By FREDERICK MELO | firstname.lastname@example.org | Pioneer Press
PUBLISHED: March 10, 2018 at 8:10 pm | UPDATED:
State Rep. John Lesch handily won the endorsement of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party for re-election on Saturday after a single ballot, and his former legislative aide Jay Xiong earned the party endorsement for the House District 67B seat representing St. Paul’s East Side. Assuming they face no significant opposition during the August primary, both men will appear on the ballot this November.
In and around St. Paul, party delegates gathered Saturday to endorse candidates for state legislative seats and
the Ramsey County Board of Commissioners.
Longstanding County Commissioner Janice Rettman faced well-organized endorsement challenges from military veteran Trista MatasCastillo, a legislative aide to County Commissioner Blake Huffman, and Jennifer Nguyen Moore, a North End resident and recycling coordinator for the city of Bloomington. The three DFLers brought out supporters to Roseville Area High School, where a busy endorsing convention began around 4 p.m. Saturday. The District 3 seat represents multiple neighborhoods in St. Paul, as well as Falcon Heights.
MatasCastillo earned 66.27 percent of the vote on the second ballot, winning the endorsement over Rettman (18 percent) and Nguyen Moore (14.9 percent).
A race nevertheless appears likely. Before the vote was cast, Nguyen Moore had agreed to abide by the party endorsement, but Rettman did not.
“I really think people were responding to the fresh energy and new ideas,” said MatasCastillo, who garnered endorsements from St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter and other elected officials.
“Also, someone who had concrete ideas and proven leadership,” she added. “We started this in October and have run this like a machine.”
Lesch, who in his eighth term, faced a challenge from a familiar face — attorney and state employee Alissa Harrington, who spent several years in the Minnesota House as a legislative assistant and constituent services specialist. Harrington had sought the House District 66B seat representing Como Park and the northern corners of St. Paul around Interstate 35E up to the Maplewood border, but her campaign was temporarily put on hold in late February, the same day it was announced, following the unexpected death of her brother.
Conceding the endorsement after the first ballot, Harrington asked the audience to unite behind Lesch. “You worked your tail off under difficult circumstances for your family,” said Lesch, who told the party to embrace internal political contests. “We need to support anyone who … challenges us.”
At Harding High School, Xiong earned the party endorsement for the House District 67B seat after three ballots. He held a commanding lead each time, with 52 percent of the vote out of four candidates in the first ballot and 65 percent in the last. In their concession speeches, fellow candidate John Slade had asked the audience to support Grant Stevensen and candidate Shoua Yang had called for no endorsement, without indicating whether he would abandon his campaign entirely. Stevensen — a minister backed by TakeAction Minnesota, and the last candidate to concede — backed Xiong.
He will fill the seat held by state Rep. Sheldon Johnson, DFL-St. Paul, who chose not to run for re-election after nine terms. Johnson and at least 18 current and former elected officials had endorsed Xiong.
Candidates Shirley Erstad, Amy Ireland and Mitra Nelson will vie for DFL support on April 28 at a special endorsing convention for the Ward 4 seat on the St. Paul City Council. The seat had been held by Russ Stark, who recently resigned to work for the mayor’s office.