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McNamara jumps into Senate race; Bigham also running

Former state Rep. Denny McNamara said Monday he will run for Senate in a special election. Forum News Service file photo1 / 4
Washington County Commissioner Karla Bigham, a former state House member, is running for Senate in a special election. Submitted photo2 / 4
State Rep. Keith Franke, R-St. Paul Park, said he is considering running for Senate. Submitted photo3 / 4
State Rep. Tony Jurgens, R-Cottage Grove, was considering a Senate run but opted to stay in the House while fellow Republican Denny McNamara wages a Senate bid. Forum News Service file photo4 / 4

Two former lawmakers who served together may run against one another for a return to the Minnesota Legislature.

Former state Reps. Karla Bigham, a Cottage Grove DFLer, and Denny McNamara, a Hastings Republican, are running for the Minnesota Senate following Sen. Dan Schoen's resignation, which will be effective Dec. 15. Bigham announced last week while McNamara weighed his options over the Thanksgiving holiday and got in the race Monday, Nov. 27.

Bigham, a Washington County commissioner who served four years in the Minnesota House, declared her candidacy Nov. 22, hours before Schoen's attorney formally announced the senator's plan to resign following sexual harassment claims made against him.

"The public's trust in government and specifically in the Minnesota Legislature is at an all-time low," Bigham said. "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."

After opting against a bid last year for an eighth term, McNamara said he was at peace with his decision to leave elected office after 14 years. However, he added in his announcement, "the special circumstances in Senate District 54 have compelled me to reconsider."

"Our district is hurting and is seeking a senator that puts people before politics and has a proven track record of helping our communities," McNamara said in a statement. "I look forward to working hard on behalf of our residents, meeting with them at their doors in the coming weeks, and restoring their trust in their state senator."

First-term Rep. Tony Jurgens, R-Cottage Grove, had been considering a Senate bid but stepped aside with McNamara's decision to get in. Jurgens won McNamara's seat following his retirement last year.

"I like the House of Representatives," Jurgens said. "I've only been here a year. I like the constituents."

Fellow freshman Rep. Keith Franke, R-St. Paul Park, said Monday he is still considering a Senate run.

No DFLer besides Bigham has publicly expressed interest in running.

Schoen announced his resignation, effective Dec. 15, through a statement 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 call 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 he would resign Nov. 30 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 and McNamara served in the House together for four years. Bigham 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.

McNamara said he would be running on his record over 14 years in the House. He retired last year as chairman of the House environment and natural resources finance committee.

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 was considering his options.

"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.

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 he was 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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