Stu Lourey wins DFL nod in SD 11 special election

Stu Lourey

Stu Lourey won the Senate District 11 special election DFL primary Tuesday. He defeated Michelle Lee in a snowy showdown marked by low turnout.

I’m projecting the result based on Lourey’s strong performance in Pine County, where most remaining returns will come from.

Lourey will end up winning by about 250 votes or 6.5 percent. He had raised significantly more money than Lee, allowing him to air television ads. However, Lee showed well, especially in her native Carlton County.

Lourey will face Republican State Rep. Jason Rarick and John “Sparky” Birrenbach from the Legal Marijuana Now party in the Feb. 5 special election.

It will be a blazingly short and expensive campaign, with up to $2 million expected to be spent by Minnesota’s major parties to win the seat.

The SD 11 seat came open when State Sen. Tony Lourey (DFL-Kerrick) was appointed commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Health and Human Services. Stu Lourey quickly announced a run for his father’s seat, the same seat previously held by his grandmother Becky Lourey.

Stu Lourey carries on the family business, which is one part running a small cattle farm in Pine County, and two parts progressive politics. He’s worked as a campaign organizer and most recently as a staffer for U.S. Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minnesota) in Washington, D.C.

Lee is a longtime TV news anchor from Moose Lake who had campaigned for Congress in 2018. She won the DFL endorsement last weekend in something of an upset. She carried the district’s largest city of Cloquet, but fell short elsewhere.

Senate District 11, located in east central Minnesota, can be differentiated by its northern and southern halves. The North (House District 11A) is DFL-leaning while the South (HD 11B) leans Republican.

The general election is Feb. 5.


  1. AB-

    What is the deal with this Legal Marijuana party? Why is that guy there? Is he legit? Feels like a plant by the Republicans or something. I have to assume legal marijuana becomes very likely if DFL secures the seat. Right? So what’s the deal there?

  2. Legal Marijuana and another pro-marijuana party won “major party” status in 2016 because of their performance in two different statewide elections — Attorney General and Senate.

    As a result, the parties can get candidates on the ballot using the same process — endorsement by the party — as both the DFL and the GOP. They do not have to go through the process of collecting and filing petitions to get candidates on the ballot. Their candidate for SD11 is just the first of many we will see, at least until 2022, when they will be “major” or “minor” based on their 2020 performance.

    As to whether the established DFL — people like Tom Bakk — will support legalization if they secure majorities in both houses, that remains to be seen. Many DFLers — apparently Walz included — support some further legalization in some form. But many oppose it strongly. The same is largely true of the GOP, with people like former Speaker Boehner working to support it. It is an issue that literally crosses party lines in an unpredictable way.

    • Interesting. Hadn’t thought of that. Didn’t know that. Thanks. Talk to you later.

      • I made a mistake above.

        The “Legal Marijuana Now Party,” which nominated John “Sparky” Birrenbach for the SD11 seat, gained legal “major party” status in the State Auditor’s race, not the Senate race.

        The “Grassroots Legalize Cannibis Party” gained major party status in the State Attorney General race.

        MN has an interesting electoral rule which allows any party that wins 5% of the vote in a statewide election to be considered a “major” party. The major distinction between “major” and “minor” parties is that major parties can place candidates on the ballot by designation rather than by collecting and filing petitions. Candidates can place themselves on primary ballots as members of the major parties simply by filing and paying the filing fee. This is very significant since the job of collecting enough valid petition signatures is labor intensive and difficult, whereas the filing process for major parties is simple.

        These smaller major parties, as Trevor suggests, can and do cause a lot of mischief. In the 1996 federal Senate election, Dean Barkley gained enough votes to allow the Minnesota Reform Party (which subsequently changed its name to the Independence Party of Minnesota) to gain major status. Its nominee for governor in 1998, Jesse Ventura, won the governor’s election, probably at the expense of the GOP candidate, Norm Coleman. In 2002, the Independence Party candidate for governor, former DFL congressman Tim Penny, almost undoubtedly cost Roger Moe the governorship, allowing the election of Tim Pawlenty. In 2006, former DFL operative Peter Hutchinson’s Independence Party candidacy probably was important in Pawlenty’s re-election over Mike Hatch. But in 2008, Dean Barkley once again probably cost the GOP an election, helping Al Franken win the very narrow decision over Norm Coleman. Coleman probably has recurring nightmares featuring Barkley.

        The Independence Party finally reverted to minor status in 2014, when they failed to win 5% in any election, and remains a minor party today. The ascent of the two marijuana rights parties is almost undoubtedly related in part to protest votes by voters who would ordinarily vote DFL casting votes to protest the nomination of Keith Ellison in the face of accusations of abuse from his former live-in girlfriend and as part of the general malaise of left-leaning Democrats both nationally and in Minnesota.

        We can undoubtedly expect both marijuana parties to place candidates on the ballot in selected races through at least 2020, when they will again have to face the major/minor party test.

        As an aside, the League of Women Voters has a policy of allowing all major party candidates and all candidates with a standing of at least 5% in polling a seat at any debates or forums they run. This has been an issue from time to time, with Norm Coleman protesting the League decision in 1998 to include Ventura in its debates, and with supporters of Skip Sandman becoming angry with the Brainerd League in 2018 when he was excluded from the debate organized by the local Chamber of Commerce and newspaper but run by the League. Members of the Duluth League attempted to mediate and urged that Sandman be included as a significant candidate despite not meeting any of the criteria for inclusion, but the Brainerd League indicated that the decision about invitations was made by the Chamber and the paper and they were unable to intervene. I am personally betting that Sandman will be a candidate for one or the other marijuana party in the 2020 CD8 election, but I don’t know his position on marijuana and perhaps personal beliefs about it might prevent him from doing that.

        • Yeah. That makes sense. The differences regarding the perception of marijuana between rural and urban Minnesota are staggering. I keep forgetting that. Still, it amazes me how a couple old crabby guys on a country road in rural Minnesota have so much more power and ability to influence. I mean, you take one reality with like millions of people that see, smell, and possibly partake in marijuana usage everyday. Then suddenly there is a man on tv saying legalization is unlikely while citing some absurd statistics. How that guy and his three constituents have more power than an entire city is worth examining.

        • I am not trying to take a shot here. Well, I am. I am trying to villify Gazelka. Mostly because he is a villain. My thing is mostly about prisons and jails. Also, employment. I am not one to cite pro or con lists. I’m just concerned with the wellness of people. A quote comes to mind:

          “You should have talked more with the monkey. He’s always willing to negotiate.” Gazelka is not leaving people with many bargaining chips. That’s kinda my focus… not trying to get involved in the urban rural squabbling.

          • David Gray says

            You should read Peter Hitchens’ book on marijuana legalization. I’m glad Gazelka isn’t rashly running in and I suspect he is faithfully representing his constituents in the matter. And given that we no longer have a legislature that is formed as the US one is Gazelka has roughly as many constituents as any Minneapolis state senator does.

          • I would advise against trusting Peter Hitchens as a source for anything, since he is basically a right wing culture warrior, not a real scientist or reporter. He is useful as a way of stroking pre-existing biases, but not for much else. I would also not advise citing John Boehner, the former GOP Speaker of the House, since he has become a professional cannabis advocate. The best rule is to seek neutral, scientifically based information, not to waste time on doctrinaire sources from either side.

            The case for and against legalization of marijuana is not founded on very solid facts, since there is a dearth of really good research.

            There is no question that marijuana makes people high, and that being high is not good for operating cars and other equipment, and indeed not a good place for making any important decisions, including about birth control and other sexual protection.

            There is also no doubt that overuse (mostly defined as daily use or daytime use) has a negative impact on many categories of achievement and motivation. That is generally true of all intoxicants.

            Marijuana is one of the easiest drugs to detect use of on testing because it persists in trace amounts in the body much longer than most other drugs, leading to large numbers of positive tests and large numbers of people barred from many jobs due to relatively light use of the drug.

            There is a pretty strong case that marijuana is less harmful than either alcohol or tobacco, however the argument that that is a reason to legalize it is based on faulty logic along the lines of saying that it is better to fall off a three story building than a ten story building.

            There is some evidence that marijuana acts as a gateway to tobacco smoking, but that is not a settled question.

            States that have legalized marijuana and other cannabis products have experienced, not surprisingly, an increase in driving while under the influence of cannabis, but so far no evidence of overall increases in deaths or serious injury in car accidents. Conversely, they have experienced a decrease in driving under the influence of alcohol, probably more than balancing the risk. Reported overdoses of cannabis are almost entirely associated with use of ingestible products, since smoking marijuana has its own built in brakes because its affect is so rapid.

            The strongest arguments for legalization are socio-economic. Enforcement of anti-cannabis laws costs a great deal of money for law enforcement, courts, rehab, and prison systems and creates a large class of people who have criminal records, something which causes a negative impact for society. Cannabis enforcement also distracts police from work on problems that have a much greater impact on community well being. States that have legalized cannabis have experienced significantly lower costs for their legal systems and have enjoyed large benefits in tax collections applied to the sales. Separation of marijuana from the illegal drug industry has hurt criminal organizations and has broken the potential gateway to more dangerous drugs. Youth use of cannabis appears to have actually decreased in states with legalization , probably because marijuana is often easier for underage people to get than alcohol in states where it is illegal, and that chain is broken when cannabis is mostly available from legal sources that check ID.

            One major argument against legalization of cannabis is that it is a major source of revenue for police departments. The federal government pays police departments money — essentially rewards — for the apprehension of drug sellers and for seizure of illegal drugs. This money is a significant part of the budget of many police departments. Unfortunately, the laws do not make any distinction between marijuana and drugs like heroin and other opioids, cocaine, meth, and other pharmaceuticals, strongly incentivizing the police to spend an inappropriate amount of time and energy on marijuana compared with more harmful drugs, and giving police officials an important incentive to oppose legalization of cannabis. The grateful taxpayers of the nation spend a lot of money on this program.

            Anyhow, as I said at the beginning, the scientific or medical case for or against cannabis is not strong or well-demonstrated except in the minds of doctrinaire fanatics on either side. The experiences of states that have legalized cannabis have been largely positive, and even conservatives in those states have largely come to the position that legalization should continue. The strongest argument in favor of legalization is that it is silly to spend so much time, money, and energy on policing a drug more benign than several that are legal , and that there are definite social harms from criminalizing its use.

            And yes, MN State Senate seats are apportioned by population, unlike federal Senate seats and Electoral College votes. Over each ten year census cycle, rural districts tend to gradually fall behind the population of more urban districts because of slower population growth or actual population loss, something also true of federal Congressional Districts, but this is recorrected every ten years. Imbalance may get worse if efforts to repress census counts of immigrants and minorities are successful, but in principle the rule is compliance with equality of representation.

  3. I understand what you guys are saying. I have contemplated your concerns, David and Gerald. I can’t help it. I support legalization. Lately I’ve been thinking liberty is liberty and you either have it or you don’t. There are conflicts. For example, the Saint Paul city council voted in favor of legalization. However, they also voted to ban menthol tobacco. I don’t see how those two conclusions can rest in the same person’s mind?

    Basically, I am staying out of everything and focusing on my own tasks. A lot of the same people that want legalization also want to take away 32 ounce fountain sodas or whatever. So I am just hoping for less people in jail and more people with jobs. That’s about as deep as I can get at this point.

    • In the end I support legalization also, with the arguments I cite in the second last paragraph most important to my position. I tend to see everything from the point of view of economic and social issues, and IMO from that point of view cannabis prohibition is costly and damaging, and legalization is the more logical approach.

  4. That’s your problem Gerald, “you tend to see everything – economic and social” from a flawed viewpoint. Your “economic” views are socialism based…and history has proven, painfully, socialism is evil. And your “social” views are secular, with no merit other than what your sinful nature deems so…and they vary with the wind. 

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