DFL candidates emerge in special election for suburban House seat

By: - September 12, 2023 7:00 am

From left to right: Jay Miller, Cynthia Callais and Carl Yaeger. Courtesy photos.

Three DFL candidates have announced their intention to run for the House seat of former Rep. Ruth Richardson, DFL-Mendota Heights, about a week after the lawmaker announced her resignation to focus on her executive role at Planned Parenthood North Central States.

The east metro suburban House seat encompasses Mendota, Mendota Heights and a majority of Eagan. On Monday, Gov. Tim Walz announced that the special election will be on Dec. 5. 

The person who wins the special election must be sworn in by the start of the 2024 session — Feb. 12. A primary election will be held on Nov. 16, nine days after Election Day on Nov. 7, when many communities will vote for school board and other local government posts. 

Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon said he would like to allow voters as much time as possible to submit their absentee ballots, but he acknowledged the short timeline due to the need for a primary, as well as the upcoming holiday season. 

No Republicans to date have announced their intention to run. The district is a safe DFL seat, but Republicans will likely have at least one candidate. Richardson’s Republican challenger in 2020 and 2022 — Cynthia Lonnquist — could give it another shot; she lost to Richardson by over 23 points last year.

Three DFL candidates have emerged to date, each saying they are ready to continue Richardson’s work in the House. Candidates have between Sept. 13 and Sept. 19 to file their application. Here are the people who have announced their intention to run: 

Jay Miller 

Miller, 46, has five jobs: special education teacher, girl’s soccer coach, assistant track and field coach, Mendota Heights Fire Department captain and Mendota Height City Council member. Although he’s busy with his jobs and young children, Miller said he’s excited to run for state House.

“These five jobs, I believe, have given me a unique perspective. I’ve got a pulse on the community, and I understand the diverse perspectives that encompass our area,” Miller said.

Miller said he is passionate about three issues: education, the environment and public safety.

Miller said Richardson called him and asked if he would be interested in running for her seat. He said he wants to take the next step and promised he would be easily accessible to his constituents and an authentic lawmaker.

“There are politicians out there that can walk and chew gum at the same time and are real people,” he said. His campaign, which includes five staffers, said they are expecting to announce DFL endorsements sometime this week.

Cynthia Callais

Callais, 27, has already secured endorsements from multiple current and former DFL lawmakers, including Sen. John Hoffman of Champlin, Sen. Lindsey Port and Rep. Jessica Hanson — both of Burnsville.

Callais served as a DFL legislative aide in the state Senate and has campaigned for DFL senators in the past. Callais now works as a lobbyist for the nonprofit Minnesota Brain Injury Alliance. As a nonprofit, the Minnesota Brain Injury Alliance doesn’t endorse political candidates. 

Callais grew up in foster care, and she said she’s seen firsthand how the government can work for people — or against them.

“I believe in the kind of politics that puts people at the center of everything you do, which is how I believe you make progress,” she said.

Callais’ top issues are reproductive rights and disability justice.

In 2021, Callais accused a Senate DFL staffer of sexual harassment. Then-Senate Minority Leader Susan Kent was criticized for the handling of Callais’ complaint. An investigation later found that the Senate’s sexual harassment policy wasn’t property enforced and lacked clarity.

“Being a survivor is part of my identity, and I believe that politics is a place that needs to be transformed,” Callais said.

Carl Yaeger 

Yaeger, 21, is a senior at Drake University and is an editor at the college’s satirical newspaper. He said he’s wanted to run for office for a while, and sees Richardson’s resignation as an opportunity.

Yaeger is a member of his local DFL central committee and was a campaign assistant for current Rep. Liz Reyer, DFL-Eagan. He is running because he believes it’s important to get young people elected to state office. 

Yaeger also has autism, and he believes there should be more openly autistic legislators.

“By the virtue of what autism is, we generally bring new perspectives and look at problems in a way that I think is valuable,” Yaeger said.

He said he’s most passionate about education and labor, and he’s interested in how those two issues interact with disability rights. Yaeger said if he were elected, he would suspend his education at Drake University.

Yaeger said he would work with other lawmakers to enact single-payer health care. He said many people feel trapped in their jobs and can’t leave because they receive health care benefits from their employer.

“One of the greatest things I think we could do for workers and in particular small businesses is to separate health care from employment. I know there are a bunch of champions for that in the Legislature, and I’m excited to work with them to make that happen,” Yaeger said.

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Michelle Griffith
Michelle Griffith

Michelle Griffith covers Minnesota politics and policy for the Reformer, with a focus on marginalized communities. Most recently she was a reporter with The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead in North Dakota where she covered state and local government and Indigenous issues.

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