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Candidates crowd Senate District 11 race

Minnesota Senate District 11 candidates, from left: John "Sparky" Birrenbach, Justin Krych, Michelle Lee, Stu Lourey, Jason Rarick, Matthias Shir

Seven candidates have filed for the Minnesota Senate District 11 seat since Gov. Tim Walz named former Sen. Tony Lourey as his pick for Minnesota Department of Human Services Commissioner last week.

The special election is Feb. 5. District 11 includes parts of Carlton, Pine, St. Louis and Kanabec counties.

Two candidates, Stu Lourey and Michelle Lee, are seeking the DFL endorsement and will faceoff in a primary election Jan. 22. There will be an endorsement convention at 10 a.m. Jan. 19 at Barnum High School.

DFL rules require at least 10 days notice before an endorsement convention. Both candidates will appear on the primary ballot because the final day to withdraw from the election was Wednesday, Jan. 9.

Four candidates, state Rep. Jason Rarick, Pine City Mayor Carl Pederson, Justin Krych and Matthias Shir, sought the Republican nomination. Rarick emerged as the Republicans’ preferred candidate following an endorsement convention Tuesday, Jan. 8, in Hinckley.

Pederson, Krych and Shir all told the Pine Journal they will withdraw from the race and support Rarick in the general election.

Finally, John “Sparky” Birrenbach filed as a candidate for the Legalize Marijuana Now Party.

Michelle Lee

Lee is a retired TV newscaster in Duluth. She moved to Moose Lake in 1983 when she began her TV broadcasting career.

She said she was raised in a DFL family, but put politics aside during her journalism career. When she retired at the end of 2016, she began organizing for the party and ran for the DFL nomination for the 8th Congressional District, finishing second in the August primary to Joe Radinovich. He lost in the General Election to Pete Stauber.

Lee said she advocates two free years of vocational or technical school for all Minnesotans and wants to bring broadband internet access to every residence in the state. During her campaign for Congress, Lee advocated for a single-payer, "Medicare-for-all" health care program.

Stu Lourey

If elected, Stu Lourey would be the third consecutive member of his family to serve in District 11. His grandmother, Becky Lourey, took office in 1997.

Stu Lourey, 25, grew up on his family's beef farm in Kerrick and graduated from East Central High School and Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., according to his press release. He has worked in public policy for former U.S. Sen. Al Franken and U.S. Sen. Tina Smith.

Stu Lourey told the Pine Journal he hopes his policy experience will be an asset in the campaign "sprint" to get a new senator seated early in the next session.

"I'm young, but I do have the depth of experience in policy that I'm really excited. I feel like since we're walking right into session, it will help me hit the ground running," he said.

Justin Krych

Krych is the deputy chairman of the 8th Congressional District Republican Party and was the Republican-endorsed candidate for Minnesota Senate District 7 in 2002.

He is an Esko native and a 1996 Lincoln High School alumnus. As the owner of Superior-based Conflict Management Services, he is a court-appointed mediator handling family court and divorce mediation, primarily with Douglas County Circuit Court.

Krych said he was planning to run for the District 11 seat when Tony Lourey's term expired in 2020, but the vacancy "changed the timeline" for his campaign.

If elected, he said his biggest priority would be to investigate the "waste, fraud and abuse" he sees in Minnesota's spending surplus and to lessen the tax burden on residents.

"We have a $1.5 billion budget surplus in the state of Minnesota," Krych said. "That means the people that are in the working class and our small business owners are being overtaxed."

Jason Rarick

Rarick has represented District 11B in the Minnesota House of Representatives since 2015.

A Pine City native, Rarick is a union electrician and owner and operator of Rarick Electric. He said his son is the fifth generation of his family to live on their Pine City farm.

Rarick said he is "happy" as a member of the House, but believes he is the Republican most equipped to wage a campaign to win the District 11 seat given the compressed timeline.

"This became a very unique position because of the special election," he said. "When it was announced there were 32 days to run a campaign, I just felt that we didn't have anybody with a firm enough structure to mount a good enough campaign to win."

Rarick said his priorities at the state Legislature would be to expand broadband internet access, particularly in rural areas, and improve Minnesota's transportation infrastructure. However, he does not support Walz's proposed gas tax to fund transportation improvements around the state.

Matthias Shir

Shir is a Pine City resident and works as an electrical engineer for a consulting firm. He has never sought elected office before.

"I have a young family and I see a lot of potential for this nation and this state," Shir said. "I want to leave behind a good legacy and a good place for my descendants and the next generation of Americans."

Shir said his priorities at the state level include reforming the state's health care system and tax laws.

"I personally feel strongly about things we can do here in the state in helping President Trump at the national level," he said. "Things like immigration, things like health care reform. I think we need to update our tax code to align it with the recent national tax code changes."

Carl Pederson

Pederson was elected mayor of Pine City in 2015 and recently began his third term in the role.

He grew up in southeastern Minnesota and worked for the Federal Bureau of Prisons for 25 years. Pederson retired from his position as chief financial officer of the Federal Corrections Institute in Sandstone in 2015.

The Pine Journal was unable to contact Pederson prior to the endorsement convention, but he confirmed in an email that he would support Rarick in the general election.

John 'Sparky' Birrenbach

A Pine City resident, Birrenbach is a self-employed business and marketing consultant. He began coming to Pine City as a young child after his grandfather purchased a cabin nearby and moved to the area permanently in 2008.

Birrenbach ran for U.S. president in 1996 as candidate of the Independent Grassroots Party and for the Minnesota House of Representatives as a candidate for the Independence Party shortly after the election for former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura in 1998.

Birrenbach said in addition to advocating for the legalization of recreational marijuana use, he hopes to be a "moderating voice" in the Minnesota Senate in the constant back-and-forth between Republicans and Democrats. He also said there are a "host of other issues" facing the state beyond recreational marijuana legalization.

"I think economic development is important for the area," he said. "I believe we've got to get more rural internet access; we need to have universal health care; and, of course, we need to legalize marijuana for adult use."

Jamey Malcomb

Jamey Malcomb has been a reporter for the Pine Journal since October 2018. He previously worked as a reporter for the Lake County News-Chronicle from 2015-2018. Malcomb is a native of North Carolina and holds a bachelor's degree in English and history from the George Washington University and a master's degree in education from George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. Malcomb moved to Minnesota in July 2012 and worked as a sports clerk and news assistant at the Duluth News Tribune. 

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