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Monday, December 26, 2005 

Special Election Preview

As almost anybody who keeps abreast of Minnesota politics will be aware, there are a pair of special elections tomorrow in St. Cloud. A pair of retirements, Rep. Joe Opatz of HD15B and Sen. Dave Kleis of SD15, have resulted in their seats opening up. Awkward timing for the election, you might think? The reason is twofold: first, the date saves money by not requiring the election to conform to HAVA provisions that become effective 1/1/06, and second because Gov. Pawlenty probably intended to disenfranchise SCSU students who are home for winter break and thus are less likely to vote (especially for the DFLers). Pawlenty screwed up, however; the short timetable of the special election cycle has injured, perhaps fatally, his candidates' chances for election. Let's take a look at the races.

HD15B: Rep. Joe Opatz's (DFL) now-vacant seat was being contested by DFLer Larry Haws and Republican Sue Ek. Things began to change, however, as Ek, who claimed to be a lifelong St. Cloud resident, was revealed to have signed an affadavit claiming residency in St. Paul less than six months (the legal residency requirement) before the election. She was kicked out of the race by the Minnesota Supreme Court. Her mother, Kay Ek, replaced her as the GOP candidate, but was not allowed onto the ballot due to her daughter's disqualification, and is running a write-in campaign. Kay's no prize either; she whined about how partisan it is that her daughter was expected to follow the law. Larry Haws, on the other hand, has proven to be a great candidate. He's in line with his district, has prior experience as an elected official (seven years as a Stearns County commissioner) and has run a squeaky-clean campaign.

SD15: Sen. Dave Kleis (GOP) retired after he won an election for St. Cloud mayor, and the race to replace him is less one-sided. Republican Dan "Ox" Ochsner, DFLer Tarryl Clark, and conservative Independent Dan Becker are the candidates. Ochsner, a radio talk show host who bills himself as "Central Minnesota's Voice of Integrity", shot himself in the foot when he was revealed to have illegally doctored campaign photos for his website. Ochsner has also been caught calling St. Cloudites "morons" and St. Cloud State "a disgrace", not things one wants to be calling his electorate. Tarryl Clark, by contrast, is a recognized name (she's run for the Legislature twice before) and has earned a reputation of being smart and a hard worker. She has also run a strong campaign.

I'm expecting a landslide victory for Haws tomorrow and a smaller margin of victory for Clark. Check back here tomorrow night for election returns in these critical races.

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