Simonetti, Edelson to face off in special election for Hennepin County Board Tuesday

The winner of what is effectively a two-person runoff on Tuesday, May 14, will be awarded a seven-month term on the board.

Marisa Simonetti, left, and DFL legislator Heather Edelson, right, will face off Tuesday in the special election.

Can Marisa Simonetti, a self-defined conservative businesswoman who launched a campaign for Hennepin County Board just eight weeks ago, knock off a DFL “inner circle” political veteran in a special election on Tuesday?

It depends.

Turnout in special elections can be tricky to predict. But her well-established DFL opponent, Heather Edelson, isn’t leaving it up to chance.

The three-term Democratic legislator has raised in excess of $50,000 in her attempt to capture the District 6 seat on the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners. Edelson hasn’t refrained from name-dropping endorsements she’s received from a number of left-leaning organizations and politicians during a two-week sprint to the May 14 special election against Simonetti, a newcomer to the political scene.

The winner of what is effectively a two-person runoff on Tuesday, May 14, will be awarded a seven-month term on the board — the time left remaining for the seat following the resignation last fall of Chris LaTondresse. They will also have to run again for a full term this fall. The District 6 seat is one of seven commissioners who control the state’s largest county that stewards over a $2.7 billion budget.

“I am fully aware that I wasn’t every DFLer’s first choice in the primary, but I need DFLers to band together to support my candidacy as the only DFLer remaining in this election,” Edelson said earlier this month as she asked Democrats to volunteer for a voter outreach effort organized by the Twin Cities chapter of the Indivisible Project, a nationally-funded organization that focuses on electing Democrats.

Upstart versus establishment

Simonetti’s career in politics began March 11 when she filed to run for the District 6 seat that spans her home of Edina, along with Hopkins, Minnetonka, Eden Prairie, Orono, Excelsior, Wayzata and a handful of other Lake Minnetonka municipalities. Her campaign yard signs didn’t begin to even lightly dot the west metro district until after she advanced in the April 30 primary, when she finished second among a field of six candidates, capturing nearly 32 percent of the vote. Edelson finished first, with 44 percent of the vote.

That the other four candidates either leaned left or were longtime Democratic activists wasn’t lost on Simonetti, who believes she finished strongly in the special election primary (despite spending well under $1,000) because she worked hard to establish herself as a common-sense conservative for a somewhat “purple” district that the DFL-endorsed candidate last won by 5 percent in 2020.

“I think people want someone to represent them who understands the issues from a common-sense perspective and who can articulate how their positions differ from their opponent’s demonstrated record,” Simonetti said in an interview earlier this month, making a reference to Edelson’s legislative voting record that has been nearly lockstep with her House DFL Caucus since being elected to the legislature in 2018.

During Edelson’s time in the House of Representatives, she’s provided an insurance vote for her Democratic colleagues who have enjoyed a relatively comfortable majority. That includes the DFL “trifecta” session of 2023 where Edelson voted for a nearly 40 percent increase in the state budget and two controversial gun restriction bills.

Banning gas powered lawn mowers becomes campaign issue

Edelson hasn’t had to moderate her stances on politically controversial legislation as she ran unopposed in 2020, and in 2022 she easily won another term when her Republican opponent dropped out of the race but was technically still on the ballot. But that was in a district that included mostly Edina and a sliver of Bloomington. Edelson has taken heat from some of her constituents as of late, including her opponent Simonetti, for authoring a bill that would ban sales of gas-powered lawn mowers in Minnesota.

“We’ve got increased crime, we’ve got property taxes up 6.5 percent, and we’re talking about taking away your lawn mowers?” Simonetti said in a campaign-related post on social media.

While both Simonetti and Edelson live in Edina and are moms to school-aged children, they don’t share the same political circles.

Edelson has been endorsed by a number of DFLers, including former House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, along with progressive activist organizations like Moms Demand Action and FairVote Minnesota. She also hired a field director for FairVote Minnesota as her campaign manager, as she’s been visibly aligned with the organization during her time in office.

Simonetti has run an almost entirely grassroots, no-frills campaign by necessity. But she has reached out to audiences of conservative political networks in the west metro for support. Regardless of who wins the special election, it’s possible there could be a rematch in the making by the end of this week, depending on how close they finish. The District 6 seat is up for re-election on a much larger stage this November, when voters are expected to come out in much larger numbers for the presidential election.


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.