By Mark Fischenich
Free Press Staff Writer
NORTH MANKATO — A second North Mankato Democrat has officially entered the race for a soon-to-be-vacant state House seat, but both candidates have pledged to abide by the preference of party activists and not take the contest to a primary election.
Democrat Karl Johnson, saying his top priorities would be property tax relief and completion of the Highway 14 expansion, announced his candidacy Wednesday in the state House 19A special election.
Also on Wednesday, a potential Independence Party candidate from North Mankato said he has decided not to run and Republican Allen Quist said he would reveal by the end of the week whether he will seek the seat being vacated by Rep. Terry Morrow, who is resigning next week to take a job in Chicago.
A rural North Mankato resident, Johnson joined North Mankato teacher Robin Courrier in the race to replace Morrow, DFL-St. Peter. Long active in the local DFL, Johnson said he’s often thought about running for the Legislature and — 10 days after his 68th birthday — took the plunge.
“The timing seems right, right now,” said Johnson, a lifelong Nicollet County resident who has been farming since 1967 and has held top positions with the Minnesota Pork Producers Association.
His work on sometimes contentious policy issues with the pork association demonstrated an ability to bring opposing sides together, Johnson said, and that’s a skill needed in government these days.
“It’s been a terrible mess,” he said of the partisanship of recent years.
Johnson would like to add a farmer’s voice to the Legislature, which has seen the number of active farmers dwindle to under 10. But he said he would go to St. Paul less as a farmer than as a Minnesotan, looking to restore the state’s former luster by protecting the state’s education system and environment while reducing the growing dependence on property taxes.
“The thing we have to think about is making Minnesota and Nicollet County the great place it’s always been,” he said.
Both Johnson and Courrier pledged to withdraw from the race if delegates at a yet-to-be-scheduled DFL endorsing convention prefer their opponent, pledges that would allow the party to avoid a primary election.
“My feeling is it’s too short a campaign to go through a primary also,” Johnson said.
Courrier agreed: “It will cost the taxpayers way too much to hold a primary.”
The prospect of an Independence Party primary abated Wednesday after one of two IP members interested in the race decided not to run.
North Mankatoan Jeff Thom, founder and CEO of All American Foods, said “at this time, my heart just isn’t into a run for office so I am declining that opportunity and will continue to focus on my business and philanthropic interests.”
Tim Gieseke of rural Nicollet, the owner of Ag Resource Strategies, said last week that he was also considering a run for the seat as the Independence Party candidate.
Quist is the only Republican who has publicly said he is considering seeking the seat, but others are interested, said Peter Trocke, co-chairman of the Nicollet County Republican Party.
“I’ve got three who are talking about it,” Trocke said.
And the Republicans aren’t waiting to get their endorsement process started, already calling delegates to an endorsing convention on Jan. 10. Trocke said the local party has been working daily, other than Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, to prepare for the special election — the date of which hasn’t yet been set by Gov. Mark Dayton.
Whether Quist will be there a week from today, seeking his party’s endorsement for the second time in fewer than nine months, will be known soon.
“I’m still undecided but I expect to make a decision before the week is out,” said Quist, a retired farmer who served in the Legislature in the 1980s but has more recently focused on gubernatorial and congressional races.
He was the Republican challenger to Democratic Congressman Tim Walz on Nov. 6.