Skraba holds on in recount
by Tom Coombe
A recount appears to have affirmed Roger Skraba’s narrow victory and his election to Minnesota’s House of Representatives.
After another look at the ballots in all five counties of Minnesota House District 3A, the Ely mayor holds a 15-vote lead over State Rep. Rob Ecklund (D) in what was the state’s closest legislative race.
The results are expected to be certified Friday by the state’s canvassing board.
“There are some ballots sent to the canvassing board but they more than likely won’t change the results,” Skraba said Wednesday.
Skraba, a Republican, held a 15-vote edge when all the votes were counted in the Nov. 8 election.
On the night of the election, totals swung back and forth with Skraba ahead slightly in initial returns and Ecklund pulling ahead in the early-morning hours.
Totals from precincts in Itasca County, area that was added to 3A in redistricting after the latest census, tilted Republican and gave Skraba just enough votes to take the lead.
The result, which amounted to a fraction of a percentage point, prompted Ecklund to seek a state-funded recount as provided by law.
The incumbent conceded, however, that he wasn’t “holding my breath” that a recount would change the result.
Teams gathered in St. Louis, Lake, Cook, Koochiching and Itasca counties earlier this week.
St. Louis County had the most ballots and counting was held over two days, while the remaining counties all finished their counts in a single day, with Lake wrapping up Wednesday.
The recount is on track to give Skraba a seat in the legislature in his fourth run at office.
He ran in a DFL primary in 1994 and lost in 2002 in the general election as a member of the Independence party.
In 2015, Skraba lost as a Republican to Ecklund in a special election to fill a seat vacated by the death of longtime legislator David Dill (D).
The new legislative session begins in January, and though Skraba has already participated in meetings with the House Republican caucus, he was barred by the DFL-controlled House from attending an orientation session for new lawmakers. The recount was cited in blocking Skraba and another Representative-elect, Hermantown Republican Natalie Zeleznikar from participating.
Zeleznikar beat 30-plus-year incumbent Mary Murphy by 30 votes, but a recount was underway this week in that contest as well.
Presuming both Skraba and Zeleznikar are seated, Democrats will have a 70-64 House majority next year.
Skraba said the victory will allow him to begin getting ready for the transition, including apartment hunting in St. Paul.
“It’s a relief,” Skraba said. “Friday will be the real relief once there’s an election certificate, but it’s still a relief now.”
Ecklund issued a statement Wednesday night.
“Fighting for new jobs and economic opportunities, great schools, game, fish, and habitat, and the way of life we hold dear in northern Minnesota has been an honor of a lifetime. I’m proud of the work we’ve done to make historic investments in broadband access, deliver for our courageous military veterans, support workers on the job and help them and their families achieve economic security, fund parks and trails, and so much more.
“While I wish it turned out differently, the result of this recount doesn’t change my view that Minnesota’s elections system is the envy of the nation. We’re blessed to have free and fair elections in Minnesota, and recounts are one part of the process affirming the confidence and trust in the system. Thank you to the county election workers for their professionalism and dedication.
“I’m deeply grateful to have had the opportunity to serve our region and while I don’t immediately know what the future holds for me, I’ll certainly stay engaged with our community’s needs and what’s happening in Saint Paul.”
Ecklund told the Mesabi Tribune he conceded the race.
“I told him congratulations and good luck,” Ecklund said. “I feel okay. I talked to the speaker (of the House) this morning and was told nobody in the state put in more effort than I did. I personally knocked on 7,200 doors and my team knocked on 15,000. If I have to look back on it, I had a pretty successful career, but I lost on lies and B.S. and that’s really the sad part of what elections have become.”
“I’ve looked at some other opportunities,” Ecklund said. “I applied for IRRRB commissioner and we’ll see what happens with that. The Veterans Service Officer just retired in Koochiching County, so there may be an opportunity there as well. No matter what I am doing I will advocate for that as much as possible.”