Simonson: Candidacy for House 7B seat depends on DFL endorsement

A Duluth legislative candidate who was criticized for failing to maintain a relationship with his daughter from a previous marriage said Wednesday he would continue his campaign, but only with the blessings of the local DFL.

Silvers and Simonson
Minnesota House District 7B candidate Travis Silvers (left) talks as fellow candidate Erik Simonson listens during a Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce-Duluth News Tribune forum on Wednesday morning at the Technology Village in downtown Duluth. (Andrew Krueger / akrueger

A Duluth legislative candidate who was criticized for failing to maintain a relationship with his daughter from a previous marriage said Wednesday he would continue his campaign, but only with the blessings of the local DFL.

Erik Simonson made the comments during a forum for candidates running for the Minnesota House District 7B seat now occupied by Rep. Kerry Gauthier. Simonson launched a write-in campaign for the seat after fellow Democrat Gauthier's campaign was tainted by news that he had engaged in oral sex with a 17-year-old at a Duluth rest stop. Simonson's 20-year-old daughter said in a News Tribune story Wednesday that Simonson shouldn't criticize Gauthier's private life when he had ignored her for the past 18 years.

Simonson, 44, acknowledged in his opening remarks that while he had paid child support, he had not kept up the relationship with his daughter. He said the news would not disrupt his campaign plans, but he would respect the wishes of the party, which is holding a nominating convention for the seat on Saturday.

"If I can just take a couple minutes and address an issue that's in the newspaper this morning. ... It's not something that I personally think is newsworthy, but nonetheless it's out there," Simonson said.

"It's not something I've hidden. It's not been a secret. It's nothing new to me or my family or my friends.


"It may be new to some of you, but nonetheless it's out there. I'm not hiding from it, and I'll answer any questions that you have about it, but more importantly I don't want it to distract from the campaign and I don't want it to distract from the issues going forward."

Republican Travis Silvers, 32, also took part in the forum hosted by the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce and sponsored by the News Tribune. Independent write-in candidate Jay Fosle, who works for the school district, was busy with final preparations for the start of classes and could not participate, said Roger Wedin, the Chamber's director of policy and education.

Wedin asked Simonson about the importance of winning his party's endorsement Saturday.

"In the context of your seeking the DFL endorsement, do you think with the issue of Rep. Gauthier and now this coming on, do you think they're going to shy away from an endorsement? Do you still hope to seek it?" Wedin asked.

Simonson said he is still seeking the endorsement.

"That is a decision that the delegates will have to make," Simonson said. "But I can tell you that I 100 percent respect the position of the DFL and who they choose to endorse. That is the candidate I would stand behind 100 percent. In the event that they choose not to endorse (me), then we will suspend this campaign."

Making cases

Simonson, an assistant chief with the Duluth Fire Department and 22-year veteran of the force, suggested a career of public service has prepared him well for a job in the state Legislature.


"My entire professional life essentially has been working for the city," Simonson said. "I love serving the city of Duluth. And this is an opportunity for me to give back a little bit to the city as a state representative."

Silvers described himself as a multifaceted small businessman, experienced in operating an interstate trucking company, working construction, managing rental property and helping his wife run a day care.

When asked for specifics about his current employment status, Silvers said he has been working to renovate a home that previously had been condemned and he also has been working construction-related side jobs.

"I know what it's like at the end of the year after you've worked hard. You've sweated. You've spent time away from your family. You've tried to make ends meet. And then to have the government come and dip into your pocketbook with no effort and no risk on their part," he said.

If elected, Silvers pledged: "I would fight to reduce regulation and lower taxes."

However, Simonson said he wouldn't rule out tax increases as part of the solution to solving budget shortfalls that look to be in the neighborhood of $4 billion for the coming state budget.

"Nobody likes to pay more taxes, myself included, but sometimes that becomes part of the equation, and it's a balanced approach of raising responsible taxes and making cuts where we can without sacrificing what we've come to expect here in Minnesota as far as services," he said. "I support the concept of larger wage earners paying additional tax. I think we all should pay an appropriate amount as a percentage of our income. But we have to look at that closely."

Both Simonson and Silvers said they would fight at the Legislature to preserve local government aid that accounts for nearly 40 percent of the city's general fund budget.


Simonson said he would be able to make the case for continued aid, using "real world examples" of the role the funding plays in Duluth.

Silvers suggested that electing a Republican for a change could work to the district's advantage.

"I think I would be put in a position that would be favorable to our city. We've had Democrats representing the east side and the west side of Duluth for many years, and I think that going down as a Republican in a House and a Senate that's controlled by Republicans, assuming that stays the same, or even if it did change and only one body was controlled by the Republicans, I would be in a position to negotiate more effectively," he said.

DFL wildcard

One additional wildcard lies in the mix.

Daniel Fanning, a spokesman for the city of Duluth, said he has not yet decided whether to enter the race and pursue the DFL endorsement himself.

"I am keeping my options open and want to do what's in the best interest of our district, city, state and our party," he said.

If Simonson's campaign for office proves successful, he said he plans to continue in his job as an assistant chief for the Duluth Fire Department. However, he said he would step down from his role as president of International Association of Firefighters Local 101.


"One person can only do so much," Simonson said.

Peter Passi covers city government for the Duluth News Tribune. He joined the paper in April 2000, initially as a business reporter but has worked a number of beats through the years.
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