Opposed to copper-nickel mining and in support of both single-payer health care and an immediate transition to a clean-energy economy, Duluth attorney Jen McEwen was the stunning recipient of the DFL endorsement in May in Minnesota Senate District 7. In the race to represent Duluth in St. Paul, McEwen garnered an overwhelming 70% of party delegates’ votes.
Reflecting a Minnesota DFL that’s become more Bernie Sanders and less Bill Clinton, DFL voters in the Aug. 11 primary can similarly pick McEwen over embattled incumbent state Sen. Erik Simonson for the right to face off against Republican Donna Bergstrom on Election Day Nov. 3.
“The basic job of a state senator is to make sure that adequate allocations are made for our local municipalities. … It would be my top priority to make sure that we have allocations that we need to provide for our infrastructure, to provide for our streets, water infrastructure, sewer infrastructure, all of those needs of our local government services,” McEwen said in an interview held virtually with members of the News Tribune Editorial Board. “The byproduct of that is to be able to hold the line on our property taxes.”
McEwen represents disabled workers as a plaintiff’s attorney for a Duluth firm. She also was a public defender for three years, a judicial law clerk, and president of the board of the Damiano Center. With that background, she promises to be not just an advocate but a fighter for Duluth in state government, particularly when it comes to protecting the environment and helping those who truly need it.
“I am used to having to both do battle with people and also keep a cordial working relationship with them,” she said. “That’s the kind of representative and leadership that I think I bring to the table. … I do have an overall sense of urgency that drives me.”
While some may label McEwen as progressive, she sees her leanings as responsive, grassroots, and even mainstream and in line with the values of Minnesotans and Duluthians. Extreme or not, McEwen can be held to her pledge to seek compromise and to be a voice of reason and unity rather than the division currently plaguing our political landscape.
“There’s a lot of common ground to be had,” she said. “I was raised with … a very strong ethic around workers’ rights and around the politics of protecting everyday people in our system, economically, politically.”
The incumbent Simonson is a retired Duluth firefighter who served as assistant chief. He also was a two-term state representative before winning election to the Minnesota Senate in 2016. Far more a centrist than his challenger, Simonson has been a strong advocate for Duluth’s interests at our state Capitol.
But DFL voters may have a hard time overlooking the scrutiny Simonson has faced over whether he has used his elected position for inappropriate gain. Such questions were first raised in 2017 when Simonson was named CEO of the Lake Superior Zoo — just weeks after introducing legislation for $1.9 million in bonds for the zoo. More recently, this spring, Simonson started in an executive position with Lake Superior College, and a News Tribune investigation found that during the interviews for the job, Simonson introduced and was the author of a bill seeking nearly $1 million in state funding for his soon-to-be new employer.
Simonson denies any conflicts of interest, but constituents voting in the primary can be leery of even its appearance.
To her credit, McEwen declined an invitation from the Editorial Board to address the incidents.
“I bring some fresh energy and motivation to take on the serious challenges,” she said instead.
As DFL delegates did at the party convention in May, DFL voters can embrace McEwen’s fresh energy as a reflection of their party in the primary election on Aug. 11.
Editor’s Note: Editorial Board Citizen Representative Jim Peterson withdrew from participating in the interviewing and decision-making process for this endorsement, as he works in the same law firm as candidate Jen McEwen.