By Mark Fischenich
The Free Press
Retired St. Peter farmer Allen Quist, who served in the state House in the 1980s before a series of unsuccessful runs for the governor's office and Congress, easily won the Republican endorsement Thursday night for a special election to fill a vacant seat in the state House.
A retired St. Peter farmer, Quist won 85 percent of the vote on the first ballot -- easily topping the 60 percent required and overwhelming Le Sueur County Veterans Services Officer Jim Golgart and former St. Peter City Councilman Joel Brinker.
"You know, I wouldn't mind if the Legislature was where I began my political career and the Legislature would be where I ended it," he said after the convention was adjourned. "That would fit me very well if that would work out. And I think I could do a lot of good in the Legislature."
Held in the vacated movie theater in Mankato Place, the convention was far from a thriller. Just 41 delegates showed up, filling less than half of the 90-plus delegate slots available. The 90-minute convention was in sharp contrast to last year's GOP endorsing convention in the 1st District congressional election where Quist and state Sen. Mike Parry of Waseca battled for 23 rounds of balloting over nearly 14 hours.
Neither Quist nor Parry came close to getting 60 percent despite the marathon effort, and the selection was left to the general population of voters in an August primary election. Quist won the primary but fell to Democratic Congressman Tim Walz in the general election.
Quist may face a primary election again on Jan. 29 because Golgart hasn't ruled out challenging him for the Republican nomination. (See accompanying story).
Quist's primary election win last year was his first electoral victory since 1986 -- the last of his three state House victories. Since then, he has come up short in two state House races in 1988 and 1990 and the Republican gubernatorial primary election in 1994.
Thursday's endorsement win was the first time Republican delegates have chosen Quist since his 1994 endorsement for governor, a stunning victory at the St. Paul Civic Center that brought him national media attention because he beat sitting Republican Gov. Arne Carlson. Carlson easily topped Quist in the primary election that year and went on to a second term as governor.
Quist tried for the GOP endorsement for governor again 1998 and for the 1st District seat in Congress in 2010 and 2012, coming up short each time. While his runs for higher office generated much more attention, Quist said he would gladly return to the state House.
And he told the delegates he would be their best bet to win back the seat from Democrats because he has the name recognition, political organization and fundraising ability that will be key in a compressed special election campaign.
Golgart, who picked up four delegate votes, focused on his past military service and his continuing work on behalf of veterans. Brinker, who was supported by two delegates, offered a lower-key presentation, emphasizing his municipal governance and making a pitch to the libertarian wing of the Republican Party.
Four Democrats -- Robin Courrier, Clark Johnson, Karl Johnson and Tim Strand -- are seeking their party's nomination for the Feb. 12 special election to fill the House 19A seat left vacant with the resignation of Rep. Terry Morrow, DFL-St. Peter.
Independence Party candidate Tim Gieseke is also planning to run for the seat, which covers all of Nicollet County, a small portion of Mankato and the Kasota area of Le Sueur County.
While Quist had his sights set on loftier positions for the past 20 years, the 68-year-old promised to work energetically both to win the House seat and to represent the district if he's elected.
"I like to be involved," he said. "You know, being on a golf course would drive me crazy. Sitting playing cards in coffee shop drives me crazy. I'm a very motivated, hard-driving guy."