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Moe won't seek re-election in 4A

House 4A Democrats who came to Walker on Saturday to endorse Assistant House Majority Leader Frank Moe for a third term instead found themselves scrambling to field a candidate.

House 4A Democrats who came to Walker on Saturday to endorse Assistant House Majority Leader Frank Moe for a third term instead found themselves scrambling to field a candidate.

Moe, DFL-Bemidji, had his name placed in nomination and several seconding speeches were made, including from his wife, Sherri. But when Moe took the podium, the mood changed.

He told delegates that he would not seek re-election, and that it was a decision he had pondered for quite a while but decided Friday night to make it official. Simply put, he told the Bemidji Pioneer that he wanted time with his family -- his wife, Sherri.

Moe said he didn't know if he should announce now, or at the end of the legislative session, which is the normal time lawmakers announce their intention.

"Just last night (Friday) I thought I can't go and ask the Senate district for the endorsement, knowing in my heart that I wasn't really going to run for office," Moe said in an interview. "That wasn't honest, and I didn't feel like I could do it."

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Moe said he contacted key legislators of his decision prior to Saturday's endorsing convention.

"Frank Moe has worked very hard for the people of Bemidji and across his district," House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, said Saturday night. "Legislators from both parties respect his leadership on conservation issues and the outdoors."

Kelliher added that "while serving in the Legislature requires a lot of time and sacrifice, I know his constituents appreciate his high quality of service. I wish him well and hope that he is able to some day return to public service."

Moe was first elected in 2004, beating three-term incumbent Rep. Doug Fuller, R-Bemidji, in a hard-fought and expensive campaign. He still served in the minority, but won re-election handily in 2006 with Democrats regaining control of the House.

The last year and a half, Moe has served the DFL Caucus as assistant majority leader, playing a key role in mustering floor votes to send a constitutional amendment question dedicating additional state sales tax to the outdoors and cultural programs to the November ballot.

Most recently, Gov. Tim Pawlenty was in Bemidji to do a mock billing signing for a capital investment bill that includes $20 million for a Bemidji Regional Events Center.

"It's growing increasingly difficult for Sherri and me, with me being away all week for months at a time," Moe said. "Many of the goals that I set out to do four years ago have been accomplished and I guess I want to take my marriage off the back burner."

The couple lives between Cass Lake and Bemidji, and Sherri Moe runs a floral shop in Walker which they purchased a year ago. Frank Moe also runs sled dogs, which Sherri handles during the week while her husband is in St. Paul.

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"I've been thinking about it for quite a long time," he said.

Helping spur the decision, Moe, an outdoor recreation instructor at Bemidji State University, said, was notice last week of his acceptance into the Bush Fellowship program, allowing him to study at the University of Minnesota.

"It's 18 months of a living stipend, and I'll pay my tuition travel," he said. "I'll finish my Ph.D. ... I was working on it before I ran for office ... I need to do my written exam and finish my dissertation."

He plans a doctorate in education, with an emphasis on recreation, parks and use studies.

"I'm not shutting the door on a political career," Moe said. "I just need to take some time now to be at home. We bought a business last year, and Sherri's running that on her own. It's hard for her. And we've got a lot of dogs at home. That can be pretty challenging for her, too."

The move sets up an open seat, and Senate 4 Democrats -- which met Saturday as House 4A and House 4B -- will now seek a replacement, said Pam McCrory, who was elected Saturday as Senate 4 DFL chairwoman.

The Senate 4 DFL Executive Committee will work immediately to establish a search committee for a candidate, she said Saturday night. "We'll certainly invite as many people who want to serve on that search committee that are interested."

Timing is crucial, as the State DFL Convention in early June kicks off the summer campaign season. "We don't actually have any names right now, but I'm sure there will be people who will be calling," McCrory said of prospective candidates. "We don't have a timetable today, because it was kind of a bit of news to everybody."

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McCrory said that "while we will miss the wonderful work of Rep. Moe, I am happy for him in his decision, and know that we will still be able to count on his guidance and leadership."

Delegates voted to table an endorsement until candidates are found, she said. "We'll certainly move forward quickly, though, and get the word out."

Whomever the DFL does field, a candidate is waiting to return the seat to the GOP. Tony Williams of Bemidji, heir apparent to the Republican 4A endorsement, based on his strong reception at a Bemidji fundraiser last month, said his campaign will remain the same even with Moe out.

"There's still going to be a lot of hard work ahead," said Williams Saturday night. "I'm an unknown person, and to win the election I'm still going to go out and meet with people. I'm going to need to knock on doors and introduce myself on a personal level to every single person in the district."

Williams, new to partisan politics, said he hopes the DFL fields a candidate that can debate the issues of importance to House 4A without the partisanship battles seen in St. Paul.

"With Frank Moe stepping aside, I just hope that the people of our district can set aside the partisan politics and vote for candidates that hold true to the values and principles that are in their hearts," Williams said, "regardless of their party. Democrats or Republicans, we all believe in certain values and principles."

The Republican newcomer says he would have liked to debate Moe on the issues during the campaign. "I applaud Rep. Moe for his dedication to the people of our district, and appreciate his service to our community."

While McCrory didn't offer any prospective DFL names, a short survey found two names that floated up as potential candidates -- John Persell, a Beltrami Soil and Water Conservation District supervisor, and Irene Folstrom, a Leech Lake enrollee who is an attorney in the Red Lake Tribal Courts system.

Persell has sought the House 4A DFL endorsement twice, while Folstrom ran for the Senate 4 seat with the endorsement going to Mary Olson of Bemidji, who then unseated a Republican incumbent.

Moe, in retrospect, said he felt he had accomplished a lot for the district, especially on environmental issues.

"We were the first state in the United States to pass legislation that protected native species from genetic contamination," he said, referring to bills he carried to protect native wild rice from being genetically altered. "It was the first of its kind in the United States, and that's a pretty important achievement."

He also cited the outdoor amendment, sending dedicated funding to the ballot. "This November Minnesotans will have the opportunity to vote to raise the sales tax to dedicate almost $300 million a year to natural resources, and that's something I spent a lot of time on."

And he believes Bemidji has been quite successful in gaining capital bonding funds, securing $3 million for events center studies while the House was still in GOP hands.

"But it's really the smaller deals that make the job rich," Moe said, citing one instance where he helped someone get MinnesotaCare coverage despite an administrative challenge, or in getting Cass Lake $100,000 in Local Government Aid when the regular formula drastically cut LGA.

"I'm just hopeful that some people, capable people who are in it for the right reasons, step forward and accept the challenge," Moe said. "It's really who has the time and energy to go down and work hardest for our district. That's the person we need."

House 4B

None of the drama was seen in the House 4B Democrat endorsement, as delegates unanimously endorsed the only candidate -- Meg Bye of Pequot Lakes and Loon Lake Township.

Bye, new to the district, but with a long career in Duluth as a city councilor and the city's human rights director, will face Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker, who will be seeking his sixth term.

"Our district needs leadership", said Bye. "Our area's needs are changing and growing, and we need a representative that will actively listen and vigorously work for you to address those needs."

Bye was nominated by her son, Dan Bye, and seconded by Sen. Olson.

"I want to be a champion for your issues, I want to work for you," said Bye, who received a standing ovation.

There were 69 delegates, with both House districts meeting as one Senate 4 convention. Aside from McCrory being elected chairwoman, Roger Grussing of Cass County was elected associate chairman, Shirley Frederick of Cass County re-elected as secretary, Mike Albrecht of Beltrami County as treasurer and Delina White from Itasca County as affirmative action officer.

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