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Hansen enters race for Dill seat; special election set

Bill Hansen

Gov. Mark Dayton on Monday set a special election for Dec. 8 to fill the state House seat vacated by the death of Dave Dill.

A primary will be held Sept. 29 if more than one candidate files from any party.

That’s already expected with three candidates now in the DFL field, including Koochiching County Commissioner Rob Ecklund, Ely City Councilor Heidi Omerza and Cook County canoe outfitter Bill Hansen of Sawbill Lake who have announced they will run as DFLers.

Hansen, 62, announced his candidacy Monday after waiting for the special election to be set. He owns and operates Sawbill Canoe Outfitters with his wife, Cindy, at the end of the Sawbill Trail, and has run for the Legislature twice before.

“My daughter Clare and her husband Dan are moving home next month to buy the business from us. I plan to still work here, when possible, but will have plenty of time for public service,” Hansen said, noting that will be the third generation of Hansens at the outfitter. “I’ve been working here for 59 years.”

Hansen said that as a small-business owner he will work for a “strong and diverse economy through education excellence, community development, appropriate technology and a culture of entrepreneurship.” Hansen also called for “progressive and fair taxation,” along with “high quality, affordable health care,” and “enforcement and protection of Minnesota's existing environmental laws.”

“To do economic development, you have to do community development.” Hansen said. “The community has to be healthy for the jobs to come.”

He is past chairman of the Northland Foundation and the Duluth-based Entrepreneur Fund that conducts economic development in the region. He also served on the Cook County Higher Education board and was the Tofte Township area’s “citizen of the year.”

The DFL race pits two general supporters of copper mining — Ecklund and Omerza — against Hansen, who is a sceptic of mining proposals for the area because of the potential environmental damage it can cause, especially to the region’s waterways.

“I’m opposed to current (copper) projects as they are currently proposed,” Hansen said. “I’m very skeptical of the environment effect. But also, they aren't a good deal. I don't think Minnesota is getting enough for the minerals we’re giving up. It’s not a good economic deal.”

District 3A is massive, covering all of Cook and Koochiching Counties, most of lake County outside Two Harbors and the northern third of St, Louis County, along with several eastern St. Louis County townships.

Candidates wishing to run for the position must file in one of the county auditor’s offices in the district or with the Secretary of State’s office by 5 p.m. on Aug. 31.

Some state officials had hoped to hold the special election on Nov. 3, the date of municipal elections in Minnesota, to boost voter turnout. But that would have required an early September primary, which officials said didn't offer candidates enough time to campaign.

Dill, 60, died at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester earlier this month after succumbing to cancer. The DFLer had represented District 3A for 12 years, first elected in 2002 and most recently re-elected in 2014.

Whoever wins the special election will fill out the rest of Dill's term, through 2016, and would be obliged to run for reelection in 2016.

Hansen ran against Dill in a DFL primary both in 2002 when the seat — then House District 6A — was open, with no incumbent, and again in 2004 after Dill’s first term. Hansen was the DFL-endorsed candidate but lost to Dill by a roughly 41-34 percent margin in 2002, with two other candidates polling 14 and 11 percent. In 2004 Dill won the DFL primary by a 59-41 percent margin over Hansen.

Ecklund, 57, of International Falls, works at the Boise paper mill. He is a member and past president of United Steelworkers Local 159.

Omerza, 46, has represented Northeastern Minnesota interests as the past president of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities and on the League of Minnesota Cities board of directors. She serves as the president of the Ely Economic Development Authority and is on the board of Incredible Ely, a nonprofit focusing on the economic development of Ely's downtown.