Elections in January are always a bit unseemly, but it becomes even more so when we bury the incumbent on a Saturday, and his would-be successors have only three days to put their personal affairs in order so they can run for the vacant office. The situation becomes almost bizarre when the most logical choice for the position is the widow.

While state Sen. Sam Solon's death was no surprise to most Duluthians, the exact timing of a person's passing always is. Even when a person is suffering dearly, most of us wish for an end to the suffering, not for death. Thus, when the end does arrive, it remains a jolt, if for no other reason than the lives of family members and close friends are forever changed.

Undoubtedly, Gov. Jesse Ventura saw that the Legislature would be going back into session at the end of the month, and recognized that Duluth would want to have full representation when the session begins. However, out of respect for the deceased, I would think that the governor ought to set the close of the filing period no sooner than three weeks after an incumbent passes away.

That gives everybody a chance at least to reflect on the new circumstances and to reorganize their lives so they can run if they so choose. As it was, Yvonne Prettner Solon, the senator's widow, helped organize a visitation and a funeral last Friday and Saturday, hosting the state's political power structure and accepting their condolences and best wishes. Then she turned around on Monday and announced that she would seek her husband's seat.

Prettner Solon is no stranger to politics, having served a couple of terms on the Duluth City Council in her own right. No political spouse was better prepared or better positioned to follow in her mate's footsteps than she is.

However, looking at the situation strictly from the angle of being human, she must have been emotionally and physically exhausted by the end of the day Monday. With the primary this Tuesday already, and the general election coming up on Jan. 29, it will be Groundhog Day before she notices her own shadow, much less has time to reflect on how her life has changed.

Rumor has it that state Rep. Dale Swapinski, who represents the western half of Solon's district, wanted to run for the seat in the worst way. His better instincts finally took control, and he decided to finish the term to which he was elected. This was smart politics for several reasons: First, if Swapinski had been successful, then still another special election would have to be held to fill his House seat. Even using Jesse's timetable, the district would have been without representation for half of this year's legislative session. That wouldn't be fair to Duluthians.

Even more important, no long-term political advantage exists for grabbing the seat now. Redistricting, either by the Legislature or the courts, is going to change all of Minnesota's district boundaries in unforeseen ways.

Come next fall, every candidate for the Legislature is going to be running in reshaped districts. That will require incumbents to get out and meet new constituents, minimizing their advantage. If he wants to be called "Senator" and run every four years instead of every two, there may well be a better opportunity in the fall -- particularly if state Sen. Becky Lourey, DFL-Kerrick, ends up running for statewide office. She is already seeking the DFL gubernatorial endorsement, and redistricting might easily put Swapinski in what is now mostly the area she represents.

A third reason for Swapinski not to run is because the election will still be contested, even though there is no Republican in the race. The DFL candidate will be the heavy favorite, but the turnout will be light. That creates a chance, however slim, that the Green Party candidate Joel Sipress could slip in and grab the election. The Greens showed in the last City Council race that they can compete, at least in a primary. If the only voters who show up are family members and their pet dogs, anything could happen. The DFL still needs to be united and motivated to turn out and vote in order to win this special election, even with the well-deserved sympathy vote favoring Prettner Solon.

Tom West is the editor and publisher of the Budgeteer News. He may be reached by telephone at 723-1207 or by e-mail at tom.west@duluth.com.