Sen. Nicole Mitchell says she won’t step down after DFL call for resignation

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State Sen. Nicole Mitchell says she won’t leave office over a felony burglary charge after officials in the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party called for her resignation.

Mitchell, a first-term DFL senator from Woodbury, was arrested in April after police found her inside her estranged mother’s Detroit Lakes, Minn., home. Her criminal case disrupted the final weeks of the legislative session, delaying votes and prompting ethics action from Senate Republicans.

Senate DFL leadership has stood by Mitchell, but the state party now publicly wants her to step down. In a statement released early Thursday, party chairman Ken Martin called for Mitchell’s resignation, saying the senator should be held accountable for her actions.

“While Sen. Mitchell is entitled to her day in court, her continued refusal to take responsibility for her actions is beneath her office and has become a distraction for her district and the Legislature,” he said. “Now that her constituents have had full representation through the end of the legislative session, it is time for her to resign to focus on the personal and legal challenges she faces.”

Mitchell still doesn’t plan to resign, her attorney said in a Thursday statement.

“Sen. Mitchell has heard from many in her community who support her work and believe in her right to due process under the law,” said Mitchell’s attorney Bruce Ringstrom Jr. “Therefore, until her criminal case is fully and finally adjudicated, Sen. Mitchell will continue to serve her constituents.”

April 22 arrest

It’s still not clear exactly what happened in the lead-up to Mitchell’s April 22 arrest in Detroit Lakes. But charges say Mitchell was found in her stepmother’s basement after a 911 call about a burglary. She allegedly told officers she was there to retrieve her father’s ashes after falling out of communication with her stepmother, and acknowledged she “did something bad.”

In a later statement on social media, Mitchell denied she was in the house to steal, claimed she was checking on her stepmother, who was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and made no mention of the ashes.

In interviews with the Associated Press and KSTP-TV, Mitchell’s stepmother has said she fears her stepdaughter. The stepmother acknowledged to KSTP that she was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, but that the disease has not progressed past its earliest stages.

Mitchell’s fellow Democrats say their colleague shouldn’t be ousted based on a charge and limited facts.

Republicans, on the other hand, want an expedited investigation into the senator and are calling for her to resign. They say she’s violated public trust and accuse her of changing her story about the incident.

The senator is next expected to appear in court in July.

Key vote in legislative session

Party leadership calling for Mitchell’s resignation comes a little week after the close of the 2024 legislative session, where her vote was key in getting partisan legislation through the Senate, where the DFL controls a one-seat majority over Republicans.

Senate Minority Leader Mark Johnson called Martin’s post-session call for Mitchell’s resignation “clear admission Democrats were so desperate to pass their highly partisan agenda they were willing to use votes of an alleged burglar to do it.”

Senate DFL leaders weren’t immediately available for comment Thursday. During session they removed Mitchell from committee assignments and private caucus meetings. But they stopped short of sacrificing their majority when her vote was still needed.

Republicans introduced measures to censure or remove Mitchell from the Senate, all that failed on party lines with Mitchell as the deciding vote. They also filed an ethics complaint that got heard at a May hearing, which didn’t result in any action.

If Mitchell steps down

If Mitchell were to step down, what happens after that depends on the timing. In most circumstances, state law requires the governor to call a special election within 35 days of vacancy in the Legislature.

So if Mitchell — or any other member of the Legislature for that matter — were to resign on or before June 8, the special election would fall on the normal election dates for the year.

In 2024, the state primary falls on Aug. 13 and the general on Nov. 5.

Another possible scenario is a vacancy after June 8, but more than 35 days before the primary. In that event, the governor could call a special election sometime in the summer.

But if a vacancy occurs too close to the primary, it could mean a delayed special election.

If a senator or representative were to step down on, say, July 31, it would mean the special election would happen after the November general election.

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