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Four face off in DFL primary for House 6A seat

Voters in House District 6A will choose from four candidates in Tuesday's Democratic-Farmer-Labor primary for the seat being vacated by incumbent Rep. Carly Melin.

Ben DeNucci, Julie Sandstede, Mike Thompson and Thomas Whiteside are seeking to advance as the DFL candidate in the Nov. 8 general election.

Melin, DFL-Hibbing, who first took office after a special election in 2011, announced in January that she would not run for re-election in the district that includes Hibbing, Chisholm, Nashwauk, Floodwood, Bigfork and surrounding areas of western St. Louis and eastern and northern Itasca counties.

None of the four candidates carries a party endorsement heading into Tuesday's primary, after DFL Party members failed to endorse anyone after five ballots at the Senate District 6 DFL endorsing convention in May.

The winner of Tuesday's primary will advance to face Republican Rob Farnsworth of Hibbing in the general election. Steven Hakly of Iron is running for the seat as a write-in candidate on the November ballot, and has been endorsed by the Independence Party of Minnesota.

The four DFL candidates each spoke with the News Tribune earlier this week.

Ben DeNucci, Nashwauk

Age: 40

Occupation: Small-business owner, including Keewatin Auto Repair

DeNucci, who is mayor of Nashwauk, said he's running for the state House because "I'm invested here, my family is here. I care about the success of this region and I'm here on the Range working on issues every day."

DeNucci said that if elected, his focus would be on the local economy.

"We need to get our unemployed back to work," DeNucci said. "We're going to try and continue to attract new businesses and diversify our economy."

DeNucci also has said he plans to work for more investment in local infrastructure, and broadband for rural Minnesota.

As a small-business owner, DeNucci said he has the "pulse of the community."

"I've been a witness to hard times," DeNucci said. "I live in that world."

DeNucci said his experience as mayor of Nashwauk and with other organizations — he's also on the board of the Range Association of Municipalities and Schools and United Way of 1,000 Lakes — makes him the most-qualified candidate in the race.

"I work every day with the people of this region and I'm involved in local government," DeNucci said. "I don't speculate. I'm at the table working on these issues."

Julie Sandstede, Hibbing

Age: 46

Occupation: Elementary music specialist for Virginia Public Schools

Sandstede — a longtime educator who has served as co-president of the Virginia Education Association teachers' union — said she has experience working with a diverse group of people and families, and gained negotiation skills from her work with the union. She said that makes her the most-qualified candidate to serve District 6A.

"It's a nice, well-rounded skill set to go and get this job done well down in St. Paul," she said, while also noting that she thinks it's beneficial to have a woman running for the seat. Melin, when elected, was the first woman to represent a core Iron Range legislative district since 1988.

Among the many issues facing the Iron Range, Sandstede said the most important one is jobs.

"We need to protect the jobs we have, diversify the economy and get people back to work," she said.

Sandstede, an Iron Range native, said that if elected, she will work in a bipartisan fashion and serve everyone in the district — "not just party lines."

"I've seen ... where we have been and where we are now," she said. "People will never have to wonder where I stand on an issue or who I'm working for."

Mike Thompson, Cherry

Age: 27

Occupation: Works in sales at Hibbing Chrysler Center

Thompson said he's running because he has "felt frustrated with the DFL and the Republicans. There's so much gridlock in St. Paul and not many people stepping up against hyper-partisan politics."

He said his priority, if elected, will be the economy on the Range.

"We need to get those mines that have been shut down open again," he said. Of proposed mines such as PolyMet, on the eastern Iron Range, Thompson said: "If scientific research says it's OK, let them invest here and put thousands back to work."

Thompson said he also wants to focus on drug addiction in the region.

"Personally I have watched two classmates lose battles to addiction and mental illness," he said. "We need to get resources to people (on the) front lines. There are too many young people dying, and too many families ruined."

Thompson said he's "an outsider with no political promises and no outside money," and

cited his ability to compromise as his most important qualification for representing District 6A.

"You're not going to get everything you want all the time," Thompson said. "You can't dig your heels into the sand, especially in a Republican-controlled House. At the end of the day, we're all Minnesotans."

Thomas Whiteside, Hibbing

Age: 29

Occupation: Mechanic and driver at Whiteside Equipment

Whiteside grew up in Hibbing, where his family's company, Whiteside Equipment, has been in operation for 10 years. In addition to working for the company, Whiteside also served as an aide for U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan.

If elected, he said he'll tackle what he sees as the area's most important issues: the economy, transportation and infrastructure.

"(I want to make) sure that we have good-paying jobs in the area, allowing families to make this place their home."

Whiteside said he also would seek long-term investment in the area's bridges, roads, broadband and water systems.

Whiteside said he believes he is the most qualified for the position because of his experience as an aide for Nolan. He said he played a role in getting White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough to come to the Iron Range last December to see the effects of illegal dumping of foreign steel. Whiteside said his and Nolan's efforts led to more enforcement of trade laws.

"My connections in the community through my family's business, which has been in the area over a decade, and also my experience within the U.S. House of Representatives as an aide is why I believe I am the most experienced candidate," Whiteside said.