The man who gave Democrats their first legislative seat representing Edina in modern history is facing a re-election challenge from within the DFL.
Heather Edelson, a former child advocate with Hennepin County, is running for the DFL endorsement against 11-term incumbent and former Republican Ron Erhardt in House District 49A.
Edelson said she felt the “time is right” for her to make a move into politics, an arena in which she has no previous experience. “By all means I am a political outsider,” she said. “We all start somewhere. Ron didn’t start out with experience.”
Edelson, 34, called Erhardt to let him know of her decision.
Erhardt’s response was typically blunt. “I told her, ‘You’ve got to work your buns off over there,’ ” he said. “And I told her, ‘You’re going to have to raise one hundred thousand dollars. That’s how much it costs now in this district.’”
Erhardt, 86, is one of the most experienced members in the Minnesota Legislature. He served as Edina’s state representative for nine terms as a Republican, focusing on transportation, and joined a handful of other GOP legislators to override then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s veto of a transportation funding bill.
In 2008, he lost the party endorsement to the more conservative Keith Downey, who won the seat and is now chair of the Republican Party of Minnesota.
Erhardt said he came back as a DFLer because he was frustrated by being consistently relegated as a moderate Republican to “the back row” by caucus leadership. He won in 2012 and 2014.
He is known for his candor and his eccentricity. In May, when lawmakers were responding to outbreak of avian flu, he put on a lab coat and stethoscope and attempted a humorous speech on the House floor about the dangers of eating infected turkey. He later apologized.
Erhardt seems genuinely puzzled by Edelson’s challenge.
“When you want to run against an entrenched incumbent is when he’s doing something wrong,” he said. “Or when he’s a bad person. I’m doing good things and I’m a good person.”
Edelson acknowledges Erhardt’s accomplishments, but would go in a different direction, with a concentration on mental health services and disability advocacy guided by her own experience as the mother of special need twins.
Edelson said she plans to abide by the DFL endorsement, scheduled for the district convention in April. Erhardt dodged the question, saying, “It’s early in the game.”
On the Republican side, Dario Anselmo, who lost to Erhardt in 2014, will make a second run for the seat. It continues to be an important piece of political real estate for both parties.