A state Senate special election between two former members of the Minnesota House allows voters an opportunity to compare more than promises. Voting records can be examined. We did, and it’s why we recommend DFLer Karla Bigham to voters in District 54.
It speaks well of the civic vitality of the southeast metro that well-qualified candidates emerged in both the DFL and Republican parties after DFL Sen. Dan Schoen stepped down Nov. 21 in the wake of sexual impropriety complaints. DFLer Bigham’s public service pedigree includes her current post on the Washington County Board, two state House terms and earlier service on the Cottage Grove City Council. Republican Denny McNamara of Hastings served seven House terms before stepping down in 2016.
Bigham’s House service overlapped with McNamara’s from 2007 to 2010. They differed on what may have been the most politically charged House vote in those years, the 2008 veto override that enacted a much-needed $6.6 billion transportation plan. That bill provided crucial funding for the rebuilding of the Hastings Bridge, a vital span for District 54 constituents. Bigham voted yes; McNamara voted no, declining to join six brave GOP House members who broke with Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
Facing a budget deficit in 2010, McNamara also stuck with Pawlenty to strip funding from a health care program that served the poorest of the poor, a veto this page opposed. Bigham voted to override the veto.
There’s more that commends Bigham, 38, a former paralegal with a master’s degree in public affairs. Years in city and county governments have given her expertise on a range of issues. She’s ready to contribute to the debate on the future of health care financing that’s bound to be a dominant issue in St. Paul during the three years remaining in the District 54 Senate term. By contrast, McNamara, 65, the former chair of the House Environment and Natural Resources Committee and a former landscape contractor, is exceedingly knowledgeable on environmental policy but less conversant on other topics. He was a leader in dismantling the citizens’ board of the state Pollution Control Agency in 2015 and in blocking the White Earth Nation’s acquisition of forested land owned by Potlatch in 2016, moves this page decried.
A third candidate, Emily Mellingen of the Libertarian Party, is also on the ballot. A nurse with no prior experience in elective office, Mellingen did not respond to the Editorial Board’s attempts to reach her last week.
Both Bigham and McNamara are waging vigorous campaigns. They deserve the reward of a strong voter turnout on Feb. 12. But Bigham’s record makes her our choice.