Former councilor Gardner to seek SD7 seat

Sharla Gardner

Sharla Gardner

Former Duluth city councilor Sharla Gardner announced this week she would seek the DFL endorsement for the Minnesota Senate District 7 seat being vacated by Sen. Roger Reinert (DFL-Duluth).

Gardner left office just last week after not seeking re-election last year.

Reinert announced he would not seek re-election last Sunday. Shortly afterward, State Rep. Erik Simonson, also Duluth’s interim fire chief, announced he would seek the seat.

Interestingly, Gardner appeared to have been planning a primary run against Reinert regardless. Now she focuses her effort on running in what will be a very competitive endorsement process.

Both Simonson, 47, and Gardner, 68, announced they would abide by the DFL endorsement to avoid a primary. WDIO profiled the burgeoning race this week:

Gardner served on the Duluth City Council for the past eight years, but says she’s ready for a larger venue. She says she’s been thinking about running for the District 7 seat for the past year.

“It’s the opportunity to do really good work and create public policy that actually affects people’s lives,” Gardner said. “We’ve had some good ideas and done some really positive things in Duluth, and I would like that diversification and prosperity to be spread to our Iron Range neighbors as well.”

Meanwhile, Simonson isn’t a stranger to the state capitol as he’s served two terms in the House of Representatives. He says he’ll take the same approach as he has in past races.

“I’m just going to continue to run on the things I’ve been working on and that I’ve been running on in the House. Nothing is going to change,” Rep. Simonson said. “Right now, Duluth is doing really well, and I think we can build on that and capitalize on that and expand that within our region.”

More candidates are likely, but none have announced yet. District 7 encompasses most of the city of Duluth and has been a solid DFL district for decades.

I would have mentioned this much earlier, but my blog time was nonexistent last week. I’ll continue to monitor this story for new candidates and developments.


  1. I think there is a good chance that Gardner and Simonson will be the end of the list for DFL candidates for SD7. The GOP still needs someone to step forward. A Green candidacy is certainly possible as well.

    Part of the reason i think no more DFLers will join in is that there are two other important vacant positions for 2016. The first is Simonson’s now vacant 7B seat. The other is the county board seat that Chris Dahlberg has announced he will vacate. Several candidates are lining up for those positions behind the scenes, removing people who might be interested in SD7 under other circumstances. There will be declarations coming soon, probably at a brisk pace. There may be other people from 7A who could consider a run for SD7, but I have not heard of any at this point.

    Two interesting questions are unanswered at this time.

    The first is the intentions of Jay Fosle. Fosle was re-elected to a third city council term in November, but made a run for 7B in 2012, partially thwarted by not being able to get on the ballot because of late declaration and being forced to be a write in. He was actually endorsed by the DNT for that election. The question of which party he would run in is up in the air, since in 2012 he ran in the general election against the endorsed DFL candidate — Simonson — and since as a councilor he has consistently been far to the right of everyone else. However he has always stated he is a Democrat. Runs for either SD7 or 7B as either a DFL or a GOP candidate, or even as an independent, would not be surprising.

    The other question is Donna Bergstrom. Bergstrom is a Republican who ran for the GOP endorsement for the then vacant 7A seat in 2014 and was thoroughly drubbed by Becky Hall in the endorsement convention. She has reportedly spent a lot of time cultivating Duluth Republicans since then. She is Native American, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel with a career in intelligence and as a congressional liaison in Washington, and since coming to Duluth has been active as an appointee to the Native American commission and as a court official. She seems like a strong candidate as Duluth GOPers go, is definitely a fresh face, and in her few public appearances in trying to win the 2014 endorsement was pretty impressive as a speaker. In 2014 she staked out a lot of positions that would have not sounded out of place on a DFL platform, so she seems to be much more moderate than most active Duluth GOPers. One important issue is that she is reportedly pro-choice, which may be a deal breaker among Duluth Republicans. The question with her remains will she run, if so will she run against popular first term incumbent Jen Schultz in 7A or for the vacant SD7 seat, and will the GOP accept her as a candidate this time around?

    This all could get interesting, at least for political junkies. It will be interesting to see how the likely presence of significant numbers of Bernie Sanders supporters affects the SD7 DFL convention and endorsement process, and how the current tumult in the GOP presidential contest affects the SD7 GOP convention in terms of the down ticket offices.

  2. So far (1/21/16) there no other candidates declaring for the SD7 seat. Jen Schultz, who has been mentioned often as another possible candidate for SD7 announced today she will defend her 7A House seat, taking herself out of any possible consideration for SD7.

    Meanwhile, there is so much activity in the races for the open 7B seat, the open County Board seat being vacated by Chris Dahlberg, and the contest between Simonson and Gardner for SD7 that the SD7 DFL board has successfully pushed their convention back to April 23, getting special permission from the state DFL to hold the convention one week later than the allowed last date.

    This move is partly due to issues with finding a large enough venue for what is expected to be a very well attended convention, partly due to wishing to avoid dates when school and college vacations will mean large numbers of potential participants might be out of town, but mostly to allow for what is likely to be an extremely vigorous fight for endorsement for all of the contested seats. The SD7 board has also notified potential delegates that the number of highly competitive endorsement races could cause the convention to be stretched to two days.

    Added to the likely contentiousness of the Clinton/Sanders race, these races should make for a set of SD7 DFL contests that will make the memorable endorsement contest for the vacant 7A seat in 2014 seem low key and relaxed.

    In the meantime, there are no declarations at all on the GOP side, although there are strong rumors that city councilor Jay Fosle may make a run at the nominally non-partisan vacant County Board seat, with vigorous but covert backing, especially financial, from GOP sources.

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