More than a dozen former legislators attempt comebacks this yearby Tim Pugmire, Minnesota Public Radio
ST. PAUL, Minn. — In a year when about 20 percent of the Minnesota Legislature plans to retire, there are also 20 former state lawmakers working hard to get back to the Capitol.
The list of former legislators attempting political comebacks is dominated by Democrats. Some are trying to win open House and Senate seats created by redistricting. Others are taking on incumbents to try win back the seats they lost.
Among those trying to return from the sidelines is former state Rep. Brita Sailer, DFL-Park Rapids. Sailer served three terms before losing her re-election bid in 2010 to Republican Dave Hancock of Bemidji. She was among several DFL incumbents who lost close contests that year, which helped flip control of the House and Senate to Republicans. Sailer said the past two sessions were tough to watch from a distance.
"I really care about what happens and the well being of people around the state and my communities," she said. "When I see a direction being taken that doesn't seem to serve them well, I get really frustrated about that."
Most of the former legislators waging comebacks this year are Democrats who were defeated in 2010. David Bly of Northfield, Tim Faust of Hinckley, Sandy Masin of Eagan, Will Morgan of Burnsville, Jerry Newton of Coon Rapids and Paul Rosenthal of Edina are among those DFLers trying to return to the House. Kevin Dahle of Northfield, Jim Carlson of Eagan and Dan Skogen of Hewitt are among the Democrats trying to return to the Senate.
Carlson said he thinks many of the DFL candidates share a common motivation.
"I think a lot of us think the voters made a mistake in 2010, and we probably can reverse that mistake," he said.
Former state Reps. Connie Bernardy of Fridley, Ron Erhardt of Edina and Ken Tschumper of La Crescent also are trying to again win election to the House after longer absences.
Erhardt is a former Republican who is now running as a Democrat. Erhardt fell out of favor with the GOP when he sided with Democrats in 2008 to overturn Gov. Tim Pawlenty's veto of a transportation funding bill. He also lost his bid for a 10th term that fall. Erhardt said he wants to return to St. Paul because he doesn't like what he's seen his former party doing.
"I just don't agree with them. I don't think they're doing right by the state," Erhardt said. "Everybody knows you've got to cut some expenses, but they want to tear everything limb from limb if they can."
Some of the DFL candidates are aiming for new titles. Former state Sen. Rick Olseen of Harris is running for the House. Former Reps. Alice Johnson of Spring Lake Park, Julie Bunn of Lake Elmo, Al Doty of Royalton and Ted Suss of Wabasso are now state Senate candidates.
There are also some Republicans coming out of retirement. Carrie Ruud of Breezy Point served one term in the Minnesota Senate before losing her re-election bid in 2006 to Democrat Mary Olson. This year Ruud is back on the campaign trail, running in the newly drawn District 10 and focusing on economic issues.
"In Pequot Lakes there's a gentleman who's sitting on the corner at the four-way stop with a sign that says 'skilled laborer, will work,' " Rudd said. "And that's just not okay. In Brainerd, we have the highest unemployment in the state of Minnesota. So, I think my community needs some attention."
Another Republican, former state Sen. David Gaither of Plymouth, served just two years before leaving in 2005 to work briefly as chief of staff for then-Gov. Pawlenty. Gaither said he wants to bring that experience back to the Senate.
"When you're sitting on the sidelines watching the goings on, you've got two choices," Gaither said. "You can complain about it or do something about it, and I chose, with the help of a lot of friends, to do something about it and raised my hand and asked to come back serve the people of Plymouth and Minnetonka one more time."
Gaither is also hoping for his first chance to serve in the Senate majority, which Republicans won in 2010 and are working to retain. But DFL leaders say they think their group of comeback candidates, and the experience they offer, will help them win back control of both the House and Senate in November.
- Morning Edition, 06/06/2012, 7:25 a.m.