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Don Davis, Forum News Service, Published August 04 2012

Minnesota Political Notebook: Recount possible in state Supreme Court races

ST. PAUL - Minnesota election officials say a recount is possible in Aug. 14 primary election state Supreme Court races.

Four years ago, Minnesotans endured a lengthy U.S. Senate recount between Al Franken and Norm Coleman. Two years ago, it was a shorter process between governor candidates Mark Dayton and Tom Emmer.

But lost among the hubbub created by those races was a statewide 2008 primary election recount in a state Supreme Court race.

In the first statewide recount in years, incumbent Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea easily won the three-way primary race, but Jill Clark and Deborah Hedlund were so close that state law required a recount. Hedlund won the primary recount over Clark but lost the general election to Gildea.

This year, Clark again challenges now-Chief Justice Gildea. Dan Griffith also is on the ballot.

“It is almost exactly the same dynamic,” Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said. “And it is Gildea again.”

The same situation presents itself in another Supreme Court race, in which Justice David Stras faces Alan Nelson and Tim Tingelstad.

Ritchie, the state’s top elections officer, said the fact that in each race two little-known challengers face a better-known incumbent could result in tight returns for the No. 2 slot. The top two vote-getters in the high court races will face off on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.

The reason Ritchie and others expect a close race for the second spot is that when voters do not know the candidates, they tend to vote randomly.

While the secretary is not predicting a recount, veteran election officials told him it is possible. “There is no predicting until the end of the day on primary day.”

If there is a recount, it needs to be wrapped up by Aug. 27, which Ritchie says is the final day decisions can be made before Nov. 6 ballots are printed.

Candidates at Farmfest

The season’s first opportunity to compare many congressional candidates face to face comes Tuesday and Wednesday.

As happens each election year, candidates will be out in force at Farmfest, near Redwood Falls in southwestern Minnesota.

On Tuesday morning, agriculture questions will be fired at candidates from the southern and western parts of the state.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson and Republican challenger Lee Byberg in western Minnesota’s 7th Congressional District will attend. Also planning to be in the forum tent will be Democratic U.S. Rep. Tim Walz and two Republicans seeking to challenge him in southern Minnesota’s 1st Congressional District, Alan Quist and Mike Parry.

Also to be at the forum is Mike Obermueller, a Democrat challenging Republican U.S. Rep. John Kline, who is not expected at Farmfest.

On Wednesday, Democratic U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and challengers Republican Kurt Bills and Glen Menze of the Independence Party will be questioned.

A supreme decision

Gov. Mark Dayton is considering four Twin Cities residents to fill a Minnesota Supreme Court opening.

The person replacing retiring Justice Helen Meyer will be the Democratic governor’s first high court appointment.

The Judicial Selection Commission forwarded the four names to Dayton:

• Tanya M. Bransford, a district court judge since 1994.

• Margaret H. Chutich, an Appeals Court judge.

• David L. Lillehaug, a former U.S. attorney.

• Wilhelmina M. Wright, an Appeals Court judge.

Lillehaug is the best known of the four. Besides being U.S. attorney, he has figured prominently in election-related cases, representing Democrats.

Dayton’s office says he will interview the four and then make a decision.

Emergency OK’d

Farmers in 70 Minnesota counties affected by drought may obtain permission to graze animals and harvest hay in areas where they usually are not allowed.

“We want to be responsive to landowners’ needs in these extreme weather conditions,” said Executive Director John Jaschke of the Board of Water and Soil Resources. “In order to address those short-term needs, we’ve developed a policy that will protect the public’s investment and preserve wildlife habitats on these lands.”

Farmers interested in haying and grazing on Reinvest in Minnesota land must contact their local soil and water conservation district office.

Early renewal

Minnesota Public Safety Department officials say snowbirds and students headed to school in other states may want to check their driver’s license expiration dates now.

Drivers whose licenses expire in 2013 may renew them after Sept. 1.

For those who will not be in Minnesota, licenses may be delivered to an out-of-state mailing address.

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Don Davis reports for Forum Communications