A choice between two Stillwater conservatives — a school board member critical of education policy and a medical worker who refused a COVID-19 vaccination — awaits primary voters in northeast Washington County in Tuesday’s Republican primary for an open state House seat.
Tina Riehle, 52, who serves on the Stillwater school board, is facing Mark Bishofsky, 51, a former respiratory therapist, in the primary for House District 33B.
The district, newly redrawn as part of a once-a-decade process following the census, encompasses all or parts of Stillwater, Stillwater Township, Forest Lake, Marine on St. Croix, Scandia, Oak Park Heights, May Township and Bayport. Residents of much of the area are currently represented by Sen. Shelly Christensen, DFL-Stillwater, who is not seeking re-election.
The primary battle has been spirited, with candidates trading sharp criticisms of each other.
Bishofsky, who is married with three school-age boys, said he decided to seek office after he quit his career as a respiratory therapist “as an act of non-compliance and protest” rather than be subject to a COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
He said he founded “Stop the Mandate MN” to “fight back against unconstitutional mandates and lockdowns.” The organization’s website steers visitors to misleading information about the vaccine and unproven treatments.
Bishofsky said his top issues go beyond COVID. In an interview and email exchange, he listed public safety and improving proficiency in core school subjects as top priorities.
Bishofsky won his party’s endorsement. He’s used that to attack his opponent.
“My opponent has entered this race on a lie and is trying to win by lying,” Bishofsky said in an email. “She swore to abide by the endorsement, both verbally and in writing, and has gone back on her word. Now, they’re lying to the voters by telling them I’m a democrat.”
Indeed, Riehle’s campaign produced a video criticizing Bishofsky for voting in the Democratic presidential primary in 2020, noting that all such primary voters were required to sign a statement supporting the Democratic party platform before casting a vote.
It’s true, Bishofsky said; he did vote in the Democratic primary. He defended it as “savvy voting,” pointing out that then-President Donald Trump’s name was the only one on the Republican ballot. He said he voted for a Democrat other than Joe Biden, who won the primary and beat Trump to become president, as a way of voting against Biden.
Despite not winning the party endorsement, Riehle has drawn the favor of many Republican leaders and conservative groups, some who have endorsed her publicly, while some have opted to keep their support quieter, given the anti-establishment sentiments coursing through some Republicans.
The owner of an activewear company, Riehle and her husband have six children and eight grandchildren. While she tries to strike a less-combative tone, her positions are often similar to Bishofsky’s: she is opposed to COVID mandates, believes in widespread tax cuts and said in an interview that it was her frustrations on the school board that led her to run for the Legislature.
“I’ve been disappointed in the academic outcome in our local schools, and I see the need to address these issues at the state level,” said Riehle, who cast the lone votes opposing two school levy ballot questions last year and against switching bus companies this spring. “There has been an effort to avoid setting standards, and the curriculum gets circumvented around the school board.”
On her website, she includes among her positions “keeping predatory comprehensive sex education out of classrooms.”
The winner will face Democrat Josiah Hill, a Stillwater teacher, in the Nov. 8 general election.