Defeated GOP ‘Override Six’ legislator Erhardt switching parties for comeback try

Longtime Republican state legislator Ron Erhardt is gearing up for a comeback, this time as a DFLer.

Erhardt, who for 18 years represented Edina as a moderate Republican in the Minnesota House, wrote to DFL activists over the weekend to say that he intends to seek DFL endorsement at the party’s March district convention.

The move means that Erhardt, a man in the middle, has moved across the party spectrum. For years, he was an automatic winner as a Republican. But when the party moved to the right, he was ousted within his own party, which bestowed endorsement on Keith Downey in 2008.

The final straw within Republican ranks also came in 2008, when Erhardt joined five other Republicans (the “Gang of Six”) in overriding Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s veto of a transportation bill that increased the state’s gasoline tax.

So, in an attempt to keep his office, Erhardt ran as an independent in the 2008 election. Downey won the three-way race with 36.7 percent of the vote (Erhardt had amassed 60 percent when winning in 2006). Erhardt finished second with 31.9 percent of the vote, and the DFL’s endorsed candidate, Kevin Staunton, came in third with 31.3 percent.

Ron Erhardt
Ron Erhardt

In an interview with MinnPost today, Erhardt admitted that he hasn’t been wildly embraced by at least some DFL activists in Edina, who appear to favor Staunton.

“I went to a meeting [of activists] last week,” Erhardt said. “I told them that I’ve been supporting many of their issues for a long time and I’m not afraid to raise taxes if we have to. And we probably do. I also told them I don’t think you can win with a conventional DFL candidate. I said this wasn’t a contest between Kevin and I. I said it’s about who is the best candidate to beat the incumbent. But this was a hard-core group. They were pretty silent.”

Erhardt is convinced that Downey does not represent most Edina Republicans.

“I think we have a guy who is out of whack with the district,” he said. “He’s born again. He’s anti-choice. He’s anti-gay. He’s for [school] vouchers. He’s whatever else fits in that hard-right category.”

Over the years, Erhardt did win a remarkable cross section of support for a Republican. He was endorsed by almost all pro-choice organizations. He was endorsed by such environmental organizations as the Sierra Club. He even won endorsements from several labor unions.

But all of that support irritated the most conservative Republicans in the district.

“They [the conservatives] were after me for years,” said Erhardt. “Then [in 2008] they all came out of the weeds. When I looked around [at the people at the Republican endorsing convention] I said to myself, ‘This is trouble.’ ”

After losing endorsement, Erhardt announced that he would run as a moderate independent, though he eventually gained the endorsement of the Independence Party.

If he can’t win endorsement from DFLers, he said he likely won’t run in a DFL primary.

“The only people who vote in primaries come from the fringes,” he said.

But if he fails to gain DFL endorsement, Erhardt said he might again try to regain his seat as an independent.

Erhardt, who won nine elections for the House, said he’s spoken personally with Staunton about dropping out of the race.

“I tried to explain that in a three-way race he can’t win, and in a two-way, he probably can’t win, either,” Erhardt said. “If I got DFL support and hold onto the ticket splitters, I would win.”

Staunton, he said, did not seem moved by Erhardt’s math.

Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.

Comments (8)

  1. Submitted by dan buechler on 01/19/2010 - 04:36 pm.

    Great story Mr. Grow you’ve been a busy man lately.

  2. Submitted by Ed Stych on 01/19/2010 - 06:35 pm.

    I’m trying to figure out Erhardt’s “born again” comment. I wonder how “Jewish” or “Catholic” would go over in his statement instead of “born again.” Not sure, but I think this shows one of Erhardt’s prejudices.

    I was happy to vote for Erhardt a few times, but I got more dissatisfied with him as he kept moving to the left, and I was thrilled to be able to vote last election for someone of such high quality … and someone as conservative … as Downey.

    This is all about Erhardt’s ego. He wants to win one more time to stick it in the GOP’s face.

    Staunton also is an excellent candidate. DFLers should be thrilled to have him on the ticket. I count him as a neighbor and a friend. But we also go to church together, so there’s a chance he might be “born again”!

  3. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 01/19/2010 - 09:58 pm.

    I wonder, if while watching the news tonight with his new Democrat friends, Mr. Erhardt didn’t feel a bit like the guy that bet his last buck on a horse that dropped dead at the gate while he was pocketing the ticket.

  4. Submitted by Roy Everson on 01/20/2010 - 01:08 am.

    Not that I am interested in helping the Indie Party, but isn’t this the type of candidate they should be recruiting for gov?

  5. Submitted by Fred Stabler on 01/20/2010 - 03:00 pm.

    Its laughable to see Erhardt’s plea for acceptance to the DFL party. As a moderate republican, I can only hope that the DFL does endorse Ron as it would virtually assure Keith Downey’s re-election. Ron continues to run the same playbook from 2008, trying to paint Keith as some right wing, evangelical Jerry Falwell, which does nothing but insults the intelligence of Edina voters. Ron is well aware that Edina has and remains a moderate republican district, which would NEVER elect a social conservative. Erhardt’s loss in 2008, should have been a case study for Martha Coakley. Just as Dems in Mass. took Kennedy’s seat for granted, so did Erhardt for many years. A small band of right wingers didn’t hi-jack ‘career politician’ Erhardt, but rather, He drifted left and the voters spoke. I’m looking forward to the debates this fall and watching a DFL endorsed Ron Erhardt look Edinans in the eye and telling them he’s going to raise your taxes. At least the elitism won’t be phony.

  6. Submitted by Mickie Turk on 01/20/2010 - 05:13 pm.

    Ron Erhardt is Edina! I am a democrat and I have voted for Ron when he ran as a moderate Republican, as an Independent in the last election, and I will vote for him again when he runs as democrat this time.

  7. Submitted by Laura Bowman on 01/20/2010 - 10:40 pm.

    My husband and a co-worker both recently received a letter from Ron Erhardt targeted at former DFL delegates. In it Erhardt tells a couple big whoppers.

    First, he says that he is the only DFL candidate who can defeat Keith Downey. Does he forget that in recent years, Obama, Klobuchar and Kerry have won in Edina? That we have a Democratic city council and mayor? The truth is ANY Democrat can beat Keith Downey in Edina – but only in a 2 way race. Kevin Staunton is a moderate Dem and could win this election easily, but if Erhardt would need to give up the ghost as a 3rd candidate for that to happen with any certainty.

    I am happy to see Mr. Erhardt seek the DFL endorsement but if he doesn’t get it and then runs again as an independent, he is nothing more than an egotistical spoiler and we will be at risk of the same outcome as last time. So much for his pitch that this is all about returning Edina to moderate representation. A run as an independent would say that this is all about Ron Erhardt. Again.

    Second, Erhardt says in his letter that his “seniority” means he is ensured a committee chairmanship. I’m guessing that would be news to the long-time senior Democrats already holding those positions. The truth is that Erhardt would be a newbie DFL representative with no claim on any chairmanship. That’s a fact and to say otherwise is a lie.

    Why is Erhardt messing with his legacy in this way? He had the respect of Edinans across the spectrum. But the lies and his waffling on whether or not he’ll run as an independent have given me cause to wonder.

  8. Submitted by Tom LaForce on 01/30/2010 - 07:52 pm.

    Anyone interested in continuing a discussion of this story can check out this new group on Facebook. It’s focused on Politics in Edina (P.I.E). http://bit.ly/cS40Lw

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