GRAND FORKS—The Minnesota attorney general's race might not take center stage in the minds of hunters and anglers across the state, but this year's race bears watching in the days leading up to the Aug. 14 primary election.
Bob Lessard, 87, the former Minnesota state senator nicknamed "The Old Trapper," has thrown his hat into the ring on a platform that largely focuses on protecting the dedicated funding package Minnesota voters approved in 2008, when they passed the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment.
The constitutional amendment implemented a small sales tax increase for clean water, protecting and enhancing natural resources, parks and trails, and the arts.
The Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council, which makes funding recommendations to the Legislature for the natural resources portion of the funding package, is named after Lessard and Dallas Sams, a state senator who died in 2007.
As Dave Orrick of the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported in June, the Republican Party platform supports a repeal of the Legacy Amendment that Lessard and sportsmen across the state fought to pass.
That doesn't sit well with Lessard, and so he decided to enter the AG race. He's not an attorney, but that's not a requirement for candidacy. Nor is age a deterrent for Lessard, who like the Energizer Bunny keeps going and going and going.
Lessard supporters have been reaching out to sportsmen's groups across the state as the primary approaches. The race has been in the spotlight since Lori Swanson, the current attorney general, announced in June that she was running for governor.
"From a sportsmen's outdoors conservation perspective, as you look down the road, it's critical to our heritage" to protect dedicated funding, said Joe Duggan, a retired Pheasants Forever vice president from Bloomington, Minn., who campaigned with Lessard and others in 2008 on behalf of the Legacy Amendment. "We really don't have a major statewide candidate speaking to those issues, and here the Old Trapper is doing so.
"We're very fortunate in Minnesota to have these dedicated funds, but they're always ripe for plundering."
Ironically, Lessard is running as a Republican against Doug Wardlow, the GOP-endorsed candidate, and Sharon Anderson, who last November lost her bid to become St. Paul mayor.
That's not unusual for Lessard, an avid sportsman and member of the Minnesota Fishing Hall of Fame who started his political career as a Democrat but often crossed the aisle to support Republican legislation and finished his career as an Independent.
The Democrats already had a full slate of attorney general candidates, Lessard says, and he didn't have enough time when he decided to enter the race to gather the 2,000 signatures required to run as an Independent.
What happens next depends on the outcome of the Aug. 14 primary election. Only candidates who win in the primary will advance to the November election.
"From the sportsmen's point of view, it's a very interesting race," Duggan said. "He signed up late, and it takes time to get a campaign put together. There's a lot of folks that are supporting him, I know.
"Time will tell. It's all over here if he doesn't make it in a couple of weeks."