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Kiffmeyer to challenge embattled Rep. Olson for Minnesota House seat

ST. PAUL (AP) - Former Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer said she's going to challenge Rep. Mark Olson, R-Big Lake, for the Republican endorsement for his seat in the state House of Representatives.

Olson was convicted last summer of a domestic assault charge against his wife, and has been expelled from the House Republican caucus by his fellow Republicans.

"We've got to move into the issues," Kiffmeyer, of Big Lake, told the St. Cloud Times. "We've got to get out of the other stuff. The district needs to move forward now and we're not doing that."

Republicans in District 16B are expected to endorse a candidate in early May. Republicans Mark Lumley of Becker and Corrine Gintz of Elk River have announced their candidacies for the seat, as have DFLers Steve Andrews of Big Lake and Bruno Gad of Clear Lake.

Kiffmeyer was elected secretary of state in 1998 and reelected in 2002, but lost a reelection bid in 2006 to DFLer Mark Ritchie. Her husband, Ralph Kiffmeyer, served a single term in the House representing the same area in the mid-1980s.

Olson was first elected to the House in 1992, and has never received less than 57 percent of the vote in his reelection bids. Just days after the 2006 election, he was accused of pushing his wife down three times during an argument. He was convicted of one misdemeanor charge and acquitted of another. He was placed on probation and ordered to pay almost $400 in fines and court costs.

Olson said he welcomed the competition, but held out the possibility that he would run as an independent if he's denied the Republican endorsement.

"It's an option I would consider," he said. "I think the party is losing its way."

He said his legal troubles and resulting loss of status in the House had not diminished his ability to represent the district, which includes Clear Lake, Becker, Big Lake and Zimmerman.

Kiffmeyer said she wasn't concerned that the presence of Olson and another Republican on the ballot would throw the seat to Democrats, considering the district's historically strong Republican tilt.