Lourey appointed to Human Services, prompting special election in SD 11

Tony Lourey

State Sen. Tony Lourey (DFL-Kerrick) will be the next commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Services. Gov.-elect Walz made the announcement Thursday along with several other appointments.

Lourey’s appointment creates a special election for Senate District 11, which includes Carlton, Pine and parts of St. Louis and Kanabec counties. Filing opens today and closes Jan. 8.

UPDATE: DFL candidates now include Stu Lourey and Michelle Lee. GOP candidates include Jason Rarick and Justin Krych.


This could be a tricky special election. Lourey carried the district by nine points in a challenging 2016 electorate. During that same election, President Trump won by an even larger number.

Lourey’s son, Stu Lourey, already announced his campaign for his father’s seat. Stu Lourey is a farmer and political organizer. In fact, that description applies to him, Tony and Lourey matriarch Becky, who held the seat prior to Tony. If elected, Stu would become the third generation to hold the same Senate seat consecutively.

The Loureys are a well-known rural Carlton County family known as rugged subsistence farmers and passionate progressives. In fact, they might be the last true embodiment of Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party history.

But we don’t know if Stu Lourey will draw primary opposition. Former news anchor Michelle Lee, who ran for Congress as a Democrat in 2018, lives in the district and her name leapt to mind for many. She’s not made an announcement either way.

UPDATE: Later in the morning, Lee confirms she will be a candidate for the DFL nomination, meaning there are just 18 days until a primary. Lee, who lives in Moose Lake, ran as a progressive populist in last year’s Congressional race and also boasts deep roots in the district.

SD11 represents a swing district. Republican Congressman Pete Stauber carried SD11 in the 2018 election, though DFLers Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Gov.-elect Tim Walz also won here. The legislative vote was almost dead even.

State Rep. Mike Sundin (DFL-Cloquet) represents the DFL-leaning northern part of the SD11 in HD11A. He will stay in the House, where DFLers have the majority and he chairs the Labor committee.

On other side of the aisle, State Rep. Jason Rarick will run for the Republicans. Rarick represents the more conservative southern part of the district in 11B. Having already won re-election last year, he enjoys a free shot at the special election. He’ll keep his House seat even if he loses.

UPDATE: Justin Krych of Esko, a former legislative candidate and 8th District GOP deputy chair, announced this afternoon he would seek the GOP nomination as well. That means that there will be primaries on both sides of the ballot.

Candidates will have precious little time to make their case. The primary, if needed, will be Jan. 22. The general will happen Feb. 5 in order for the new senator to take office during the upcoming legislative session.

Republicans hold a one-vote majority in the State Senate.

One thing shouldn’t escape notice. Tony Lourey is a highly regarded advocate for progressive health care policy. He’ll be a strong commissioner and another Greater Minnesota voice in a key cabinet position.


  1. Jane B Leverenz. says

    I have spent 42 years living in the 11B District.
    I’ve for many years considered myself a frienc however your article portrays the Loureys as rugged individualist farmers & rare at that. Let’s shed a light on this. The Family has had business in both Minnesota & California. They have recently sold The Nemadgi holding in this District. Just to keep things straight.
    Now I do not support the 3rd generation nepotism.
    It’s to important and we must seat someone with more life experience. Someone whose familiar with the issues facing us. We have a long row to hoe. Let’s do with someone who has a chance. TY JBL.

  2. Bonnie Lokenvitz says

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