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Jurgens tops Slaten in House District 54B

Tony Jurgens (center) looks over early election returns Tuesday night with his daughter Tori and retiring Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings. Jurgens, a Cottage Grove Republican, beat DFLer Don Slaten of Hastings. (Bulletin photo by Scott Wente)1 / 2
Don Slaten checks on election results early Tuesday evening at Democrats' gathering at River Oaks Golf Course in Cottage Grove. Slaten, a Hastings Democrat, was running against Tony Jurgens for Minnesota House District 54B. (Bulletin photo by Scott Wente)2 / 2

After an expensive legislative battle that turned negative against the candidates’ pleas, Tony Jurgens is set to replace Denny McNamara in the Minnesota House.

Jurgens, a Cottage Grove Republican, beat Democrat Don Slaten of Hastings 55-45 percent in the Nov. 8 House 54B election, the district’s first open race since 2002.

Jurgens garnered 11,958 votes to 9,633 for Slaten, according to unofficial results.

Jurgens said he was surprised by his victory margin.

“I was very humbled by the support I got from the voters,” Jurgens said.

In his first bid for elected office, Jurgens had campaigned on his longtime volunteerism in Cottage Grove and Hastings. He pledged to work with both Republicans and Democrats, claiming friendships on both sides of the aisle.

Jurgens will join the House majority. He said a Legislature in GOP control is an opportunity to work on some of the big issues of the campaign, including health care costs.

The race between Jurgens and Slaten was an unusually expensive battle, though not necessarily by the candidates. Political parties and outside groups poured at least $340,000 into the race, swamping voters with direct mail, cable TV spots and online ads.

Jurgens and Slaten denounced the attack ads, each claiming he was not responsible for any negative ads against his opponent.

Jurgens said those ads were difficult for his family.

“I wish that the race hadn’t gone that way,” he said.

The open race was targeted as both parties eyed control of the Legislature.

Traditionally a safe Republican seat, District 54B gained attention after McNamara, R-Hastings, announced on the last day of the candidate filing period that he would not seek re-election, and he tapped Jurgens to run to replace him. The last-minute maneuver prevented a GOP primary and set up the Jurgens-Slaten contest. Early on, Slaten said his chances improved with McNamara’s retirement.

This was Slaten’s second shot at the District 54B seat. He lost to McNamara in 2014. Slaten campaigned on the need for more transportation funding, a statewide public works construction package and water quality protection.

House District 54B includes the eastern half of Cottage Grove, Denmark Township, Afton, Hastings and Nininger Township.

Jurgens said he is “very appreciative of the results and (is) just looking forward to working on behalf of the citizens of District 54B.”

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

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