They went from working alongside each other in St. Paul to campaigning for the same job.
The recent primary election had a notable local race for approximately half of Bloomington’s residents. Three-term Minnesota Rep. Andrew Carlson (D-50B) and two-term Minnesota Rep. Steve Elkins (D-49B) wound up in the same district as a result of the new statewide House and Senate district boundaries drawn earlier this year. They were not the only same-party legislators who found themselves paired as a result.
In some cases, such as that of Minnesota Sen. Melisa López Franzen of Edina, legislators bow out as a result of being paired against a party colleague. Franzen, whose senate district has served Edina and portions of Bloomington, wound up paired with Sen. Ron Latz, in a district that was focused upon St. Louis Park, not Edina, and chose not to seek a new seat.
The contest between Carlson and Elkins took a different path to reach the Aug. 8 primary ballot, which saw Elkins advancing to the November general election. He will face Republican Party challenger Beth Beebe, a Bloomington School Board member, for the new House District 50B seat, which will serve precincts wholly within the city’s western side.
It was an unusual primary season for Carlson and Elkins, who typically haven’t had to clear an August hurdle on their way to Election Day.
It’s a different campaign strategy, according to Elkins, as candidates are seeking the support of donors both willing to go to the polls in August. “You knock on the doors of the party faithful,” he said.
Targeting the known party supporters provides an opportunity for meaningful conversations with like-minded voters. In the weeks leading up to the primary election, he knocked on nearly 2,000 doors, and received an answer about 50% of the time. That’s better than the results of door knocking across an entire district for a general election, he noted.
Carlson said primary campaigning is more of a conversation than a question-and-answer session. And that leads to a better sense of what’s on the minds of the voters, he explained.
Elkins said that reproductive freedom and gun violence protection were the most frequent issues raised during his primary campaigning. Carlson likewise heard a lot of concern about national issues, and the discussions focused on what Minnesota can do to address those concerns locally, he noted.
Both candidates have enjoyed their work in St. Paul, and weren’t interested in walking away. As new lines were drawn and legislators were paired in districts, an internal conversation began regarding what each legislator planned to do for 2023, according to Elkins.
In some cases, legislators move in order to continue serving in a district they have traditionally represented. Franzen was not interested in moving across the new district boundary to continue representing a comparable district, so that opened up a Senate seat that would represent Bloomington and Edina residents, Elkins noted.
Elkins, however, wanted no part of the Minnesota Senate, calling it a dysfunctional body. With the relationships he has forged in the Minnesota House of Representatives amongst colleagues on both sides of the aisle, “I can be more effective staying where I am,” he said.
Carlson, who is now a few blocks outside the boundary of the new district representing eastern Bloomington precincts, initially announced he would seek the new Senate District 50 seat that didn’t have a Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party incumbent. But he wasn’t the only Democrat interested in the seat.
Alice Mann, who served one term in the Minnesota House in 2018-19 as a south metro representative, announced her candidacy. Carlson’s respect for her work and her leadership as a woman of color led him to bow out of the Senate race. Not wanting to simply walk away, he chose to face Elkins instead.
With similar voting records, Carlson emphasized his priorities and efforts for the coming term, how the Legislature would make a difference in the lives of the voters in the next two years. In seeking support from voters in a district he hadn’t represented during the past six years, he lost to Elkins, who earned a little more than three of every five votes cast.
Carlson, 47, will now focus on helping DFL-endorsed candidates in their campaigns his fall. Beyond that, he doesn’t know what comes next, but he knows he has a career in politics ahead of him, and plans to stay involved and engaged in anticipation of his next opportunity.
For Beebe, knowing who her November opponent is does change her campaign a bit. While the primary candidates were similar, they do advocate and push for different things, and she has the benefit of knowing Elkins’ record better, as he has been the representative of her district, she explained.
Beyond representing her at the Minnesota House, she has worked directly with him in her role as a school board member, advocating for the needs of Bloomington Public Schools, she noted.
Beebe didn’t have a primary opponent, but she had already been meeting voters prior to the primary election. “Interaction with the community is important to me,” she said.
Public safety has been in the forefront of those conversations, as neighbors she seeks to represent in St. Paul have experienced crime in their backyards unlike anything they have known, she said.
Concerns about the economy are frequent, especially among retirees living on Social Security, according to Beebe. Seniors are concerned about meeting their cost of living, particularly with a lack of affordable housing, she noted. Health care costs and increasing rents are leaving seniors with fewer affordable options as inflation impacts overall expenses, she added.
Follow Bloomington community editor Mike Hanks on Twitter at @suncurrent and on Facebook at suncurrentcentral.