3A House seat to be filled Tuesday

by Tom Coombe

A relatively quiet campaign for the Ely area’s seat in the Minnesota House of Representatives is about to reach its climax.
Voters will go to the polls Tuesday in Ely, the surrounding area and a vast district that extends north and west to International Falls, east to Lake Superior’s North Shore and south to a township near Duluth .
That’s when a special election will be held for the House 3A seat last held by the late David Dill.
Three contenders - DFLer Rob Ecklund, independent Kelsey Johnson and Republican Roger Skraba of Ely - are on the ballot.
Polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m.., with the winner filling the final year of Dill’s term in the Minnesota House.
While a four-way DFL primary won by Ecklund garnered much attention locally and even statewide, the general election campaign has been almost silent in comparison.
All three candidates appeared in Ely at a candidates’ forum in late-November, agreeing on many issues but setting themselves apart on matters ranging from taxation and how to spur economic development in the region.
The seat has been in DFL hands for decades, and Ecklund, a Koochiching County commissioner from International Falls, is widely considered the favorite in Tuesday’s race.
He rode overwhelming margins in his home area and performed well enough elsewhere in the district to defeat Tofte’s Bill Hansen, Elyite Heidi Omerza and fellow International Falls native Eric Johnson in a primary campaign in which copper-nickel mining took center stage.
During the Ely forum, Ecklund, Skraba and Johnson all voiced support for proposed copper-nickel mining projects.
Looking to pull the upset Tuesday is Skraba, who previously served two stints as Ely’s mayor and spent several years as a city council member. He also twice ran unsuccessfully for the House seat, as a Democrat in 1994 and as the Independence Party nominee in 2002.
Johnson adds a wildcard to the race. The native of Gnesen Township near Duluth has worked as a lobbyist and legislative aide in St. Paul, and gained access to the ballot with a successful petition drive during the summer.
Dill passed away in August from complications of cancer and diabetes. He represented the district for 12 years.
The winner of this week’s race will serve in the House during the upcoming legislative session but won’t have much time to get settled in. The seat will also be up for grabs in the 2016 election.