Welcome back, John Persell

As Capitol characters go, it doesn't get much more authentic than John Sterling Persell, Jr.

As Capitol characters go, it doesn't get much more authentic than John Sterling Persell, Jr. Renee Jones Schneider, Star Tribune

Good news, folks. John Persell's comin' back to St. Paul.

Persell won re-election to the Minnesota House of Representatives in House District 5A, a win sealed with the completion of Monday night's election recount. Persell's margin over incumbent GOP Rep. Matt Bliss (R-Pennington) grew from eight votes to 11 votes, owing to a few voting machine glitches. The result will be certified within a couple weeks, and Persell,  ousted by Bliss in 2016, will return to the capitol next month.

That's good.

Good because Persell's four previous terms in office (2011-2017) left him one of the more universally well-regarded legislators among members of either party. Soft-spoken and authentic, Persell's approach to lawmaking is gentle but direct. That he occasionally issued speeches or votes while wearing a bolo tie and/or a silver pendant over his breast pocket didn't hurt.

The people of Bemidji and Leech Lake (where Persell's wife is an Ojibwe band member) have, for their own good, picked Persell, a water quality expert, over Bliss, a resort owner whose major legislative "achievement" in two years in office was fighting very hard for a bill to... weaken water quality regulations. Gov. Mark Dayton, who happens to like water, vetoed that bill.

Persell, meanwhile, is knowledgeable on the environment, rural economy, and veterans' issues -- he served in the U.S. Air Force -- making him something of a rare combination in this or, frankly, any legislative majority.

Persell's a committed patriot, and it's no act. This journalist once saw Persell, who'd been in a hurry only seconds earlier, stop in his tracks and turn on a dime to go watch schoolkids sing the National Anthem in the Capitol rotunda. "What are those kids singing about?" Persell asked aloud.

In 2013, as the House DFL cast its votes on legalizing gay marriage, Persell was one of roughly a couple dozen Democrats in a tricky situation. Months earlier, his House District 5A had narrowly voted in favor of the constitutional amendment to solidify marriage as "solely between one man and one woman." 

Persell came down on the other side of the issue, choosing compassion over cynicism. His show-stopping speech explaining why will either break your heart or heal it. Maybe both. And then you, too, will be glad John Persell's coming back to work in St. Paul in January.