MANKATO — Retiring Blue Earth County Attorney Ross Arneson came under heavy criticism in the past 17 months for his office's child pornography prosecution of a Minnesota State University football coach.
But until the final day of the two-week filing period, it looked like the 2014 race for county attorney would be the same as the seven that preceded it — with voters seeing only one name on the ballot.
That changed Tuesday when Mankato attorney Jacob Birkholz filed for the office and said he will make the prosecution of MSU head football coach Todd Hoffner an issue in the campaign.
Birkholz filed to run against Chief Assistant County Attorney Pat McDermott, who announced his run a day after Arneson said he wouldn't seek re-election.
"A fresh look at that office's management and leadership is something that I'll be bringing," said Birkholz, who has been practicing law in Mankato just since 2011 but is an MSU graduate and native of St. James.
Voters have had a very limited selection when deciding who holds the power of criminal prosecution in Blue Earth County for the past 30 years. The last time more than a single candidate filed for the office was 1982, according to Blue Earth County Elections Director Patty O'Connor. Every election since, the incumbent — including Arneson since 1987 — has been the only name on the ballot.
Birkholz's decision meant 2014 would be different. And then, just before the 5 p.m. filing deadline, a third candidate — Lime Township Board Chairman Karl Friedrichs — entered the race, meaning voters will be weighing in already in the Aug. 12 primary election, narrowing the list to two finalists with the winner decided in the Nov. 4 general election.
Arneson and his office came under intense criticism for the 2012 prosecution of Minnesota State University football coach Todd Hoffner for child pornography charges after images of nude children were found on his university-issued cellphone. Hoffner, who was briefly jailed and eventually lost his job, pleaded for months — through his attorneys — to have the charges dropped, explaining that the videos were simply his young children being silly following a bath.