ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota Democrats won a lifeline Tuesday in their effort to hang on to a Duluth-area legislative seat after a disgraced Democratic lawmaker dropped his re-election bid.
The Minnesota Supreme Court granted the party’s request to have Rep. Kerry Gauthier’s name scrubbed from the ballot and replaced with another Democratic candidate. Gauthier quit his re-election race after having a sexual encounter with a 17-year-old boy.
The ruling relieves Democrats of having to resort to a write-in effort to preserve a reliable seat as they try to retake the majority in the Minnesota House. The party sued after state and local election officials refused to make the substitution, with each citing the lack of clear authority.
Gauthier will be replaced by Erik Simonson, a Duluth assistant fire chief. He faces Republican Travis Silvers, who works in the construction industry and ran unsuccessfully for the seat two years ago.
Minnesota Democratic Party Chairman Ken Martin said the ruling was essential to ensure a fair election.
“We are glad to learn that the Minnesota Supreme Court agrees that Duluth voters should have a chance to choose between the endorsed candidates of the major parties — a choice that Minnesotans in every other district in the state will have on Election Day,” Martin said.
Republican Party Chairman Pat Shortridge said the ruling “seems to be another case of judicial overreach and making things up out of thin air where no authority exists in statute.”
In a statement, Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said his office “is ready to support St. Louis County as they implement this order.”
The order, signed by Chief Justice Lorie Gildea, doesn’t offer the court’s reasoning. The court plans to issue a fuller opinion later but said it wanted to expedite the ruling to preserve an orderly election process.
Minnesota law has a process for replacing candidates for statewide offices, such as governor. But that law is essentially silent when it comes to legislative elections.
Democrats had argued that leaving Gauthier’s name on the ballot would create confusion since he is no longer running. Republicans opposed the late switch.
Gauthier stepped aside under pressure after admitting to the encounter with the boy at a highway rest stop after advertising on Craigslist for a “no strings attached” sexual meeting. He didn’t resign his seat, though his term expires in January.
Democrats need to gain at least six House seats to take control of the 134-member chamber. The 67-seat Senate, also controlled by Republicans, is up for grabs as well.
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