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Republican, independent join 3A special election

Kelsey Johnson

A Republican from Ely and an independent from Gnesen Township have joined the race for the December special election for House District 3A.

Former Ely Mayor Roger Skraba filed Friday and Kelsey Johnson filed on Monday, the last day for candidates to enter the special election needed to fill the spot vacated when Rep. Dave Dill died on Aug. 8.

Johnson, 34, who filed as an independent, lives north of Duluth on the southern edge of the district. She is a lifelong resident of the area. She's now on leave from her position as director of state affairs for the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which lobbies state government on behalf of more than 300 of the world's largest food, beverage and consumer product companies.

Because she is not filing under a major party, Johnson was required to get 500 signatures on a petition before her filing was considered official. On Monday she said he had acquired 600 signatures, showing the basis for a strong "grassroots" campaign.

Johnson said her priority as a lawmaker will be diversifying the economy of the region by attracting "new and innovative business sectors to the region" and expanding opportunities for broadband access to "sustainably and organically grow our local communities."

Johnson is single. It's her first run for public office.

Skraba, 53, who filed as a Republican, served as Ely's mayor from 2005-06 and again from 2009-12 and served seven years on the city council. He's a longtime civic activist and works as a fishing outfitter. He's been an advocate for increased mining in the region, including proposed copper mines. He's also pushed for safety improvements to state Highway 169 in the area.

Skraba did not immediately return a phone call to provide more information on his campaign. He ran against Dill in 2002 for what was then an open House District 6A seat — initially as a DFL candidate before switching to the Independence Party.

In 2010 Skraba pleaded guilty in federal court to driving his snowmobile in a federal wilderness area and entering the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness without a permit. Skraba also was sentenced for breaking into a U.S. Forest Service shed and stealing a portable toilet, which he had hidden. He was fined $3,630, sentenced to 40 hours of community service and given two years probation.

On the DFL side, International Falls businessman Eric Johnson, Koochiching County Commissioner Rob Ecklund, Ely City Councilor Heidi Omerza and Cook County canoe outfitter Bill Hansen of Sawbill Lake are running.

District 3A is huge, including all of Koochiching and Cook Counties, most of Lake County and the northern and eastern portions of St. Louis County.

Dill, 60, died Aug. 8 at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., after succumbing to cancer. The DFLer had served in the House for 12 years, first elected in 2002 and most recently re-elected in 2014.

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