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Holmstadt, McNamara eye Senate seat as Franke opts against run; Schoen submits resignation letter

(From left) Leilani Holmstadt, Denny McNamara, Karla Bigham

Area Republicans will have to choose who they want in an upcoming Minnesota Senate special election.

Leilani Holmstadt of Cottage Grove joined former state Rep. Denny McNamara as Republicans hoping to fill the seat to be vacated Dec. 15 by Sen. Dan Schoen. The St. Paul Park DFLer and Cottage Grove police officer is resigning from the Senate after sexual harassment allegations were lodged against him by three women in politics.

Gov. Mark Dayton on Monday called the special election for Monday, Feb. 12, after consulting legislative and party leaders and the secretary of state. The 2018 legislative session begins Feb. 20.

PREVIOUSLY: Lawyer: Schoen denies sexual harassment claims in midst of resignation

Former DFL state Rep. Karla Bigham declared her Senate bid hours before Schoen's attorney had announced the senator's intention to step down last month. Bigham recently got the Senate District 54 DFL Party's endorsement. No other DFLers have announced plans to run.

Bigham served in the Minnesota House from 2007 to 2011 and currently is a Washington County commissioner.

Holmstadt's announcement last week came days after McNamara said he would run for the Senate seat, and it sets up a possible GOP endorsement challenge. State Rep. Keith Franke, R-St. Paul Park, had said he was considering a Senate run, but on Tuesday told RiverTown Multimedia he will stay in the House.

"With a humbled and gracious heart, I would like to thank everyone for their confidence, encouragement and support in the decision to seek the Senate seat," Franke wrote. "I feel at this time it is the best thing for the district that I stay where I am at and continue to represent the people of our area in the way that I have for every one of us."

Holmstadt ran against Schoen in 2016. He won by a roughly 53 to 47 percent margin to represent the district that includes Cottage Grove, Hastings and surrounding communities.

As she jumped into the race, Holmstadt criticized state policies such as MNsure and light rail transportation as "crippling our economy and our way of life."

"I understand the fear of the average, hardworking citizen as everything they have worked for has been hijacked," she said in a statement. "The health care in (Minnesota), once the greatest, has been handcuffed by the bureaucracy — citizens are paying more and getting less. The patterns of government corruption and bad government policies has led to job losses in Minnesota and have catastrophically impacted small businesses. My view of my job as a (Minnesota) senator is making the voice of the citizen louder than the roar of the bureaucrats in St. Paul."

McNamara, who retired last year after 14 years in the House, said constituents urged him to try to return to the Legislature.

"Our district is hurting and is seeking a senator that puts people before politics and has a proven track record of helping our communities," McNamara said. "I look forward to working hard on behalf of our residents, meeting with them at their doors in the coming weeks, and restoring their trust in their state senator."

Schoen submitted his resignation letter to Dayton. It was released Monday.

"It has been my honor and privilege to serve the constituents of my community for five years," Schoen wrote. "I am proud to say I was elected by a community of my peers to serve the greater public good, which I will continue to do as a peace officer."

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

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