Another state Senate retirement could put seat in play

UPDATED 1 p.m. with Jerry Newton comments

Another Democratic-held Senate seat could be more competitive after the incumbent announced she wouldn’t seek a new term in November.

Sen. Alice Johnson of Blaine said Wednesday that she would retire after a single Senate term, which was a second act in politics following a long run in the state House that ended more than a decade earlier.

Johnson turned 75 last week.

“When I was elected in 2012, I promised to serve for four years and have fulfilled that promise. I ran to end gridlock in St Paul and get things done by encouraging reasonable cooperation across the aisle,” Johnson said in a news release.

Her district is in the northern suburbs and could be an attractive target for Republicans bidding for a chamber takeover. They would need a net gain of six seats to win the majority. Johnson’s Senate district has a split-party House delegation, with one Republican and one Democrat holding those seats.

Businessman Brad Sanford has had a GOP campaign in motion since September. Democrats haven’t announced any potential recruits, but DFL Rep. Jerry Newton of Coon Rapids, who represents one of the House districts in the area, said he would run for the Senate seat.

Newton, now in his third House term, said he used to own a grocery store in the area.

“I was there for over 20 years, seven days a week, I knew the people,” Newton said, adding, “I just think the time is right. … I’m willing to take the chance.”

Johnson is vice chair of the Senate education committee. She served seven terms in the Minnesota House from 1987 to 2000.

She ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 1992. She is married to Richard Jefferson, who is also served in the Minnesota House.

There are now eight DFL senators not running for re-election. Four Republicans say they won’t be back, either. There is a long list of retiring House members as well.

Democrats maintain a 39-28 Senate advantage heading into the campaign season.