Decision brings closure

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 8, 2003

District 27 Sen. Dan Sparks was sworn in at a noon Tuesday in St. Paul, not knowing if Monday's ruling on his victory had been appealed.

He did not find out that Grace Schwab had conceded or that Tom Purcell would not appeal Monday's district court decision until after the swearing-in ceremony.

"There were a few tense moments, but it worked out in the end," Sparks said Tuesday afternoon.

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Sparks victory confirms the DFLers control of the Senate by a 35-32 margin, including an Independence Party senator who plans to side with the GOP.

Schwab conceded Tuesday morning. Her decision ended an election race that was delayed two months due to a recount and district court appeal.

After consulting Monday night with Fritz Knaak, the attorney handling the election lawsuit, Schwab said she thought about the option of filing a temporary restraining order to prevent the Senate from accepting Sparks as a member before the Supreme Court made a decision on an appeal.

"I think this district has been patient for long enough. They deserve a state senator, and I intend to step out of the way and urge my caucus to do the same, so that they can have unopposed representation starting today," Schwab announced in a written statement Tuesday.

She asked Senate Republican leader Dick Day not to pursue a court appeal over the District 27 election result.

Erica Ulstrom, a spokeswomen for the Senate Republican caucus, said the Republican party will respect Schwab's decision to concede and not appeal Monday's ruling.

Purcell filed the district court appeal Dec. 17 to the state Canvassing Board's decision to certify Sparks as senator. He said he thought the way 17 destroyed ballots and 32 contested ballots were handled were a disservice to voters in District 27.

The state Canvassing Board decided to count eight votes Sparks lost in the recount of an Austin precinct where 17 ballots had been burned by an election judge after election night.

The appeal was held Jan. 2 and 3 and Judge Joseph Quinn announced his ruling Monday afternoon.

Quinn decided he could not speculate on ballots he could not see and did not award any of the 17 ballots to either candidate. He instead used the recount totals and ruled on 32 contested ballots to come up with a five-vote margin for Sparks.

Purcell was pleased with Quinn's decision to not include the burned ballots and decided not to appeal Quinn's decision to the state Supreme Court. He said he and district residents were able to find out more about the election and thought the judge's ruling was "the best decision we could expect."

"I congratulate Mr. Sparks and wish him well," Purcell said.

Sparks spent his first day as senator with his family. Senators' family members were allowed on the senate floor Tuesday and members and relatives attended a church service at St. Paul's Cathedral before the ceremony.

"It was an exciting day," Sparks said. "It was nice to share it with family and friends."

Schwab was at home in Albert Lea Tuesday afternoon, waiting for her three children to get home from school and looking forward to spending time with her family.

"As of today, I'm just Grace," she said.

She said she is looking for a job and said she hopes it will be in public service, but said she's not sure what's next in her career.

"It's sort of like jumping of a cliff and not knowing if anyone is going to catch you," Schwab said. "I'm truly trying to place all this in my mind. It's like a roller coaster."

She also hinted at working for Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

"The governor's got to have an awful lot of people and he's not doing it very quickly," she said of his cabinet appointments.

Schwab said she also wants to get back into organizations she was involved in before becoming senator, such as church and her children's schools.

Reconnecting with family will become more of a focus for her. She has not seen her sister and brother-in-law, for example, in two years.

But she said she enjoyed serving District 27 and said it was the best job she has had.

"It was a great ride and I thank District 27 for allowing me to work for them," Schwab said.

-- Masaaki Harada contributed to this report.

Cari Quam can be reached at 434-2235 or by e-mail at