NORTH MANKATO — Clark Johnson received the DFL endorsement for the House District 19A special election, beating out three other candidates after three hours of speeches and voting.
The other three candidates all pledged to suspend their campaigns and support Johnson.
Still, all four names will appear on the ballot in a Jan. 29 DFL primary election. That’s because a glitch in the process prevents the other three from taking their names off the ballot.
And that primary election could be even a bit more confusing for DFL voters as there will be two candidates named Johnson on the ballot, both with fairly similar sounding first names.
“I was very genuine when I said I was proud to be among this group of candidates,” Johnson told the delegates following his victory.
“Let’s win this election to build a better future for Minnesota.”
The 67 delegates heard virtually no policy or philosophical differences between Johnson, Robin Courrier, Tim Strand and Karl Johnson. All supported making Highway 14 a four-lane, raising taxes on the wealthy and better funding for schools, among other issues.
A candidate needed 60 percent of the votes to win the endorsement. On the first ballot, Clark Johnson had 48 percent, Karl Johnson 34 percent, Courrier 15 percent and Strand 3 percent.
By the third ballot Strand and Courrier were dropped from the ballot when they failed to get enough votes to continue, leaving it a two-man race. On the third ballot Clark Johnson had 59.1 percent and Karl Johnson 40.9 percent. The fourth ballot put Clark Johnson over the top with 62 percent.
In his speech to delegates, Clark Johnson called for balancing the state budget without gimmicks. “No more borrowing from schools, no more piling onto property taxes.”
But, he said he wouldn’t be a wild spender if elected to the House. “I’m a frugal guy. I drive an older car, I bring my lunch to work. I understand the need to protect the public’s money.”
In an early sign the endorsement may come down to the two men named Johnson, a larger than expected crowd of non-delegate guests packed the North Mankato fire hall Saturday morning holding signs supporting one of the Johnsons. About two dozen signs supported Clark Johnson and fewer than a dozen favored Karl Johnson, with few signs for the other candidates.
The winner of the DFL primary a week from Tuesday will take on Republican Allen Quist and Independence Party candidate Tim Gieseke in the Feb. 12 special election.
The winner will succeed Rep. Terry Morrow, the St. Peter Democrat who resigned to take a job in Chicago.
The reason all four DFLers' names will be in play at the DFL primary election is because local DFL leaders were caught off guard by the compressed special election schedule announced by Gov. Mark Dayton on Jan. 8.
Party officials still hadn’t set a date for their endorsing convention and needed to wait at least 10 days due to party rules requiring that much notification to delegates.
The result? The candidate filing period, which ended last Tuesday, would be past before the convention was held. That meant non-endorsed candidates couldn’t follow the traditional practice of withdrawing their name from the ballot in deference to the endorsed candidate chosen by party activists.