Minnesota’s Supreme Court didn’t buy Rep. Bob Barrett (R-Taylors Falls) argument that the sparsely furnished house he rented in House District 32B is where he really lived. The court says Barrett did not live in his district six months prior to this November’s election and is therefor ineligible to serve as the Representative from that district.
The order is the latest twist in a two year battle between Barrett and DFL activists who did surveillance to prove that he did not live in the rental house.
Last month, the court had directed Second Judicial District Judge George Stephenson to hold a hearing on the case. Stephenson found there is “clear and convincing evidence” that Barrett doesn’t live in 32B. Minnesota law requires legislative candidates to live in the district they want to represent for at least six months before Election Day. Barrett owns a home in Shafer which is outside 32B. However he claims to live in a house he rents in Taylor Falls, which is in 32B.
Judge Stephenson wrote that three people visited the Barrett’s Taylor Falls rental house a total of 30 times between July 4 and Aug. 1 and found little to suggest the home was occupied.
Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Lorie Gildea this morning issued an order that said the court agreed with Judge Stephenson and Barrett is ineligible. However, the request from the DFL activists to remove Barrett’s name from the ballot and allow the November election to proceed was denied. State law says if a candidate is ruled ineligible less than 79 days before the election, then the ballots won’t be counted and instead a special election will be held on February 14, 2017.
Laurie J. Warner is the DFL candidate. There are no other candidates listed on the ballot. The recently passed state election law says the Republican party can fill Barrett’s slot on the special election ballot no later than seven days after the November 8th election. The person the Republican party nominates would need to have established residency in 32B by August 14 — six months prior to the special election.
Warner ran against Barrett in 2014 and lost by more 11 percentage points despite the residency question that had been raised in the campaign.
Today’s court order did not specifically address if Barrett would be eligible for the special election. However, a statement from Barrett seemed to indicate he was not intending to run saying he would “miss serving the families of Chisago county as their elected representative.”
House Minority Leader Paul Thissen would like to see Barrett unseated if the legislature should happen to meet before January. A special session still remains a possibility this year. Governor Mark Dayton recently expressed that he would still like to sign a bonding and tax bill into law. Those bills died in the closing hours of the regular session. Dayton is meeting with House Speaker Kurt Daudt on Friday and the possibility of a special session is sure to be part of the discussion.
Attorney for the activists, Virginia Stark, had argued that the state law was unconstitutional because people’s ballots would not be counted and the people of 32B would be without representation for the at least the first six weeks of the legislative session.
Barrett said in a press release that he was “very disappointed” in the court’s decision. “No one, whether public official or private person should have to go through the privacy violations my family has endured over the last three years by Democratic activists trying to win the next election. These tactics included peeking in our bedroom windows, sitting in a car at the end of our street, and setting up spy cams to surveil me from which 800 photos were taken, not just of me, but also of our neighbors. As a former Democrat myself, I am ashamed for my former political party.”
Laurie Warner, the DFL candidate for 32B issues a statement:
“The people of District 32B deserve a representative who is present in their community and working hard on their behalf. 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.
I have been working hard to earn the support of voters in District 32B for the November election. I hope a special election can be called as soon as possible so the people of District 32B have the representation and strong voice they deserve in the Minnesota House.”
DFL party chair Ken Martin used today’s ruling to criticize the Minnesota Republican party. “Today’s Supreme Court ruling declaring Rep. Bob Barrett ineligible to run in House District 32B is just another example of Republican dysfunction as we head into the final weeks of this critical election” said Martin in a press release. “You’d think that after Democrat’s filed a challenge on this very issue in 2014 Rep. Barrett and the GOP would have cleaned this up, but clearly they decided it was just too much of a bother. You add this to their inability to get their presidential nominee on the ballot in a timely manner and you have to wonder what the heck is going on with the Minnesota Republican Party.
“Given these continued missteps, one has to wonder whether or not Minnesota Republicans are building the operation needed to win in November.”