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Last-minute legislative candidate: Only hours to decide to run

Greg Pariseau filed on the last day to run as a DFLer in the newly redistricted 38B.

Greg Pariseau

Each election cycle there are surprises when someone unexpected — or someone unknown — files to run for office on the last day of filing.

There’s always an interesting story behind those filings, as  party officials hustle to fill out the ballot. Will they mount a sacrificial lamb? Or someone who has a chance? How do they find these people? How do they convince them to run? Why, in heaven’s name, do they agree?

This year, one of those last-minute filers lives down the block from me. Greg Pariseau filed on the last day to run as a DFLer in the newly redistricted 38B.

Greg and I played football together in high school more than 40 years ago; his father’s company built our house in White Bear in the 1980s and I see Greg occasionally in passing around the neighborhood. I knew he was involved with school district issues and had worked to pass school levies in the past. But I didn’t know he had political ambitions.

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Apparently, he didn’t either, until June 4. That’s when DFL operatives, including another classmate, local DFLer Jim Berry — who’s run for the Legislature in the past — made the first recruiting contact.

GOP drama

District 38B had already had its share of drama, on the Republican side. Redistricting moved House Majority Leader Matt Dean of Dellwood into the same district with three-term Republican House member Carol McFarlane, who’d been on the White Bear school board previously. She’s been a popular legislator in the area, even amongst many DFLers.

The new district contains many of McFarlane’s old constituents in the White Bear, Hugo, Dellwood and North Oaks area, but Dean is considered a rising star in state Republican circles, and he won the party endorsement at the local convention. McFarlane wept after the vote and some wondered if she might challenge Dean in a primary. But she didn’t.

DFL maneuvers

On the DFL side, the party had already endorsed Adam Best to run against Dean. But Best decided after the convention that new job duties would keep him from running a credible campaign, so local party officials, including Berry and DFL honcho J.P. Barone and his wife, Ramsey County Commissioner Victoria Reinhardt, started going down the list of potential candidates, convinced that a credible candidate with White Bear ties might have a chance in the district against Dean, who lives on the far eastern edge in Dellwood.

Faced with the impending filing deadline, Berry described the process:

Do you spend the time finding the high quality candidate needed to actually be a viable public servant, or do you look for someone to fill the spot, campaigns with signs and shows up when the message needs to be stated? The latter is done to keep the opposition spending money campaigning in the district and not able to assist other races elsewhere.

“We actually talked to quality people that we will be keeping active and engaged for the future. Greg was asked right before filing closed. The reason we did not think of him earlier? Somehow, we had a block and his name just did not come up earlier.”

Reinhardt said that often when an unknown candidate files at the last minute, he or she is a sacrificial lamb. But Pariseau doesn’t fit that bill, she said.

“He’s going to mount a very good campaign,” she said. “He wants it, and that’s contagious.”

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She said that after coming up with his name, the DFL organizers were kicking themselves, thinking: Why didn’t we come up with his name right away?

“The reason Carol McFarlane was so appealing to White Bear Lake voters, including many Democrats, is because of her community spirit. And Greg has that, too,” Reinhardt said.

A surprise call

Pariseau said Monday that he was a bit surprised to get the call. He’d been a regular at party caucuses for the past 16 years, but this year a conflict kept him away. (It’s almost like the old joke about the person who doesn’t attend the meeting gets nominated for the job.)

But he’d heard that Best, the endorsed candidate, was well-spoken and knew the White Bear area, so he was planning to door knock and support the candidate. (Party officials hadn’t publicly announced that Best might drop out.)

Pariseau said he’d been approached in the past about possibly running for the state House, but had declined, not wanting to run against McFarlane.

“She’s Ms. White Bear,” he said of McFarlane. “She’s represented us quite well, Democrats and Republicans alike.”

And he’d worked with her when she was on the school board, on school issues related to his special-needs daughter. He’d always said he wouldn’t run against McFarlane, who, he says, “has a big smile and a large heart.”

On Sunday, June 3, Pariseau and his wife, dentist Mary Johnston, were barbecuing on their patio with Mary’s sister Cathy and their mother. The talk came around to politics and how it was a shame Carol McFarlane wasn’t running.

Cathy Johnston said to Pariseau: “You should run.”

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Pariseau said: “Wouldn’t that be fun?” But he reiterated his plan to work for the endorsed candidate.

(Pariseau almost wasn’t in town at all that week; he’d dropped out of a long-planned BWCA canoe trip with his college-aged son, Connor, to make room in the canoe for a friend’s son. Connor, though, did make the trip.)

On Monday, June 4, Pariseau saw an email at 7:30 p.m. from Berry, outlining the situation: endorsed candidate ready to withdrew, filing date tomorrow, new candidate needed.

Pariseau showed it to his wife, who said: “Go for it.”

So he called Berry about 8 p.m. and learned that the organizers had done a background check on him, found no arrests or convictions, and that they’d very much like to have him run.

Pariseau confirmed that the party regulars he knew from the past were on board with his candidacy.

He says he realized they had a list and were working their way through it, and had finally gotten down to him. But he told Berry that he might be interested, now that McFarlane wasn’t running. He wanted to sleep on it, though.

The next morning, June 5, the final day to file, he called Berry to say:

“All right. I’m in. I’ll be at the Capitol at 12:30.”

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He showed up, paid the $100 filing fee out of his own pocket, and met with state Rep. Erin Murphy, who works for the DFL caucus with new candidates. And party officials gave him a checklist of items for new candidates:

  • Hire a campaign manager.
  • Hire a campaign treasurer.
  • Fill out the Campaign Finance Board paperwork.
  • Etc.

Pariseau said he’s working his way down the list.

(His son, Connor, returned from the BWCA at the end of the week and went immediately to his girlfriend’s house without talking to his parents. The girl’s father asked what he thought of his dad running for office. Connor didn’t believe it, and had to text his mom to be sure it was true. His mom texted back: “A lot has happened while you were gone.”)

Pariseau has already made 30 large campaign signs and has 30 big buttons. They’re orange and black, the White Bear High School colors, to emphasize his roots in the city and the school district. Lawn signs have been ordered.

Rookie candidate

Although he admits to little formal political experience, Pariseau said he has worked to help pass school levies in the district, and has door-knocked for local candidates before.

He has an accounting degree from the University of St. Thomas and worked for his dad’s construction firm and an accounting software firm. For the past 19 years, though, he’s spent much of his time taking care of the children while his wife pursues her dentistry practice.

He says a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease hasn’t slowed him; it’s manageable and he walked the entire route of the White Bear Manitou Days parade Friday night, shaking hands and greeting folks on both sides of the street.

“When it was over, I was ready to walk the route all over again. I’m feeling great,” he said.