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McNamara to retire; Cottage Grove's Tony Jurgens files for GOP in 54B

Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, said Wednesday he is withdrawing his candidacy for re-election and will retire from the Minnesota House after 14 years. Republican Tony Jurgens of Cottage Grove filed as a Republican for the House 54B seat Tuesday, the last day of the filing period. (RiverTown Multimedia file photo)

Tony Jurgens said he and Rep. Denny McNamara had talked over the years about whether he’d be interested in running for the Minnesota House in the future.

“I just didn’t realize the future was going to come so soon,” Jurgens said last week.

Jurgens, a Cottage Grove Republican, filed for the House District 54B seat minutes before the Tuesday, May 31, deadline. The following morning, McNamara, a Hastings Republican, announced he was withdrawing his candidacy and retiring from the Legislature.

Jurgens said in an interview he had dinner May 26 with McNamara and they talked about the possibility of him running, but no decision was made.

“Honestly, when I left the house (Tuesday) morning, I did not know I was going to file,” Jurgens said. He said he was asked to meet with McNamara at 4 p.m. at the State Office Building. At 4:50 p.m. McNamara decided he’d retire, Jurgens said. He was told to hustle downstairs to the secretary of state’s office to file before the deadline.

McNamara was expected to seek an eighth term in the House, where he holds an environment and natural resources committee chairmanship. He was endorsed by the district’s Republican Party delegates earlier this spring and he filed for re-election May 17, the first day of the filing period.

Now, McNamara said he’ll step aside after 14 years as a legislator.

“It’s been an honor and a privilege to be elected seven times by the constituents of Hastings and Cottage Grove,” he told the Hastings Star-Gazette. “It’s been a humbling experience.”

He added: “It’s time for me to spend time with my wife and family and grandkids.”

Jurgens is active in the Cottage Grove and Hastings communities. He serves on the Cottage Grove Economic Development Authority and the city’s Public Works  and Public Services commissions. He’s also on Cottage Grove’s comprehensive plan steering committee and the Washington County Library Board. He was named Cottage Grove’s 2015 Volunteer of the Year. Jurgens is a longtime member of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church in Hastings and is a Knights of Columbus member in Hastings. He works as an independent insurance agent.

Jurgens will face off against Democrat Don Slaten of Hastings, who ran against McNamara two years ago. Slaten said he had liked his chances against McNamara this year, but acknowledged it’s difficult to run against him in Hastings. Now Slaten’s preparing to change his message to voters and rethink his campaign literature.

“That’s hard to overcome — name recognition,” Slaten said. “Don’t have to worry about that this year. Just have to change our strategy a bit.”

Jurgens said he’ll seek the local Republican Party’s endorsement. A party endorsement helps a candidate with campaign assets.

After years of local involvement, Jurgens said he wants to take the next step. He said he doesn’t have McNamara’s name recognition in the district but is ready for the work ahead.

“I like my chances but I know I’m going to have to work really hard, and I’m up to doing that,” he said.

District 54B includes Hastings, Afton, the east side of Cottage Grove as well as Denmark and Nininger townships.

In District 54A, Democrat Jen Peterson will run against Keith Franke, a Republican. Both currently hold elected office — Peterson is a Cottage Grove City Council member, Franke the St. Paul Park mayor.

Rep. Dan Schoen, DFL-St. Paul Park, will run for the open District 54 Senate seat against Republican Leilani Holmstadt of Cottage Grove. Sen. Katie Sieben’s retirement created that open race.