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Don Davis, State Capitol Bureau, Published May 17 2010

Minnesota Political Notebook: Former House leader’s funeral set after session

ST. PAUL – Former House Majority Leader Willis Eken died of Alzheimer’s disease May 8, but his funeral will not be held until Tuesday.

That is just what Eken would have wanted.

He would not have wanted to interfere with the legislative session, his son, Kent Eken, said from the back of the Minnesota House chamber a couple of days after his father died.

The final week of a session is a critical time in any legislator’s life, and Kent Eken is following in his father’s footsteps as a legislator.

Little discussion was needed when setting the funeral for the man who was first elected to the House in 1971 and served as majority leader from 1981 to 1984 before becoming Minnesota Farmers’ Union president. His family just knew it would not be appropriate to hold a funeral while his son was working to wrap up a tough session.

The younger Eken, a Twin Valley Democrat, talked on the House floor about his father, who fought Alzheimer’s for 15 years.

“He never intended to run for the House, but the reason he did was my brother ... was mentally disabled,” Eken said.

The brother, Kyle, faced two options: staying home with no education or being sent to an institution.

“I remember Dad saying that neither one of those options was acceptable to him,” Eken said.

“No matter whether you are mentally gifted or mentally disabled, you deserve a chance to achieve your best potential,” Eken added.

After Eken’s speech, longtime lawmakers told stories about how the now-lawmaker used to play under his father’s desk in the Capitol complex.

Voting for others

There is something of a dust-up about the two remaining legislator-governor candidates missing dozens of votes since they were endorsed.

House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, and Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Delano, have missed dozens of votes in recent weeks. As part of the controversy, a GOP blogger criticized Rep. Al Juhnke, DFL-Willmar, and other stand-in speakers voting for Kelliher when she was not in the speaker’s seat.

That is a very common occurrence, one representative voting for another. Often, a representative is standing in the back of a chamber talking to someone when his or her vote pops up on the tally board after a seatmate pushed the right button.

Senators, however, are required to push the voting buttons themselves.

Few changes

A new study shows that moving the Minnesota primary up a month may not impact turnout.

Hamline University Professor David Schultz predicts that about 12 percent of voters will turn out, not much different than past years.

“Based on the limited experiences of two other states (Florida and Washington), which changed their primaries from September to August, the impact of the new August date in Minnesota will be minimal, amounting to less than a 2 percent decrease in turnout,” Schultz said.

The low turnout means three major Democratic governor candidates “will not need to win that many votes to survive and go on to the general election,” the professor added. “Money spent by wealthy candidates such as Mark Dayton and Matt Entenza may be able to affect who DFLers vote for, but spending will not significantly affect turnout.”

Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.