September 26, 2022

Grant County Herald

Community news from the prairie to the lakes

Klingbeiel claims Westrom doesn’t live in new District 12

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Editor’s note:

District 12 Senate candidate Ashley Klingbeil notified the Grant Herald Monday that she had filed her case on Sen. Torrey Westrom’s residency this past Friday with the Minnesota Supreme Court.

Ashley Klingbeil, an independent candidate running for the new District 12 Senate seat, claims that Republican candidate Sen. Torrey Westrom hasn’t established residency in the district and should be removed from the November ballot.

Klingbeil, a conservative running under the party label “We The People,” told the Grant County Herald Friday she would file a petition with the Minnesota Supreme Court for his removal from the ballot.

Klingbeil said she was planning to go to the State Capitol to file her challenge to his residency. 

The Grant County Sheriff’s Office is responsible for serving Westrom with the petition of her challenge of his residency, Klingbeil said. They have the notice, she said. “But I don’t think they are going to find him,” Klingbeil added. “I think he went on a family vacation. I think he left, so I can’t find him to serve him.”

Minnesota state statutes say that to challenge a candidate’s residency, a petition shall be filed with any judge of the Supreme Court when it involves a state Senate candidate. It also requires the petitioner to serve a copy of the petition to the candidate accused of not establishing residency in a district.

“Upon receipt of the petition, the court shall immediately set a time for a hearing on the matter,” it says. “The court shall issue its findings and a final order for appropriate relief as soon as possible after the hearing.

Friday, the Swift County Monitor-News contacted Westrom’s office for a comment on the allegation that he does not live in the new District 12. Late Friday afternoon, the following statement was sent to the Monitor-News, Grant County Herald, and the Stevens County Times from Westrom’s campaign staff:

“These allegations are baseless and are a desperate attempt to distract from the real issues of the campaign. I changed my residency to rural Alexandria before the deadline in full compliance with Minnesota law,” the statement said.

“My focus is on best serving the people of the newly formed Senate District 12, most of which are my current constituents, by helping them afford their everyday lives, improving the integrity of our elections, and defending our constitutional rights.” 

Westrom’s staff also told the Monitor-News that it was no surprise that he would be spending time in Elbow Lake since Grant County is still in the district he currently represents.

When filing an affidavit of candidacy for the Minnesota Senate, a candidate certifies that he or she will be a resident of “this district for six months on the day of the general or special election.” May 8 was the deadline for establishing residency for the Nov. 8 general election.

Westrom’s new house is in the Scenic View RV Resort and Campground that sits on the northwest side of Lake Mary near Alexandria, she said.

There are three property owners, Klingbeil, a real estate agent, told the Monitor-News. His father owns the RV park, and Torrey Westrom closed on the house on the same property two days before the filing deadline with two other owners, she said.

There is a very steep hill going up when approaching the property, Klingbeil said. She says there is no way a person can drive into the property in the winter, and the property is classified as “seasonal recreational.” There are “no trespassing and private property signs plastered all over, and a privacy fence around the house because the house is through the RV park and beyond.”

“The property said, ‘No trespassing.’ We didn’t care. We did it anyway. What good journalist follows the rules? There is no way you can hide out behind a six-foot fence that says private property and say that you live there,” Klingbeil told the Monitor-News.

The property is overgrown, and the house is empty with no furniture in it, she said. “You can’t say that nobody has the right to come and expose that.

“He didn’t even try…” to conceal his not moving to Douglas County,” Klingbeil claims. “That is the part that boggles my mind the most. Move some furniture over and pretend that you live there, right? He didn’t even try to protect his claim. Is that arrogance?”

For many nights, Klingbeil said, she sat in Elbow Lake until 11:30 at night watching Westrom’s house. “They were there every time, lights on, occupying the home. And, of course, we documented the empty house where he said he lived.”

Klingbeil and her supporters have taken photos they say support their allegations. She brought the claim to the Grant County attorney, who told her that it was “out of his realm and that she needed to bring the claim to the Minnesota Supreme Court.”

There are six or seven documents that Klingbeil says she is ready to submit to the Supreme Court, including her notarized petition and exhibit list. There are documents from observers of both the Alexandria property and the Elbow Lake properties that were under simultaneous observation, she said.

Klingbeil’s claim that Westrom is not living at his new residence isn’t the only one this reporter has heard. Others in Elbow Lake have made the same claim to the Grant County Herald staff.

She went to Grant County Sheriff Mark Haberer with her claims that Westrom was living in Elbow Lake, not on Lake Mary as he claimed. Klingbeil said he was helpful and told her, “Oh, no, Torrey lives here right in town, and I can’t believe he is doing this. The whole town knows that he is just right there.”

When contacted Sunday about Klingbeil’s comments, Haberer said, “I do not recall giving Ashley any information regarding when or where Torrey has been living this past summer. I did tell her that throughout the summer, I have seen what appears to be a cleaning up and a moving process taking place at the Elbow Lake address.”

He also told her that he had not seen much activity around the Westrom house in Elbow Lake.

“I personally have no information regarding if Torrey was living there or not, and I certainly have had no conversations with people around Elbow Lake about Torrey’s residency prior to learning of Ashley’s investigation of which those conversations have only been with the staff at the sheriff’s office and the county attorney’s office. 

Tuesday, Aug. 2, Haberer received a packet from Grant County Attorney Justin Anderson that contained documents Klingbeil had provided in her assertion that Westrom hadn’t established residency in Douglas County. 

Uncertain about his role in her claim, Haberer contacted the Minnesota Secretary of State Office and was told that removing a candidate from a ballot was a civil matter. A couple of days later he informed Klingbeil of the process necessary to serve a petition to Westrom through the sheriff’s office.

Haberer also said that he had told Klingbeil that some of the tactics she had used in collecting information on Westrom’s residency “were concerning.”

He further told her that they would attempt to deliver papers to Westrom at his Elbow Lake residence but didn’t think anyone was living there.

       Redistricting leads 

     to Westrom’s move

A resident of the City of Elbow Lake in Grant County, Westrom’s current Senate District 12 includes all of Stevens, Grant, Wilkin, Traverse, Big Stone, and Pope counties. It also includes parts of Stearns and Douglas counties. 

But when the Minnesota Supreme Court drew the new borders for the state’s legislative districts earlier this year based on the 2020 U.S. Census, they left Westrom removed from much of the territory he had served for the past decade.

The newly drawn District 12 includes all of Stevens, Big Stone, Swift, and Pope counties. It also includes the nine southeast townships of Douglas County, including the City of Alexandria. It contains 16 western townships of Stearns County. But it didn’t have Westrom’s home in Grant County.

While Swift County was a new addition to the territory, it is not unknown to him. Westrom was first elected to the Minnesota House back in 1996, and his district included western Swift County. To run in a Senate district whose constituents were already familiar with his name, Westrom would have to move from Grant County into one of the counties in the new District 12.

Another factor in his decision could have been that the new district didn’t have an incumbent senator he would have to run against.

Westrom has represented current Senate District 12 in the Minnesota State Senate since 2012. He serves as chairman of the Senate Agriculture and Rural Development Committee. 

Klingbeil was also critical of the Republican Party for its “touting” of claims of election fraud. “Are you kidding me?” she said.

Editor’s note:

District 12 Senate candidate Ashley Klingbeil notified the Grant Herald Monday that she had filed her case on Sen. Torrey Westrom’s residency this past Friday with the Minnesota Supreme Court.

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