Simonson prevails in SD7 DFL endorsement battle

State Rep. Erik Simonson (DFL-Duluth) told supporters this morning he would run for the State Senate this year.

Erik Simonson

Almost 500 DFL delegates met Saturday in Duluth to endorse a candidate to succeed retiring State Sen. Roger Reinert (DFL-Duluth). After a strong 57-43 percent showing on the first ballot, State Rep. Erik Simonson was endorsed on the second ballot over former city councilor Sharla Gardner.

Gardner vowed to support Simonson, unifying the Duluth DFL apparatus behind Simonson in this heavily DFL-leaning district.

The Duluth DFL also endorsed incumbent State Rep. Jennifer Schultz in east Duluth’s District 7A and Liz Olson in the open west Duluth 7B seat being vacated by Simonson. All three candidates enter campaign season as the prohibitive favorites.

Donna Bergstrom is the GOP endorsed candidate in SD7. As a Native American and retired Marine Corps. intelligence officer she is a compelling candidate, but one who faces a tough partisan index in Duluth.

Simonson has been a labor leader in the Duluth firefighters union and most recently served as Assistant Fire Chief and interim fire chief. He opted not to seek the open Duluth Fire Chief job to focus on this Senate campaign.

In a signal of how political alliances continue to shift in Northeastern Minnesota, the Duluth convention played out as a mirror opposite to Iron Range contests. Delegates argued over which candidate would do the most to safeguard the environment and Boundary Waters. This was an interesting parallel to Range conventions where candidates spar over who was the most in favor of new mining projects near the eastern Iron Range.

The Duluth DFL, in any event, is at least deeply skeptical of new mining projects like PolyMet and certainly Twin Metals. They’re in the same party and regional coalition, however, as some of the most devoutly pro-mining people in the state legislature. This divide has only grown in the last two years, and probably won’t be resolved any time soon.


  1. One interesting thing emerging in the early days of the Donna Bergstrom campaign is that she seems to be preparing to make charter schools a major issue. She has posted on her web site and written a letter to the Duluth News Tribune backing charter schools in general, and specifically suggesting them as a way to benefit indigenous students. When she did her master’s degree at Loyola University in Chicago, she wrote her thesis on the argument that tribal units should be allowed to act as sponsors of charter schools.

    Simonson, in contrast, sponsored legislation, now dormant, to require that charter schools have publicly elected boards. He raised the concern that the plan for a charter high school to enroll 600 students in Duluth potentially jeopardizes the ability of Duluth Public Schools to continue to operate two high schools, and in particular that the plan could jeopardize Duluth Denfeld, the west side school that serves Simonson’s 7B state house district.

    I strongly agree with both sides on this argument. I would argue that parents should have the opportunity to create additional educational options for their children, especially parents of children who are members of groups that are not being well served by existing schools based on outcomes data. However, I would also argue that a decision that will undoubtedly threaten the viability of a school that has existed as the heart of the West Duluth community should be a decision made by the entire Duluth community, not just by the parents and employees of the charter school. This is because the charter school is operating using public funding. In my mind, public funding should include public oversight by voters, and the Edison system should be just as answerable to voters as the public school is. The charter should have a publicly elected board, separate from the public school board, but equally answerable to the entire community and the taxpayers who support them, so that when they make decisions that have major impact on the Duluth community they have demonstrated the support of the community for those decisions.

    Whether or not Duluth continues to have two public high schools is a decision that should belong to the voters. If the voters decide that they are willing to close a high school in order to have a charter school option, then the voters have spoken, and the voters are always right.

  2. Gray Camp says

    I wish there could be a civil public discussion on environmental copper nickel mining – by people who actually know what they are talking about. The threat of lawsuits has eliminated all meaningful talk. The best we get is the part of the Polymet EIS where the tribes and others declare why they believe the EIS doesn’t properly address the environmental impacts and the DNR argues why they feel it does. In the end the difference of opinion still exists, and nobody besides a small percentage of people truely understand the ramifications and risks of these differences of opinions. The public is left with political posturing from both sides to try and get more people on their side without really helping the public understand the issues.

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