DFL picks Clark Johnson in 19A

NORTH MANKATO – Clark Johnson won the DFL endorsement for the Minnesota House district 19A special election Thursday at the official DFL endorsement convention held in North Mankato.

Johnson, who has worked as a student-relations coordinator at MSU-Mankato for 28 years, defeated three other candidates in a close three-hour, four-round endorsement convention. The other candidates were teacher and union leader Robin Courrier, hog farmer Karl Johnson and St. Peter Mayor Tim Strand.

The convention had 66 voting delegates present, approximately two-thirds of the total possible delegates. The rules required that a candidates receive 60 percent of the votes to be endorsed, with increasing thresholds to whittle away the lowest vote candidates.

The first round ballot showed 32 votes for Clark Johnson, 23 votes to Karl Johnson, 10 votes to Courrier and 2 votes to Strand. Due to the rules, Strand was dropped from the race for being below the voting threshold.

The second round went 33 votes for Clark Johnson, 23 votes for Karl Johnson and 10 votes for Courrier, who was dropped due to being just under the vote threshold.

The third round went 39 votes, or 59 percent, to Clark Johnson and 27, or 41 percent, to Karl Johnson. The immediate fourth round settled the matter with Clark Johnson moving up 41 votes, or 62 percent of the votes.

The delegate consensus was that Clark Johnson won with a commanding lead through his years working the “Get Out the Vote” campaign for the DFL in the district, making hi close to a household name. Johnson said he hopes to translate energizing that DFL into voters in the general election

After his victory was announced, Johnson said he felt a DFL victory was assured for 19A due to the energy he witnessed from the delegates. He said he will work extensively to gain the youth vote in the district. He is scheduled to visit Gustavus Adolphus College on Monday.

The college occupies the precinct contains nearly all the 19A college student vote and the single highest voter population for a precinct in the last election.

On his election issues, Johnson said his primary focus would be on finding a final, sustainable method to redraw the state budget to prevent chronic budget shortfalls. He said he opposed any use of gimmicks like school funding shift and that a state tax reform proposal was essential to reaching the goal.

He also support same-sex marriage, but was against making it a campaign issue. He said that if any other candidate attempted to make social issues a focus of the campaign would “find it to their detriment.”

The three other candidates said they plan to abide by the endorsement, including Karl Johnson, who indicates last week he may run if not endorsed. He said he changed his mind because he considered keeping the Republican candidate Allen Quist out of office to be more important.

The campaign

With the DFL endorsement choosing Johnson as the candidate, the 19A special election field is now set with Republican Allen Quist and Independence Party candidate Tim Gieseke filling out the other parties.

The DFL have a variety of hurdles facing them in this election.

First, the general election for 19A has been set for Feb. 12, giving the DFL just 23 days to campaign.

Second, the just over 1,500 voters in the Gustavus Adolphus district will have the college students away on break for a week before the general election, with them returning just two days before the vote. Due to this time constraint, all the campaigns have barely over two weeks to sell their campaigns to the students.

Finally, the DFL’s biggest hurdle is the hiccup with the timing of their endorsement. When the election dates were announced after the endorsement convention had been set, the filing period for the election ended up falling the week before the convention and made it necessary for DFL to have to register for the primary to be eligible when endorsed later.

The DFL will now have to spend time and money on ensuring the correct candidate is voted in while the Republican and Independence candidates are free to campaign. As Sen. Kathy Sheran (DFL-Mankato) noted, the DFL will have to additional make sure the primary turnout is high to ensure no Republican “mischief” occurs in the election. While the district DFL leaders do not expect this scenario, closeness in names between the two Johnsons could lead to votes being accident spread out among candidates by low information voters.

Clark Johnson said he is hopefully this will be an easy task due to the remaining energy and enthusiasm among the DFL in the district from their legislative victories this last election. He said the race will be exciting and challenging regardless of how it plays out.

Josh Moniz can be e-mailed at jmoniz@nujournal.com

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