Special election for state representative in 61B in Minneapolis

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Three candidates are contending in a special election that seemed to be over two months before the polls opened.  The election is for the state representative seat for district 61B, which covers the heart of South Minneapolis.

Previous 61B Representative Jeff Hayden left his seat because he won the special election for State Senate District 61 in October. That triggered a special election for his former seat.

Susan Allen won the DFL’s endorsement at a special convention on November 12 and seemed sure to win the general special election.  Customarily, other DFLers concede to the party’s chosen candidate, and 61B is a strong DFL district.

Earlier this fall, DFLer Jeff Hayden showed how Democratic the area leans.  Hayden won Senate District 61, of which 61B is half, by a 46 point margin over Green Party candidate Farheen Hakeem.  The election may not be as simple for Allen, though.

Paul Dennis is bucking custom to contest the DFL primary against Allen on December 6.  Two other DFL candidates suspended their campaigns after the endorsement convention, but their names will appear on the primary ballot because the candidates dropped out too late to have their names removed.

Dennis explained why he is contesting the primary.  “I feel that there’s a little bit of complacency,” he said, “Like people are taking turns to be the representative for this district.  Rather than winning elections.”  There were only about 100 delegates at the DFL endorsing convention, he said, “So I don’t see how that could be a mandate for who [voters] want to win.”

Allen said she too was skeptical of the convention process but changed her mind when she started speaking with delegates.  “They are informed,” she said, “They are the activists and community organizers of the district.”  

The winner of the DFL primary will face Progressive Independent Nathan Blumenshine in the general election on January 10, 2012.

The platforms of Blumenshine, Dennis, and Allen differ slightly.  All support economic development spending and increasing taxes on wealthier people, and all three oppose the amendment prohibiting same-sex marriages.

Allen, a Native woman and a lesbian, said she will draw on her experience growing up poor and being a single mother to be a voice for those left out of the political process.  She said she will also bring her experience working as a tax attorney and writing tribal legislation to the state legislature.  On why she is the best candidate, she said, “We’re all very similar on the issues so it comes down to who’s going to be more effective.”

Blumenshine’s message is respect.  He says it’s “How I determine where I stand on every issue, how politicians should treat everybody, and how politicians should treat each other.”  He is a carpenter and volunteered with then-Representative Hayden’s office to promote the Minnesota Health Plan.  He also has volunteered overseas and worked with youth for the YMCA.  

Blumenshine is confident he can win.  Because of the small area and usually small turnout for special elections, he says he can work hard to get enough votes.  “My team and I have knocked on every door in the district, and we’re going to do it again,” he said.

Children are the most important issue for Dennis.  “When bills are up,” he said, “my eye is going to be on:  Will that be better for them or will it be negative?”  Dennis worked with at-risk youth for seven years and now works at a mental health day treatment center for children.  Dennis is not worried about being an underdog and is campaigning door-to-door.  He said, “It’s not about money, it’s about time and effort. We all have the same amount of time, so it comes down to effort.”

Minneapolis City Council member Elizabeth Glidden will host a public forum for the candidates on December 2 from 7:30 to 9 AM at the Turtle Bread Bakery located at 4762 Chicago Ave South.