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Candidate's residency question goes to court

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Sue Ek, far left, and her parents. (MPR file photo)
The issue of a candidate's residency in a St. Cloud election is headed to court. A resident of St. Cloud asked the State Supreme Court Friday to take Republican Sue Ek's name off of the ballot. The petition claims Ek is a resident of St. Paul, and can't legally run for office in St. Cloud.

Democratic officials have asked Ek to drop out of the race on her own, citing an affidavit she signed this summer stating she lived in St. Paul. State GOP officials say the entire issue is just a dirty campaign tactic.

St. Paul, Minn. — After several days of Democrats' questions over whether Sue Ek lives in the district she wants to represent, the issue has gone to court.

But it wasn't the state DFL Party that took action. It was a resident of St. Cloud named Rick Studer.

Studer has asked St. Paul attorney Alan Weinblatt to speak for him. Weinblatt, who describes his client as just a concerned voter, filed the petition to the Supreme Court.

"Asking the court to direct the Secretary of State, and the county auditors of Sherburne, Stearns and Benton counties, to delete the name of Sue Ek from the Dec. 27 special election in District 15B," Weinblatt read from the petition.

Weinblatt cites several reasons why his client believes Ek lives in St. Paul rather than St. Cloud. Many of the same issues have been brought up by DFL officials in recent days.

One example is the man who says he's Ek's neighbor in St. Paul. John Michael Lerma was surprised when he first heard from a neighbor that Sue Ek was running for a state House seat.

"I wasn't aware of one that was open in the St. Paul area. And they said, 'No, she's running in St. Cloud,' and I said, 'How could she do that? She's our neighbor,'" said Lerma.

Lerma says Ek moved into the house next door a year and a half ago. Lerma says there's no doubt that was the place she called home.

"She's like any neighbor, mowed her lawn, tended to her gardens, walked her dog, picking up her paper, picking up her mail," said Lerma. "She would have people over, she'd be sitting on the front step talking on the phone, or in her back yard. Because we all we live in such close proximity, it was hard to miss these things."

Lerma says he saw Ek living in the house next to him until about a month and a half ago.

In order for Ek to run for a House seat in St. Cloud, state law says she has to live in the area for six months. Ek says she's lived in St. Cloud for nearly 40 years, with her parents. In an interview earlier this week Ek, 42, said she commutes to her office in St. Paul, which is in a house also owned by her parents.

"So, like many St. Cloud residents, many central Minnesota residents, I commute to the Twin Cities for my job. And the home they bought in St. Paul is close to the airport, which makes it very convenient because I do travel for my job," Ek said.

DFL officials say they have proof Ek hasn't lived in St. Cloud long enough to meet the requirements.

Ek signed a home occupation affidavit on July 9, 2005, to start a home-based business. That would mean she was living in St. Paul when she claimed she was living in St. Cloud.

DFL spokesman David Ruth says this is proof Ek is not eligible for the election. Ruth said the best thing for her to do now is to drop out.

"She read the affidavit and signed it, and it's within that six-month window for running in St. Cloud," said Ruth. "It's very troubling, but it's right there in black and white."

State GOP spokesman Mark Drake says the affidavit proves nothing. Drake says it was merely a mistake, and Ek has filed a correction.

"Sue didn't have her father fill it out, she was not the owner. If you look at it, she has circled 'renter.' So I think what happened here is Sue intended to say she's renting from her father here to run her business and she signed it. Clearly there's a paperwork snafu here," said Drake.

No candidate wants to deal with these issues during a campaign. Kay Wolsborn, a political science professor at the College of St. Benedict in St. Joseph, says even if Sue Ek hasn't done anything wrong, its going to be hard to keep her campaign on track.

"Even if in the final analysis -- a close reading of the statute the way it exists -- a candidate could be meeting the technical requirements, but find themselves discussing that instead of their reason for running," said Wolsborn.

It's up to a court now to decide if Sue Ek is eligible to run for the state House. No date has been set for a hearing. The special election is less than three weeks away.

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