The not-so-special election in MN House 3A


Rob Ecklund

Rob Ecklund

Remember when the Iron Range political structure appeared poised for street riots heading into a closely-watched DFL primary in House District 3A? Anyway, that was a thing that happened not that long ago.

Today we are just shy of a week away from the Dec. 8 House 3A general election that will determine who actually heads to St. Paul in 2016 to represent Cook, Lake, Koochiching and northern and eastern St. Louis counties. It’s the largest geographic district in the state, previously represented by the late State Rep. David Dill who died last summer.

The DFL nominee and prohibitive favorite is Koochiching County Commissioner Rob Ecklund. He faces former DFLer-turned-independent-turned-GOP nominee Roger Skraba, who is also the former mayor of Ely, and independent Kelsey Johnson, a Capitol lobbyist and native of eastern St. Louis County just outside Duluth.

It’s difficult to describe just how quiet this election is compared to the DFL primary that kicked off the process. It’s not just that we just had Thanksgiving, or that deer hunting was going on before that, or that people are looking ahead to Christmas. It’s just plain ghost quiet even among political insiders.

In fact, this contested election has received less statewide attention in recent weeks than the uncontested 46A special election in Golden Valley earlier this month in which new State Rep. Peggy Flanagan was elected without opposition.

Part of that is the broad sense that anything short of an Ecklund victory would be a miracle. It’s a DFL-leaning district and Ecklund was the choice of traditional Range DFLers. Liberals were deeply disappointed that Bill Hansen lost, but Hansen made a big effort to try to patch the rift between pro-mining and anti-mining forces after the primary. Ecklund, meanwhile, has played a genial hand, emphasizing simple retail politics and avoiding controversy. There might be grumbling out there, but no more than usual and generally disorganized.

Roger Skraba

Roger Skraba

I’m not up in Ely to see what Roger Skraba is doing on a day-to-day basis. There hasn’t been much in the press in the way of letters or news coverage. Some basic retail campaigning is happening, and I’d expect at least a few mailings next week, but more likely the GOP and allied forces hold off major spending unless they see some reason to take a stab. Perhaps they might field test some 2016 messaging or try to cover the spread.

Meanwhile, one of the most curious aspects of the House 3A race remains the candidacy of Kelsey Johnson as a true independent. Johnson had to get 500 verified signatures to get on the ballot, which suggests some element of organization. And yet after the House 3A DFL primary ended she was remarkably quiet. There were no efforts to snag disaffected DFL voters or interject herself in the race during those crucial days. She tweets some. There’s probably some retail activity there, but I’ve heard nothing on the ground that indicates she’s a factor.

To me, this indicates that Johnson’s campaign was positioned to be the “option” for pro-mining DFLers had Bill Hansen won the DFL primary. In fact, it would take some hard convincing for me not to believe she wasn’t recruited or at least encouraged into the race for this purpose, given her closeness to Sen. Tom Bakk and other Range leaders. But let’s just suppose she is a pure, entirely nonpartisan political independent with a heart of gold. I still don’t see how she breaks 10 percent, and probably not 5.

I suppose the story of this race is how interesting it almost was. The only thing that’s really in question about the Dec. 8 special election for House 3A is the turnout. We know it will be low, but how low? It could be shockingly low, which would be the biggest variable — especially if anything interesting happens in the next week. Seriously, anything? Anything at all?

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