DFLers already running in 3A special election


Though official word on the special election has yet to be announced, DFL candidates have already emerged in the House 3A race to succeed the late State Rep. David Dill.

Rob Ecklund

Rob Ecklund

UPDATE: A supporter tells me that Ely City Councilor Heidi Omerza, current president of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities, is also considering a run for State Representative in this district. She wrote me to confirm she is considering, with an announcement to come later this week.

Koochiching County Commissioner Rob Ecklund will announce today that he will seek the DFL nomination for the House 3A seat. Ecklund, a Boise paper worker from International Falls, is an active member of the United Steelworkers.

Ecklund sought the DFL endorsement for the 2006 House race against current Rep. Tom Anzelc. When Anzelc won the endorsement, Ecklund dropped out to support him against Bob Anderson in the primary. Redistricting moved Koochiching County into the new District 3A, but Ecklund continued his political involvement, winning election to the county board in 2010 and re-election in 2014.

Bill Hansen

Bill Hansen

Meantime, over the weekend Tofte businessman Bill Hansen, who ran against Dill in the 2004 primary, said he would be making another run for the seat. Hansen operates Sawbill Canoe Outfitters and is also a musician. Hansen is involved in many community activities around Tofte and Cook County.

Hansen was the DFL endorsed candidate in 2002 and 2004, but lost to Dill both times. Though he was identified as the progressive more friendly to environmental causes in those races, he tried to run on economic issues.

Ecklund and Hansen both have their own respective constituencies, and the pair highlight the dynamic we’ll have in this campaign.

First, the geographic divide. Ecklund’s Koochiching County is more than 100 miles from Hansen’s Cook County, separated by the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The district is the state’s largest, with very low population density. I’d say there are three primary regions: 1) Koochiching County, 2) the Ely, Tower, Cook and Orr area, and 3) the Grand Marais, Silver Bay, Two Harbors, North Shore region. The candidate that somehow unites a coalition across these regions is most likely to succeed. That was the key to Dill’s success.

Second, the ideological divide. The DFL in Northeastern Minnesota is currently divided between traditional liberals and big development-minded centrists, with labor often breaking the tie, so to speak. Hansen is most likely to be backed by the liberals, with Ecklund likely to garner labor support. Who will pro-mining forces back?

More candidates could emerge. I wonder if anyone from Ely might run, or someone from the Cook-Orr area where Dill first came to political being. Labor is likely to line up with Ecklund, while the progressives are likely to support Hansen. There could possibly be a spot for a centrist or even a conservative Democrat on the ideological spectrum in a district like this.

And, of course, Republicans will have their say, too. The district index is solidly DFL, but a bruising primary could give a GOPer a shot at an upset.

Though Gov. Mark Dayton hasn’t called the special election yet, sources expect the general election to take place on Nov. 3. The primary date has yet to be determined.


  1. Bill Brown says

    any Green jobs ?

  2. It’ll certainly be interesting. I know Bill and he is very smart and capable, but can he appeal to all parts of the electorate? As long as the district stays in Democratic hands things will be tolerable no matter who gets the endorsement.

  3. You nailed it Jon…with the majority of voters willing to accept “tolerable” performance out of our representatives, it’s no wonder we get less than average results for the area. Kinda reminds me of giving Participation Trophies to all kids just for showing up. For some reason we’re willing to set, and live with, very low expectations. Sad.

  4. Smiley Olson says

    I am seriously thinking about running for this vacant seat.I too live in Int’l Falls and work in the paper mill. I have the backing of many friends and coworkers in the labor force.

  5. Go for it Smiley..What differentiates you from others running? What’s your platform?

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