Court: Minnesota lawmaker doesn’t live in district, can’t run in November
ST. PAUL -- State Rep. Bob Barrett doesn't live in the legislative district he's elected to represent, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled Thursday. That makes Barrett an ineligible candidate for this November's election -- and pre-emptively nullif...
ST. PAUL -- State Rep. Bob Barrett doesn’t live in the legislative district he’s elected to represent, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
That makes Barrett an ineligible candidate for this November’s election - and pre-emptively nullifies the vote in Barrett’s District 32B. That’s because Barrett was found to be ineligible less than 80 days before the Nov. 8 election. Under a 2015 law, if a legislative candidate is tossed off the ballot this late, the seat will be filled in a February special election.
In a statement, Barrett said he was “very disappointed with today’s decision.” The three-term lawmaker indicated he wouldn’t run in the February election.
“I will very much miss serving the families of Chisago County as their elected representative and I am hoping our family’s privacy can be re-gained which is worth more to us than holding elected office,” Barrett said.
Barrett lists his formal address as a rental home in Taylors Falls, which is in District 32B. But he also owns a home in Shafer, just outside his district. Activists visited his Taylor Falls house 30 times over 15 days this summer and set up a trail camera to try to prove Barrett doesn’t actually live in the home.
They found little evidence the home was used, and that convinced District Judge George Stevenson to find Barrett didn’t live in District 32B. Barrett appealed to the Minnesota Supreme Court, but the justices declined to overturn Stevenson’s findings.
barrett’s name on ballot
The Supreme Court did, however, reject an argument from the plaintiffs that the November election should go forward without Barrett’s name on the ballot. That would have left just Democratic-Farmer-Labor candidate Laurie Warner and a write-in spot for voters in the northeast suburban district.
Warner issued a statement saying electors “deserve a representative who is present in their community” but expressed regret for the February special election.
“The saddest part of this situation is that when the legislative session begins in January the people of District 32B will not have a state representative,” Warner said.
The court found no reason to overturn the state law providing for a special election when a candidate is declared ineligible within 80 days of an election. In testimony Tuesday, justices were skeptical of the plaintiffs’ argument.
While both Barrett’s and Warner’s names will appear on November ballots, the results from that race will not be certified and voters in District 32B will actually pick their state representative on Feb. 14. The seat will remain vacant until then, with potentially major implications since control over the House of Representatives is being fiercely contested in November’s elections. The next session of the Legislature will begin on Jan. 3 with at least one of its 134 seats vacant.
The Feb. 14 election won’t follow the normal rules for filling vacancies in the Legislature. Unlike cases where a lawmaker dies or resigns, candidates won’t file nominating petitions and won’t compete in a primary.
Instead, all the candidates who would have been on the November ballot except for Barrett - in this case, just Warner - will automatically appear on the February ballot.
The state Republican Party gets to appoint a replacement candidate to fill Barrett’s spot on the ballot no later than seven days after Nov. 8.
Peter Bartz-Gallagher, a spokesman for the Minnesota Secretary of State’s office, said there’s no law prohibiting the Republicans from appointing Barrett for the vacancy, though the normal residency requirement would still apply.
District 32B has been Republican-leaning in past elections.
Although Barrett’s first election in the current district, in which he beat a former DFL lawmaker, was close, he beat Warner handily in last election.
The district, like all Minnesota legislative districts, was drawn anew in 2012 based on new census population figures. Barrett was originally elected in 2010 to represent a district that included both Shafer and Taylors Falls. He filed to run in District 32B in 2012 after redistricting.
The February special election, however, will likely have lower turnout than the general election in November, which gives Democrats hope they could take the seat.
House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said Thursday that he has not yet begun recruiting candidates to run in the District 32B special election but has heard of a few potential candidates.
House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, criticized the law setting up a February special election for cases where a candidate is removed from the ballot. That law and Barrett’s actions, Thissen said, “are depriving voters of their state representative in the Minnesota House.”
Both Thissen and Daudt have said the Legislature should revisit the law governing ineligible candidates so it can’t be used as a political tool.
The Supreme Court’s order Thursday did not include a detailed rationale for its case. Because of the time-sensitive nature of the case, justices issued the order this week and will follow up with a more thorough opinion.
Rachel E. Stassen-Berger contributed to this report.