Senate District 54 Prepares for its Special Election

Nathan Bixby

The Minnesota Senate District 54 special election is set to take place in the coming week. This state senate race is proving to be different than the typical race because there are three candidates, from three different parties, that have a legitimate chance to win the election. The three candidates remaining are Democrat Karla Bigham, Libertarian Emily Mellingen, and Republican Denny McNamara. The three are vying to replace former Democratic Senator Dan Schoen. This past November, Schoen resigned from his position as state senator due to charges of sexual harassment. 

The black sheep of the upcoming special election, Emily Mellingen, looks to Tuesday’s special election as a chance to put both herself and her party on the political map. Unlike the other two candidates, Mellingen has never held public office. Running as a Libertarian, Mellingen is looking to dispel the notion that experience and being a member of a major political party are two of the necessary precursors to becoming a state senator. Mellingen views her unique political background as a strength. On her website, Mellingen cites the rising ire towards establishment politics as a primary reason for voters to consider her in Tuesday’s election.

The second candidate for Tuesday’s special election is Democrat Karla Bigham, who filed to run for the vacant seat on January 8th this year. Bigham was unchallenged in the DFL Primaries. Bigham’s most notable accomplishment as a politician is the time she spent as a member of the Minnesota House of Representatives from 2007 to 2011. Throughout her time as a representative, Bigham’s voting pattern strictly followed much of the mainstream Democrat agenda. One of the more contentious issues that Bigham voted on during her time as a state representative was abortion. In 2009, Bigham voted for state-funded abortion. The primary issue that Bigham is running on is the issue of infrastructure within the city of Hastings, MN. On her website, Bigham talks about the poor quality of the old Hastings Bridge and how it is important that the district act quickly and build a new bridge before a potential disaster occurs.  

The final candidate in the special election lifetime district 54 resident and longtime small business owner Republican Kenny McNamara. McNamara’s most notable previous position in public office includes his time as a member of the Minnesota House of Representatives. McNamara first held office in 2002 and was reelected for several consecutive terms. After a 14-year run as representative of District 54B, McNamara decided to not seek re-election in 2016. McNamara states that, “the special circumstances in Senate District 54 have compelled me to reconsider [public office].” One of the primary issues that McNamara hopes to tackle as state senator are taxation and balancing the state budget. In 2013, McNamara received a score of 85% from the Taxpayer’s League of Minnesota, an organization that grades representatives on their effort to balance the state’s budget. 

Earlier this week, in a final attempt to rally support before the election, Republican candidate Denny McNamara and Democratic candidate Karla Bigham (Libertarian candidate Mellingen declined to respond) answered various questions from the Hastings Star-Gazette concerning various issues about the upcoming special election. Of all the questions that the candidates answered, they found the most disagreement on the issue of healthcare. While both agree that healthcare currently costs too much, McNamara believes that the problem could be solved by opening the market and creating competition while Bigham believes that healthcare should be viewed as a universal right. Regardless of the result of Tuesday’s special election, the winner will undoubtedly have an impact on Minnesota’s political landscape for the foreseeable future.