House 5B Update: Forum blasts candidates into final weekend

One of five DFL candidates for the District 5B House of Representatives special election will advance from the Feb. 1 primary to the Feb. 15 general election. A credible Republican opponent who’s run before, Paul Jacobson, and Cynthia Kafut Hagen, a former DFLer turned Independence Party candidate, await the Democrat. For all the drama of the primary, and there is ample excitement, the general promises another interesting twist in the quest for this quintessential Iron Range seat.

Jeff Kletscher, Ray Pierce, Carly Melin, Shelley Robinson and John Spanish (his candidate commentary runs Friday) are a curious lot, each of them representing some literary quality of DFL politics on the Iron Range. I would describe it as a stronger field than the five who stepped forward in 2000 when Tony Sertich was first elected.

The Hibbing Community College Student Senate, of which I am faculty co-advisor, sponsored a forum for the primary candidates on Wednesday. The students did a fine job of planning the questions and logistics and will do the same on Feb. 9 for a general election forum.

The event was covered by several media outlets. A reporter from the Hibbing Daily Tribune was there but apparently the paper is holding her story for another time. Fox 21 and WDIO both did basic stories as did Range 11 (Northland’s Newscenter) whose story is embedded below.

Because of my involvement in the organization of the forum, I vowed not to parse the results into winners and losers. To be honest, I don’t think there was an outright winner anyway. What we saw was a candidate buffet and different kinds of Iron Range DFL voters would see different reasons to support the candidate of their choice. This election will be determined wholly by the question of which voters choose to vote in the primary, and how many of them go on to unify for the general. District 5B is a DFL stronghold, but it’s been a strange time on the Iron Range and there has been some contention and factionalism in the DFL.

I will take my speech instructor approach and find one nice thing to say about each candidate:

John Spanish: Some good lines, determined. If the state had listened to him in the 1970s, the Metrodome would have been made of steel and never fallen down.

Shelley Robinson: Her best moments in the forum came when she described the actual process of administrating a budget and making hard choices. She was very strong and very passionate there. Also, she did a good job of describing her diverse community experience in a short amount of time.

Carly Melin: Fiercely focused on jobs, she showed lot of message discipline and had prepared a few notable statistics that she used well. Announcing her Education Minnesota endorsement during the education question was a nice touch. Highly energetic.

Jeff Kletscher: He’s underrated in this race and might have the deepest political and government resume of the group. Well spoken and very knowledgeable about the way state and local governments interact to provide actual public services. Also, he made the best attempt of any candidate to be optimistic about the future.

Ray Pierce Jr.: Another candidate who hasn’t been given a lot of consideration by the political class, but one who flashed a great homespun Iron Range message. Earnest, informed and direct he also defies the conventional wisdom of this race.

Robinson and Melin have rightly been called the front runners so far. These two candidates each performed well in their own way at the forum. Nevertheless, for me the event showed that Pierce and Kletscher also have appeal in sectors of the 5B voter population that could create some surprises. I offer no prediction or endorsement and encourage all the readers of this blog to consider the candidates in both this primary and the general and make an informed choice. Someone I know put it best, “OK, Iron Range, what do you want?” 

The forum was recorded by Hibbing Public Access Television and will air over the weekend on the government channel in Hibbing. If I can find a way to share it here over the weekend I will. I’ll try to have my act together for some digital recording of the general election debate in a couple weeks.

Melin and Robinson have a host of events slated for the weekend on their websites. I’m also tracking the possibility of a DFL endorsement being issued on Saturday, something that’s been in the works but yet to be confirmed. Any major announcements by the candidates over the weekend will be shared as I am able.

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