DFL endorses Simonson for Minnesota House 7B race

Staring down what one delegate described as "the elephant in the room," Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party delegates on Saturday narrowly endorsed write-in candidate Erik Simonson for the Minnesota House District 7B seat.

Erik Simonson
Erik Simonson

Staring down what one delegate described as "the elephant in the room," Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party delegates on Saturday narrowly endorsed write-in candidate Erik Simonson for the Minnesota House District 7B seat.

Meeting in the Denfeld High School cafeteria, delegates chose Simonson, a Duluth assistant fire chief, over Julene Boe 33-21 on the first ballot. That gave Simonson 61 percent of the vote; meeting rules required 60 percent for an endorsement. One more vote for Boe instead of Simonson would have forced a second ballot.

A week ago, the choice of Simonson, 44, to replace disgraced sitting state Rep. Kerry Gauthier as the DFL endorsee appeared to be a slam dunk. But a story in Wednesday's News Tribune in which Simonson's 20-year-old daughter, Leah Simonson, claimed her father abandoned her when she was 2 years old and had made no attempt to contact her, apparently rattled some DFL insiders.

Among them was Minnesota Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner Solon, a District 7B resident, who called Boe, a friend and political ally, on Friday evening asking her to seek the endorsement.

"I thought about it and talked to my husband," Boe, 56, said after the vote. "He said he would support me. ... I figured I'd give it a try."


Prettner Solon confirmed that she had asked Boe, who is executive director of the St. Louis River Alliance and a former city employee, to seek the endorsement.

"I was supporting Erik until this story came out," Prettner Solon said. "I don't know Erik well enough to be able to judge the merits of it, but I did know that what we needed was a solid candidate that we could get behind and support."

She had acted on her own and not on behalf of Gov. Mark Dayton, Prettner Solon said.

After the vote, both Boe and Prettner Solon said they would support Simonson.

Simonson addressed the abandonment issue effectively with the delegates, Prettner Solon said, and now needs to be able to do the same thing with a wider audience.

"He needs to reach out with the same sense of compassion and his awareness of how things have changed to the public, so that they can see he has had a learning experience," Prettner Solon said.

Simonson raised the issue briefly during his opening remarks Saturday. It came up again during a 30-minute question-and-answer session. Delegate Lisa

Radosevich-Craig, calling the issue "the elephant in the room," asked Simonson how he would explain his decisions to voters and asked Boe if she had any skeletons in her closet.


"It's something that happened a long time ago," Simonson said in a forceful voice. "I will never, ever forget it. Was it right? Was it wrong? I don't know. I don't know. Nobody in this room knows whether it was right or wrong. Nobody in this room, outside of me, was there. We made a decision, collectively, and I respected that decision."

Simonson has said the decision to be uninvolved in his daughter's life was mutually made with his ex-wife.

On Saturday, he said he had learned within the previous few days that his present wife of 18 years, whose mother left her family when she was 4, wrote to her mother when she was in her 20s. It gave him a new perspective about reaching out to his daughter, Simonson said.

"I got it. I finally got it," he said. "It finally sank in. People need closure on issues. I get that."

The issue wasn't closed, Simonson said, but it was a private matter. It was unfortunate, he said, that the News Tribune "politicized" the issue.

In her own response to the skeletons question, Boe joked, "I was going to say, let's see what's in the paper tomorrow."

She went on to say she didn't think she had anything disreputable in her background, but that she would take responsibility for any mistakes.

In his initial remarks, Simonson touched on popular DFL issues.


"I have seen firsthand the effects and the impacts of the issues that are so important to the party: Conservation, environment, social justice, progressive action, equality, unions, living wages, jobs, jobs and jobs," Simonson said.

Boe, who received supporting speeches from Prettner Solon and environmentalist and entrepreneur Will Munger, said her passion was for the environment.

"We need to put a higher value on fresh water versus precious metals," she said.

After the vote, Simonson said he didn't foresee difficulty over the abandonment issue. It would just take face-to-face conversations and letting people get to know who he is, he said.

The bigger challenge, he said, would be educating voters about write-in balloting.

"It's going to be huge, but it's not impossible," Simonson said. "We have a strategy in place; we've got a plan in place. We've got almost two months to get it done, but we're going to get it done."

There's a chance the endorsed candidate still will appear on the ballot, 7th Senate District chairman John Schwetman said at the start of the meeting.

As it stands, Gauthier remains on the ballot, although he no longer is seeking re-election. Republican Travis Silvers is also on the ballot, and Duluth City Councilor Jay Fosle also is a write-in candidate, although he did not seek a party endorsement.


Simonson and Fosle initiated their campaigns in the wake of news reports that Gauthier had engaged in oral sex with a 17-year-old at a Duluth rest stop.

Simonson said last week that he would continue his campaign only if he received the DFL endorsement.

Julene Boe

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