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Clay Judge Cahill to face 3 challengers in primary; deputy files to run against Bergquist

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MOORHEAD – A state district court judge here recently criticized by both the county’s top prosecutor and a judicial review board will have to survive a packed primary to stand a chance to win re-election.

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Steven Cahill, one of four Moorhead-based judges in Minnesota’s 7th Judicial District, will be joined on the Aug. 12 primary ballot by Terry Graff of Sabin, Kenneth Kohler of Moorhead and Cheryl Duysen of Moorhead.

Clay County Attorney Brian Melton recently said he believes Cahill wasn’t following state law when he dismissed two drunken-driving test refusal charges. The judge was reprimanded earlier this year on a variety of grounds by the state’s judicial standards board.

Tuesday’s filing deadline also brought several other last-minute candidates who joined county and legislative races, adding a fourth candidate in a primary for one county board seat and setting up fall match-ups in two legislative districts and another county board race.

Also, a Clay County deputy filed to run against Sheriff Bill Bergquist, who hasn’t faced a competitor on the ballot since he was first elected 12 years ago.

Judgeship race crowded

Contested judicial elections are relatively rare in Minnesota. There will be nearly 120 district court judgeships on the ballot this fall across the state, and only nine of them will be contested. Only three will require a primary. 

Cahill acknowledged other candidates may see his seat as vulnerable given the public criticism, but doesn’t think those issues will affect his candidacy.

“Growing up here and living here all my life, practicing, I think I’ve got a good reputation in town both as a lawyer and as a judge,” he said. “I think I stand a very good chance of being re-elected.”

Cahill was reprimanded in April by the Minnesota Board on Judicial Standards for, among other things, a string of failures to follow the law, according to the board’s findings. The board ordered Cahill to find a proposed mentor and take steps to stop his misconduct.

“I believe that they were minor issues and a lot of one-time things,” Cahill said on Tuesday.

Kohler said Cahill’s troubles did not have a bearing on his decision. He said his experience on both sides of the courtroom – as a prosecutor and defense attorney – would serve him well as a judge.

“I’ve always been attracted to the judgeship position. In fact, I’ve applied a couple times before the governor,” he said. “This has been a dream since I was kid.”

Kohler was elected as county attorney in Nobles County (Worthington) and served three terms. Later, he became the chief assistant prosecutor in Clay County from 2002 to 2006, when he took a job with the Vogel Law Firm. He became a partner in 2008.

Kohler, 57, said his age is prompting him to run for the judgeship. “I’ve got 10, 15 years left of a career,” he said. “This is the time in my life that I think I have the most experience and the most to offer.”

Messages left for the two other candidates were not returned by early Tuesday night. Duysen is an assistant Clay County attorney in Melton’s office. Graff has a private practice in Moorhead focusing on disability claims.

The two other Moorhead judges up for election this year, Michelle Lawson and Galen Vaa, are running unopposed.

Board primary widens

In the Clay County Commission race, a district that was already set for a primary became even more packed Tuesday.

Jenny Mongeau, 30, filed to run in District 3, which represents the southern half of rural Clay County as well as some of southeast Moorhead.

She has never held public office, though public service runs in her family. Her father, Matt Valan, is on Moorhead School Board. Her grandfather, Merlyn Valan, was a state representative for four terms from District 9B.

Mongeau pointed out she’s the youngest of the four running for that seat. She faces incumbent Jon Evert, 67, as well as two other challengers: Dan Langseth, 55, son of former state Sen. Keith Langseth, and Joe Pederson, 64, formerly the mayor of Hawley.

Mongeau, who lives in Kurtz Township, said it’s time for her generation to take part in county leadership.

“It’s important to have some fresh perspective in the leadership positions,” she said. “And it’s always been a passion of mine to give back to the county that helped raise me.”

The Aug. 12 primary will trim the judicial and county board races to two candidates who will face off in the Nov. 4 general election.

Bergquist challenged

Filings Tuesday also ensured several races in Clay County will be contested in November, though they will not require a primary.

Ryan Alderman, a deputy sergeant with 20 years of experience, filed as a candidate for sheriff. Alderman said the situation may make for some awkwardness on the job, but he said he felt it was healthy for the election process and important for voters to have a choice on the ballot.

“It’s something both he and I will have to work through,” Alderman said.

Bergquist said shortly after the filing period closed Tuesday evening that he had just learned of Alderman’s candidacy and hadn’t had time to ponder what it might mean for his campaign.

Alderman, who is assigned to security detail at the Clay County Courthouse, said he gave a courtesy call to Bergquist letting him know of his candidacy. He served a term as mayor of Glyndon that ended in 2009 and said his decision to run for sheriff was based on timing and the point he has reached in his career.

“This is kind of the window of opportunity for me, for my career advancement,” Alderman said.

“Bill’s a good man,” he added. “I’m running for the office of sheriff. He happens to be in that position right now.”

Other races set

An incumbent on the county board will also face a challenger this year. Longtime county commissioner Kevin Campbell will face Al Gordon in the general election.

Campbell has been on the board since 2003, representing District 4, which covers portions of north Moorhead and areas directly to the north, including Oakport Township.  

Gordon, 55, is the former owner of Altony’s Italian Restaurant and a retired Clay County sheriff’s deputy. He said he started thinking about running earlier in the year, after Campbell made it known that he was thinking about not running for re-election. Gordon said he started talking to constituents and was “concerned” at what he was hearing.

“A lot of people I spoke with, they just kind of felt that maybe it was time that Kevin no longer had that passion, or he no longer was representing the people like he should be,” Gordon said.

Campbell said he decided to run for the county board again after moving up his retirement date for his job as controller at Mac’s Hardware.

“Believe me, I like what I do at the county,” Campbell said. “And if he thinks I’m going to be lacking passion, he’s going to be in for a surprise.”

Both local DFLers in the Minnesota House will face challenges from Republicans in the general election.

Rep. Ben Lien, DFL-Moorhead, has served one term in the House. He faces Republican Brian E. Gramer, a former Moorhead city councilman, in the District 4A race.

Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, faces Republican Jared Laduke in the District 4B race.

Gramer and Laduke filed for the race on Tuesday.

Running unopposed for county positions are:

E Melton.

E Randy Schellack for District 3 soil and water supervisor.

E Paul Krabbenhoft for District 4 soil and water supervisor.

Readers can reach Forum reporters

Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518, Archie Ingersoll at (701) 451-5734 and Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555

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