Wednesday, May 19, 2010
The words had hardly left state Sen. Mee Moua's mouth when phones started ringing, elbows were tugged, e-mails flew through cyberspace and smart phones were a-Twitter with speculation about what — and who — would be next.
Moua, a leader of St. Paul's legislative delegation who was first elected in 2002, was poised for an easy bid to return to representing the East Side. Instead, she shook up the city's political structure at the close of the legislative session Sunday night by announcing she would not seek re-election this year, citing a desire to spend more time with her family.
Expect a wild scramble for at least a few weeks, possibly all the way to the Aug. 10 DFL primary, and perhaps beyond.
What's more, Moua did not designate an heir apparent, creating a wide-open DFL field on the eve of candidate filings in a city where that's not generally how it works.
"I don't know if this has ever happened in the history of our Senate district," said Paul Sawyer, who chairs the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party's Senate District 67 committee.
Political animals immediately started tossing out names — sometimes their own — or courting others to run to fill Moua's shoes in what will be a two-year term, shortened by the once-a-decade redrawing of political boundaries.
Maybe state Rep. Tim Mahoney would want it? No, he's happy where he is.
Longtime Planning Commission member Rich Kramer? No, but thanks for thinking of me.
What about Jacob Lantry, son of St. Paul City Council member Kathy Lantry? Nope.
Jim McGowan's cell phone buzzed and woke him up. It was his daughter, Caitlin, his longtime "caucus buddy." She said simply: "Mee Moua's not running. Are you going to run or am I?"
After a quick scramble on his Macintosh, Jim McGowan, the Minnesota director of the Medicare Diabetes Screening Project and a citizen lobbyist for diabetes issues, had thrown up a campaign website.
On Tuesday, he became the only candidate to officially file for the race.
Expect that to change, starting today.
Avi Viswanathan, an outreach coordinator for U.S. Sen. Al Franken who married into a family with deep East Side roots, said he'll file today. Kathy Lantry said she'll chair his campaign.
Ramsey County Conservation District Supervisor Mara Humphrey, a full-time lobbyist for the Minnesota Credit Union Network, said she's considering entering the race.
So is Chris Crutchfield, deputy director of community relations for Ramsey County Corrections. Crutchfield unsuccessfully challenged state Rep. Cy Thao in a past DFL primary. Then the boundaries were redrawn in a way that placed Crutchfield in Moua's district.
Ryan Kelly, son of former DFL St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly, said he's thinking about a run. Randy Kelly was defeated after endorsing George W. Bush for president. When asked what party he would run under, Ryan Kelly responded, "It's pretty common knowledge this is a DFL seat."
But the East Side is known for its share of conservatives, and the GOP last week endorsed Krysia Weidell, an administrative professional for Pace Analytical Services and an independent beauty consultant. A conservative first-time candidate running on an anti-tax agenda, Weidell said Moua's departure doesn't change her campaign strategy, but she acknowledged it changes her prospects. "Shock, then elation" is how she described her reaction to Moua's announcement.
Weidell will likely be unopposed in the Republican primary, but the DFL field will probably be crowded — and unclear.
Monday night, Sawyer convened an "impromptu" meeting of the Senate district's DFL committee, which decided it would not hold an endorsing process before the Aug. 10 primary. "It'll be completely wide open," he said. After the primary, the party will consider whether to endorse the winner.
Plenty of other names are still being tossed around as possible candidates, but don't expect Moua to back any until after the primary, she said Tuesday.
When she was first elected in 2002, she became the first Hmong-American lawmaker in America, and her departure — along with the decision months ago by Cy Thao not to run for re-election — raises the possibility of no Hmong lawmakers. Two DFL candidates, Jeremiah Ellis and Rena Moran, are vying for Cy Thao's seat. Neither is Hmong.
"I don't know if a Hmong person will run," Moua said of her seat. She said she's not necessarily bothered by it. "For Cy and I, do we need a Hmong person? Not necessarily. We have broken the glass ceiling already. I hope whoever our successors are will recognize the significance of the offices to the entire community, including Hmong people."
Both Lantry and Coleman lamented Moua's departure.
"She was an incredible leader of the delegation," said Coleman, who is taking a wait-and-see approach to backing candidates. "She was the real go-to person for us when we needed something. Her departure will be a great loss."