The Republican state of Sen. Gene Dornink had to move from his home in Hayfield to a residence in Brownsdale after the boundaries of his southern district of Minnesota were changed following the 2020 census.
But Keith Haskell — an auto detailing company owner with a criminal background and recently campaign manager for Dornink’s Republican challenger Lisa Hanson — suspected that Dornink didn’t actually live in his new district during a pivotal time in determining his hometown.
So he visited every house, he often says, filming and documenting what he saw.
“At the time, absolutely no traffic, no nighttime vehicles, no lights on, blinds constantly open, no lights on day or night,” Haskell told MinnPost on Friday. “Cars parked there occasionally and just general rubbish, indicating they had been standing there for a while. So then we started chalking tires and things like that to see if they moved.”
That work is the basis for a petition to the Minnesota Supreme Court — a request Dornink has called “frivolous” — to completely remove the Republican-backed incumbent president from the ballot box. Glenville’s Judy Olson filed the paperwork Friday accusing Dornink of not living in Senate District 23. The submission cites Haskell as the “submitter’s research expert.”
“This is an absurd complaint,” Dornink said in a written statement to reporters. “I’ve been living in the house in Brownsdale since May. Maybe these investigators didn’t see me the six times they came by because I’m working during the day and campaigning at night. I have received a great reception at the doors, parades and fairs, and I will continue on the campaign trail.”
Chief Justice Lorie Gildea ordered the petitioner Olson to explain why the legal challenge could not have been filed sooner. Voting for the primaries began on June 24. Others have until Monday to respond to the petition.
The application is part of a controversial race that pitted two Republicans against each other in a neighborhood where Dornink was only two years ago. expelled a longtime Democratic incumbent from Austin. It is also one of the few districts to have sitting GOP senators challenged by candidates for their political right.
Hanson rose to fame for defying Governor Tim Walz’s pandemic restrictions at her Albert Lea wine bar, and she was even sentenced to prison for keeping her business open in the winter of 2020. And she has criticized Dornink, claiming he is not conservative enough or fighting hard enough against democratic leadership.
Haskell, who has an eclectic background, including leading a church as a lay minister, declined to say whether he was hired or paid to research Dornink’s residence. He said he was campaign manager for Hanson earlier this year but recently quit because it was taking too much time.
Haskell said he has decades of experience in investigations, including security and anti-shoplifting. To be report to the court says he first visited Dornink’s properties in Hayfield and Glenville on May 8, stopping first at the senator’s Brownsdale address—in the district—on May 25. Haskell said he heard rumors Dornink didn’t live there and spoke to neighbors who reported little traffic. His most recent visit was in mid-July, when he said there were three Dornink vehicles on the property, the curtains drawn and the lights on.
The Minnesota Constitution says that a candidate must live in their district for at least six months for the general election, which is on November 8 this year.
Haskell has had legal problems. In 2018 he was convicted of posing as a police officer after he chased by car two teens he suspected had stolen $10 worth of snacks from a grocery store in Owatonna. A judge found Haskell used tear gas on one of the teens after the teen began assaulting him during an altercation. He also pleaded guilty to theft in South Dakota. More recently, earlier this year, Haskell was subpoenaed for driving with a suspended license in Winona.
“I’ve never told anyone I don’t have a past,” said Haskell, who said he spoke publicly about his record. “I’m not proud of anything I’ve ever done.”
Hanson did not respond to a call for comment. Dornink is not the only legislator who had to move after the reclassification. Senator Torrey Westrom moved to Alexandria from Elbow Lake, in one example. Dornink’s Hayfield residence is now in a neighborhood where Senator Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, lives.
Elsewhere in Minnesota, other lawmakers were moved to the same district, which some, including Sens. Carrie Ruud, Julie Rosen and Melisa López Franzen, to retire rather than move or go against another incumbent legislature.