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The race to replace Schoen: Bigham is in, McNamara ‘strongly leaning toward’ a run

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Karla Bigham announced she will run for the Minnesota Senate in a special election following Sen. Dan Schoen's resignation. Submitted photo2 / 4
State Rep. Tony Jurgens, R-Cottage Grove, said he is considering running for the Minnesota Senate following Dan Schoen's resignation announcement. Forum News Service file photo3 / 4
State Rep. Keith Franke, R-St. Paul Park, said he is considering running for the Minnesota Senate. Submitted photo4 / 4

Two former lawmakers could square off in a bid to return to the Minnesota Legislature.

Former state Rep. Karla Bigham will run for the Minnesota Senate following Sen. Dan Schoen’s resignation, and another former legislator is among Republicans eyeing a run.

Bigham, a Washington County commissioner who served four years as a DFLer in the Minnesota House, said Wednesday she’ll run in a special election.

“The public’s trust in government and specifically in the Minnesota Legislature is at an all-time low,” Bigham said in a statement. “Whether it is the stalemate between the governor and the Legislature or the incidents that led to this special election, our government has squandered the public’s trust. I want to work to restore that trust and bring back common sense.”

On the Republican side, former seven-term House member Denny McNamara of Hastings said he is “strongly leaning toward” a Senate run. Also, state Reps. Tony Jurgens of Cottage Grove and Keith Franke of St. Paul Park, who each represent half the Senate district, said they are considering running.

“Our district is hurting and we deserve to have a senator with a strong history of helping the district and doing what’s best for the district,” McNamara said. “That’s the compelling argument that I’m hearing over and over.”

Schoen announced his resignation, effective Dec. 15, through a statement Wednesday and a news conference attended by Schoen’s attorney but not the lawmaker.

The resignation came two weeks after MinnPost reported three women’s claims of sexual harassment or sexually inappropriate behavior against Schoen. Schoen has said the allegations were false or taken out of context.

“It’s just too much of a problem to represent a district with calls for his resignation from everybody when they don’t know the facts,” Schoen attorney Paul Rogosheske said in an interview.

Gov. Mark Dayton will schedule a special election for the Senate seat. The Legislature’s 2018 session begins Feb. 20. A special election also will be called for the House seat being vacated by Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, who announced Tuesday he would resign amid separate sexual harassment allegations.

Bigham, who served on the Cottage Grove City Council, was elected to the House in 2006 and re-elected in 2008. She didn’t seek re-election in 2010. She represented the northern half of the Senate district that traditionally has leaned DFL. It includes part of Cottage Grove, St. Paul Park, Newport and part of South St. Paul.

Bigham won election to the Washington County Board in 2014, representing south Washington County communities.

Jen Peterson, a Cottage Grove DFLer who twice has run for House, said she will not run for Senate.

“I think at this time Karla Bigham is absolutely the best option for Senate,” Peterson said.

Republicans are considering their options.

Jurgens said he’ll make a decision within days.

“I would hate to leave the House because I like that, but it is something that you have to consider to do what’s best for the district, what’s best for — in this case — the party, so it is something I’m considering,” Jurgens said.

Jurgens said constituents, not Republican Party or legislative leaders, have encouraged him to run.

“I think the leaders in the House would probably prefer that I stay where I am,” he said.

Republicans hold a one-vote majority in the Senate. The GOP has a 77-57 majority in the House.

Franke, a former St. Paul Park mayor who represents House District 54A, said he’ll consider his options over the Thanksgiving weekend and could make a decision next week.

“It’s kind of a big decision and I wasn’t expecting it,” he said. “The dust hasn’t settled.”

Franke said he’s happy in the House, but wants to do what’s best for his family and the district.

“If I could expand that, I would be excited to do so,” he said.

Schoen made the right decision to resign, Franke said.

“We need to be effective for our constituents,” he said.

McNamara said he would be running on his record over 14 years in the House. He retired last year.

McNamara said he is good friends with Jurgens and Franke.

“It certainly would be my hope that in the end the three of us and the BPOU coalesce around who we think is the best to represent the district and win,” he said.

With retiring McNamara’s support to run, Jurgens was elected to the House in 2016 to represent District 54B, the more conservative half of the Senate district. District 54B voters favored Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton 48 to 42 percent last year.

Franke won in 2016 in a House district that trends Democratic, but has been represented by a Republican before. Clinton beat Trump 46 to 43 percent in the district last year.

John Kriesel, a Cottage Grove Republican who held the seat from 2011-2013, confirmed Wednesday he is not interested in running for Senate.

“I feel honored that people have reached out and asked me to consider, but I am happy at my current job and my life is good right now,” Kriesel said. “I don’t feel a need to change it.”

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

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