Upset ahead in suburban State Senate race?


In a normal year, Sen. Satveer Chaudhary (DFL-Fridley), would be headed toward a comfortable re-election to the Senate District 50 seat he has held throughout the decade. 

But a year in which you face an ethical rebuke from your Senate colleagues, find yourself un-endorsed by your own local political party, find yourself facing a late challenge from a political heavyweight in your district and find yourself owing the IRS $250,000 is pretty far from a normal year.

Chaudhary, the first Asian-American elected to the Legislature, now finds himself in a match-up with former Rep. Barb Goodwin, DFL-Columbia Heights, who won the endorsement that was stripped from Chaudhary earlier this month.

The winner of the August10 DFL primary will go on to face Gina Bauman, the Republican-endorsed candidate, a small business owner and New Brighton City Council member.

Chaudhary, who won re-election in 2006 with more than 63 percent of the vote, has specialized in outdoors issues during his time in the Legislature, serving as chair of the Senate Environment and Natural Resources committee and working for passage in 2008 of the constitutional outdoor and cultural Legacy Amendment.

It’s that expertise that got him in trouble during the last session when, in its closing days, he lobbied fellow lawmakers and got language added to a Department of Natural Resources bill that would affect walleye fishing on a lake near Duluth where he has a cabin.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty vetoed the game and fish bill, listing the provision as one of the reasons for the veto and hinting that it may have been inserted improperly.

In June, a Senate ethics subcommittee found no direct conflict of interest in Chaudhary’s lobbying but admonished him for acting inappropriately just the same.

Chaudhary’s initial response was to downplay the matter, while admitting that his actions hadn’t allowed for the necessary vetting of his provision.

“I’m glad Republicans and Democrats unanimously agreed that conservation is not a conflict of interest,” he said in a statement following the panel’s review.

Three weeks later, the local DFL committee stripped Chaudhary of the political endorsement it had already bestowed upon him. They redirected that endorsement to Goodwin, a three-term representative who had retired from the Legislature in 2007.

In accepting the endorsement, she took a shot at Chaudhary’s ethical troubles, saying the endorsement “makes clear to the public what the DFL stands for and that we hold our elected officials to the highest standards.”

Chaudhary unsuccessfully appealed his un-endorsement to the state DFL Party, but vowed to fight on in a primary contest with Goodwin.

Then, in early July, the Duluth News Tribune reported that Chaudhary owes $250,000 in back taxes to the IRS from 2007 and 2008.

Chaudhary said the unpaid taxes were the result of financial juggling as the result of his wife’s alleged wrongful termination from her career in the biopharmaceutical industry. He said his family was working with the IRS to repay the back taxes.

Goodwin, who serves on the Columbia Heights school board, has raised more than $9,000 in the month she’s been a candidate. But Chaudhary listed more than $23,000 cash on hand in campaign finance reports released this week.

She says she entered the race after a “cascade of phone calls” from residents encouraging her to run and concerned about Chaudhary’s ability to effectively represent the district. Residents have a right to expect “ethical, honest and responsive” representation, she said.

Chaudhary has emphasized his record over 14 years representing the area, first in the House of Representatives and then in the Senate, “without partisanship.”

He has said that lack of partisanship may have contributed to losing the DFL endorsement. He didn’t originally back House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, the DFL endorsee for governor, originally backing Mark Dayton’s campaign.