meeting who advocated for an end to required masking in schools. She recalled those exchanges in an interview in 2022 with a cable access talk show host:

“Right now the hot topic masking …You hear a very loud contingent. What everybody says, ‘We are speaking for the people.’ But what they don’t realize is that they aren’t. Because I am getting just as many phone calls and emails from the other side saying keep masks. Who is going to come out in a room full of people not wearing masks screaming and hollering.”

In March, the District #196 School Board voted 5-1 to end the masking mandate in its school buildings. Virnig was the dissenting vote.


Hank Long

Hank Long is a journalism and communications professional whose writing career includes coverage of the Minnesota legislature, city and county governments and the commercial real estate industry. Hank received his undergraduate degree at the University of Minnesota, where he studied journalism, and his law degree at the University of St. Thomas. The Minnesota native lives in the Twin Cities with his wife and four children. His dream is to be around when the Vikings win the Super Bowl.