2022 Minnesota Election Preview: The Legislature

Date: October 03, 2022

Voting has already begun in Minnesota, with control of every state-level office on the line in November. The four major constitutional offices – Governor, Attorney General, Auditor, Secretary of State – are on the ballot. So are all 201 seats in the Minnesota Legislature.

The NFIB Minnesota PAC made endorsements in many races this summer and fall

 Governor: Dr. Scott Jensen

Attorney General: Jim Schultz

Minnesota Legislature: 45 Senate Candidates, 79 House Candidates

The NFIB MN PAC endorsement is an important signal to voters across the state that a candidate will stand with small business. Learn more about the Power of the Small Business Voice.

See how incumbent candidates scored on the 2021-22 NFIB MN Voting Record. Find your polling place and candidates in your area at the Minnesota Voter Information Portal. And learn more about the 2022 Election at NFIB’s Elections Center.

In this edition of the 2022 Minnesota Elections Preview, we preview the races for control of the Minnesota Legislature.

Minnesota House of Representatives

The Minnesota House is currently controlled by Democrats, who hold a 4-seat edge (70 Democrats – 64 Republicans).

The House has flipped back and forth between Democrats and Republicans over the last two decades, with neither party in charge for longer than four years since 2006. Democrats are looking to break that streak by hanging on, while Republicans seek to recapture the chamber they lost in 2018’s Blue Wave.

At both the federal and state levels, midterm elections tend to go poorly for the party that controls the White House. That holds true for the Minnesota House, which is up for election every two years. In the past four midterm elections, the party which controls the White House has lost an average of 18 seats.

It remains to be seen whether that pattern will hold true this year, as control of the Minnesota House will likely come down to just a dozen or so races across the state. We highlight a few intriguing races here – including two that feature NFIB members!

(* = NFIB Endorsed)

HD 3A (NE Minnesota): Rep. Rob Ecklund (D-inc.) v. Roger Skraba* (R)

NFIB endorsed Ely Mayor Roger Skraba in this race. Skraba is a U.S. Army veteran and outdoor wilderness guide. He scored highly in the NIFB MN PAC candidate questionnaire and is committed to defending small business.

Ecklund, a former labor official from International Falls, was first elected in a 2015 special election. He was twice comfortably re-elected until a surprisingly close 4-point victory in 2020. Ecklund scored 25% on NFIB’s 2021-22 Voting Record. He voted against NFIB’s position on expensive employer mandates and a 70% gas tax increase.

Like much of the Iron Range and other blue-collar, rural areas around the country, this district has shifted toward Republicans in the last decade. President Obama here by 13 points in 2012, while President Trump won by 8 points in 2016 and 6 points in 2020.

HD 3B (Hermantown/NE Minnesota): Rep. Mary Murphy (D) v. Natalie Zeleznikar* (R)

Murphy, a retired teacher, was first elected in 1976 and is the longest serving current member of the Legislature. She scored 25% on the 2021-22 NFIB Voting Record, voting for new government mandates on small businesses and a major gas tax increase.

Zeleznikar, a director of long-term care facilities, is a first-time candidate. NFIB endorsed Zeleznikar, whose views align closely with NFIB values.

Like other 3A and other “Up North” districts, this seat has become more Republican in recent years. In 2012, President Obama won District 3B by 22 points, but it went for Democrats at the presidential level by much smaller margins in subsequent elections – 4 and 6 points.

HD 11A (Pine County/Carlton County): Pete Radosevich (D) v. Jeff Dotseth* (R)

NFIB endorsed realtor, small businessman, and longtime NFIB member Jeff Dotseth in this race. An open seat following the retirement of 5-term incumbent Mike Sundin (D), Dotseth has a strong chance to prevail in his third run for office.

Like District 3A, this seat has shifted toward Republicans in recent years. In 2012, President Obama won the 11A by 26 points. Subsequent Democratic presidential candidates won the district by much smaller margins: 1 point in 2016 and 0.7 points in 2020.

A Dotseth victory would make Senate District 11 an “all-NFIB District.” Incumbents Sen. Jason Rarick (R) and Rep. Nathan Nelson (R) are also members.

HD 36B (White Bear Lake/Vadnais Heights): Heidi Gunderson* (R) v. Brion Curran (D)

Another open seat, NFIB endorsed local small businesswoman and Vadnais Heights Mayor Heidi Gunderson in this contest. Gunderson is the president of Woody’s Rebar, a major supplier of the steel bars used in concrete and construction projects, and longtime member of NFIB.

With small business experience and a pragmatic track record as mayor, Gunderson hopes to win back suburban voters in this once solidly Republican area.

In contrast to Northeast Minnesota, this area has shifted toward Democrats in recent years. Mitt Romney won a similar seat by 5 points in 2012, but President Biden carried it by 8 points in 2020.

HD 47B (Woodbury): Kelly Fenton* (R) v. Ethan Cha (D)

A former two-term member of the Minnesota House, Fenton is running for this open seat against first-time candidate Ethan Cha.

Like other parts of the Twin Cities suburbs, Woodbury has shifted toward Democrats in recent elections. In 2012, Romney carried the district by 5 points. Biden won the seat by 18 points in 2020.

Fenton earned NFIB’s endorsement for her pro-small business track record as a legislator and candidate survey responses that align with NFIB member values. A former schoolteacher and longtime community volunteer, Fenton will test the durability of Democrats’ recent success in this high income, high education suburb.

Minnesota Senate

The Minnesota Senate is narrowly controlled by Republicans, who hold a 34 to 33 edge. Two Independent members – Sen. Tom Bakk (Cook) and the late Sen. David Tomassoni (Chisholm) – caucused with Republicans to give them a slightly wider advantage.

Between 1972 and 2016, the Minnesota Senate was controlled by Democrats for all but two years. Republicans flipped control of the chamber in 2016 and held on during a turbulent 2020 election.

Like the House, control of the Senate will come down to a few key districts – probably 10 or fewer. We discuss are some of the closely watched races below.

SD 3 (NE Minnesota): Andrea Zupancich* (R) v. Grant Hauschild (D)

Zupancich, the mayor of Babbitt, has a strong chance to become the first Republican elected to the Senate from this part of the state in decades. Since 1976, it’s been served by just two lawmakers: Iron Range legends Doug Johnson and Tom Bakk.

A realtor and member of the Zup’s Food Market family, she earned the NFIB endorsement with a strong commitment to small business values.

The story of this district is the same as the House seats within it – a significant shift toward Republicans on the Iron Range over the last six years.

Hauschild is a Hermantown City Council member and once ran for the North Dakota Legislature. Previously, he worked in the Obama Administration and as staff for former North Dakota U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp. Hauschild supports a single payer healthcare system.

SD 4 (Moorhead/Northwest MN): Rob Kupec (D) v. Dan Bohmer* (R)

NFIB endorsed pharmacist and U.S. Army Veteran Dan Bohmer. Prior to this campaign, Bohmer served on the Moorhead City Council for four years. Bohmer will have the back of small businesses in the Senate.

This is an open seat following the retirement of longtime moderate Sen. Kent Eken (D-Audubon). Like Northeast Minnesota, the areas outside of Moorhead have trended hard toward Republicans in recent elections.

Eken and Rep. Paul Marquart (D-Dilworth) faced close elections in 2020, and both are retiring this year.

Rep. Jim Joy, the mayor of Hawley and a small businessman, faces DFLer John Hest in House District 4B. NFIB endorsed Mr. Joy.

SD 7 (Iron Range): Rob Farnsworth* (R) v. Ben DeNucci (D)

This is an open seat following the passing of another Iron Range giant, Sen. David Tomassoni, who battled ALS for nearly two years before succumbing to the disease in August.

Tomassoni was widely regarded as the most congenial member of the Senate, which enabled him to remain a dealmaker even when his party was no longer in the majority.

NFIB MN PAC endorsed teacher and realtor Rob Farnsworth, who scored highly in his candidate questionnaire and is committed to protecting small business. Farnsworth, of Hibbing, lost a close race for state House in 2020 – just 30 votes – and has a strong chance of flipping this longtime DFL seat.

DeNucci is the former mayor of Nashwauk and owner of local grocery stores. He narrowly won a contested primary for the DFL nomination over Kim McLaughlin, who is running a write-in campaign for the seat.

SD 14 (St. Cloud): Sen. Aric Putnam (D) v. Rep. Tama Theis* (R)

Despite its rural surroundings, this St. Cloud-based seat has remained a swing district in recent years. A college professor, Sen. Aric Putnam was first elected in 2020.

Longtime State Rep. Tama Theis will try to reclaim this seat for Republicans. Theis was first elected to the House in a 2013 Special Election. In 2016 and 2018, she defeated Putnam for re-election to the House. A former residential contractor, Theis earned the NFIB endorsement with a 100% score on the 2021-22 Voting Record.

St. Cloud is expected to be one of the most competitive areas in the state this election. Both state House seats are in play and the area is a bellwether for other regional centers around Minnesota.

NFIB endorsed two small business candidates for House seats in this area: Bernie Perryman, owner of two local BatteriesPlusBulbs, in District 14A and Aaron Henning, owner of Val’s Rapid Serv in St. Cloud, in District 14B.

At the presidential level, former Pres. Trump won the area by 7 points in 2016 while President Biden carried it by 4 points in 2020.

SD 36 (Lino Lakes/Hugo): Sen. Roger Chamberlain* (R-inc.) v. Heather Gustafson (D)

Sen. Roger Chamberlain survived a tough re-election battle in 2020, in which Democrats and outside groups spent over $1 million attempting to defeat him. During his tenure in the Senate, Chamberlain has developed a consistently pro-small business record.

As the former Senate Tax Chair, Chamberlain was the architect of income tax cuts, Sec. 179 conformity, and other tax reform important to small business. He had a 100% NFIB Voting Record in 2021-22 and NFIB is strongly endorsing Chamberlain for re-election.

Chamberlain faces teacher Heather Gustafson in November. Gustafson is endorsed by the Teacher’s Union, SEIU, and other public sector unions.


For a look at even more legislative races, check out: The Minnesota legislative races to watch in 2022 | MinnPost.


Related Content: Small Business News | Minnesota

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