Election 2016: Soil & Water District 4

(By request.)

The two candidates in the race:

Lena Buggs
Carrie Wasley

So here’s the most startling thing about this race: Lena Buggs is actually running. She has an honest-to-God actual campaign website and she has printed up yard signs and she has a Facebook page for her campaign.

I cannot even begin to tell you how weird this is! She really wants this job. She is working really damn hard for this job.

Carrie Wasley is the incumbent. I wrote about her two years ago, using primarily this one interview she did as a source. I’ve found basically nothing more up-to-date about her. She’s still the incumbent and still endorsed by the DFL. (Lena is endorsed by the Greens, who have a statement about her along with their other candidates here.)

Honestly, if I were voting on this one I think I’d vote for Lena just because she wants the job enough to really work for it.

(It looks like I voted on this two years ago, but they’ve now split up the districts such that you only vote for the seat in your actual district, instead of having official districts but voting county-wide.)

Election 2014: Voting Recommendations, St. Paul Ballot (Contested Offices Only)

Important election day note: the poll workers at my polling place were telling everyone to shut off their cell phone. You may want to bring a hard copy when you to vote, just in case.

Note: This is based off the sample ballot in my own precinct, which may be slightly different from yours. I suggest you go to http://myballotmn.sos.state.mn.us/ and put in your own address to see your own ballot so that you can research any miscellaneous races that I might not have covered. I’ll be back later with the Minneapolis ballot.

U.S. Senator
AL FRANKEN

U.S. Representative District 4
BETTY MCCOLLUM

State Representative District 64B
DAVE PINTO

Governor & Lt Governor
MARK DAYTON AND TINA SMITH

Secretary of State
STEVE SIMON

State Auditor
REBECCA OTTO

Attorney General
LORI SWANSON

County Commissioner District 5
RAFAEL E. ORTEGA

Soil and Water Supervisor District 4
CARRIE WASLEY

Associate Justice – Supreme Court 2
WILHELMINA (MIMI) WRIGHT

Associate Justice – Supreme Court 3
DAVID LILLEHAUG

Election 2014: Rambling on Judicial Races

How to choose judges is not something Americans exactly have a consensus on. In Minnesota, we have elections, but a lot of the time there’s sort of an end run around this by appointing people mid-term so that the first time they stand for election, they’re running with the advantage of incumbency. A few years ago the major parties started endorsing judges — I can’t remember where previously there was a rule against it, or if it was just not the custom. Judicial candidates tend not to trumpet their party endorsements and instead let you know subtly by mentioning various prominent people with known party affiliations as “supporters.”

There’s a group in Minnesota that’s lobbying to change the way we do judicial elections. They suggest a merit-based appointments system after which judges stand election every four years with a yes/no vote. I tend to think this would be a better way to do it, because it means that if someone’s really incompetent we can just focus on getting people to vote NO on that particular judge.

I am not personally an expert on all the different ways out there to pick judges. My father, on the other hand, actually is exactly that sort of expert. Actually, he’s expert on lots of things: he’s a Political Science professor with a specialty in the American judicial system, and he’s studied comparative judicial systems, the effect of contingent fees, mediation, and he did one project we all called the Lawyers in the Mist project where he spent about six months observing lawyers interacting with clients (with the permission of the clients.) Next year, his book Justices on the Ballot: Continuity and Change in State Supreme Court Elections is coming out from Cambridge University Press, and anyone who’s got a strong investment in the question of how we choose judges might want to take a look.

Possibly the finding from my father’s recent research that I found the most entertaining: there really is a town out there that elects its dogcatcher (well, “Animal Control Officer.”) So if you’ve ever heard heard somebody joke that Ole Savior couldn’t get elected dogcatcher, there’s actually a town he could move to where he could, in fact, add that to his collection of electoral losses.

The problem of avoiding partisanship in judicial races is one that doesn’t have a simple solution. My father gave me an extended explanation of a convoluted system that involves merit, a committee that makes recommendations, confirmation by elected officials (but with some rules in place to discourage them from turning anyone down without a good reason), and retention elections.

Alternately, you can just throw in the towel and embrace partisanship, which is more and more what Minnesota is moving to, I think.

Of course, there are all sorts of issues I want to avoid in the judiciary that are not as straightforward as liberal vs. conservative. I am very wary of judges who would assume that the police would never, ever lie (I kind of expect some degree of pro-police bias in judges, but in a situation where a dozen witnesses plus the physical evidence say one thing happened and a police officer says another thing happened, I want a judge who will be willing to at least ENTERTAIN the possibility that the cop is lying.) I am similarly wary of judges who have a bias toward the bigger, wealthier party in lawsuits, or who fail to realize the impact of being the target of a SLAPP suit has on private citizens. Finally, the sad fact is that when people run against incumbent judges, they’re frequently flakes or weirdos. I have a strong anti-flake bias regardless of office.

Anyway, at the moment most judges have dignified, non-partisan web sites that seek to communicate gravitas and hint in only the most discreet ways at whether they’re likely to swing liberal or conservative. Makes it harder. But! We are weeks away from the election so I’d better get going on this.

Just a note: I am only planning to research and write about the contested judicial races. (If there’s a serious write-in campaign happening in any of the uncontested races, please let me know.)

Election 2014: Ramsey County Soil and Water Supervisor, District Four

Soil and Water Supervisor is one of those down-ballot races that doesn’t get a lot of attention. The Ramsey Conservation District is also sometimes called the water board; their job is to enact policies and encourage behavior to control runoff, both to conserve soil and to protect the bodies of water around the area (both lakes and rivers). Apparently people are a bit more aware of what they do in rural, agriculturally focused areas.

I think Hennepin County may have given up on electing these people, but Ramsey still does. There are two seats up for election this year; one is unopposed. In District 4, we have:

TOM PETERSEN
CARRIE WASLEY

Carrie is the incumbent. Neither has a web site.

Tom Petersen

I think I’ve mentioned that my main tool in doing this research is Google. That works a lot better with some candidates than others. If you google Jack Sparrow, you’ll get a million hits, but the vast majority refer to the movie character; if you add “mn,” you get a bunch of people who will impersonate Jack Sparrow for you (say, if you want a lewd and drunken pirate at your next party and can’t trust your friends to make that happen for you). You do at least get the occupirate site on the first page, though.

So let’s talk about “Tom Petersen.” Petersen is a ridiculously common name in Minnesota, up there with Johnson and Jacobsen. It is HARD to find information about him.

There is in fact a Tom Petersen who does Soil & Water stuff, though, on LinkedIn. (Hopefully that link takes you directly there.) He was a District Manager for the Ramsey Conservation district for almost 30 years, according to his LinkedIn profile.

I also got a hit on a lobbyist registration for a Thomas Petersen lobbying for the Minnesota Farmers Union, though on closer inspection (i.e., when I clicked on the link to the Farmers Union lobbyists) they mention a “Thom Petersen” who’s the Director of Government Affairs. Probably not the same guy.

Finally, I found a piece about a marsh restoration that mentions a “Tom Petersen (Ramsey Soil & Water Conservation District)” as part of the project design team.

So….assuming it’s the same guy, he’s at least qualified, although I’m a little puzzled; did he get tossed out of office in 2010 and he’s trying for a comeback? I don’t know what the history is here.

Carrie Wasley

I found an awesome interview with Carrie over on the Minnesota Progressive Project site. They mention that she received the Public Service Award from Friends of the Parks and Trails of St. Paul and Ramsey County, which definitely seems like a plus.

The interview has all these hints of frothing drama that has apparently been raging on the water board. “Over the last four years we have regained financial stability and we are now recognized as a knowledgeable and effective county asset,” she says, suggesting that five years ago they were not financially stable or recognized as a knowledgeable and effective asset. Regarding the value of teamwork, she says, “It is critically important that citizens and other conservation staff people feel that they are treated with respect, without doubletalk and effectively. This has not always been the case with the RCD but starting about four years ago the Supervisors decided to think first about the citizens and what we were trying to give them in education and effective programs instead of obfuscation and condescension. The past four years have seen a turn-around in teamwork and outreach into the community.” She mentions that her political hero is Winston Churchill and says, “The RCD has turned itself around because the Supervisors decided that the RCD provided a valuable service to the citizens of Ramsey County and we needed to get our agency in shape. We did.”

Oh, and in answer to a question about a time she stood up for people against a powerful organization, she said, “When RCD Staff came to me privately and said they could no longer serve under current management because of incompetence, RCD Supervisors and I were able to formulate a plan that would protect staff, get rid of the incompetence and provide staff with the confidence to go forward with our backing. Neither staff nor supervisors have ever looked back and our financial and community reputation attests to our taking the right action at the right time.”

Let me just note that I read the paper (yeah, an actual physical copy of the Star Tribune that gets delivered to my house) every day. I mean, I don’t always read it front to back, but I do pay attention to the news, and I actually will pay some extra attention to stuff about the Soil & Water people because I do this blogging, and it’s a race that’s always damn hard to find useful information about.

And….wow. Really? Seriously? This sounds like there was some MASSIVE DRAMA and I completely missed it. Possibly because the media completely missed it. Possibly because they don’t really know or care what the Conservation District does, either. (She notes this problem later in the interview.)

Apparently they’re changing the way these elections happen; they’re going to be done by district, rather than county-wide. I find it kind of weird that they do it this way — I don’t get to vote on the County Commissioner for Little Canada, so I’m not sure why I get to help pick a Soil & Water Supervisor for them. (Map is here, if you’re curious.) It looks like District 4 is my actual district — the western half of St. Paul.

I will admit I’m concerned about the hints of massive drama. On one hand, I ought to give you credit if you led the charge against incompetent management, restoring integrity and financial stability to whatever board you’re on. On the other hand, I feel this strong sense of suspicion to people who have that sort of drama swirling around them, when it’s them telling me what a hero they were. But, it’s Soil & Water; expecting someone ELSE to vouch for their heroism may be an unreasonable expectation, and if Tom Petersen wanted to give me the other side of the story, well, he hasn’t.

I’m provisionally endorsing Carrie Wasley.

Edited to add:

Tom Petersen did set up a website at some point, here: http://tompetersenforrcd.com/ He was a staff member for the Ramsey Conservation District. (“I was employed by the district for nearly 30 years and served with many of the very first elected supervisors. I am very proud of the Ramsey Conservation District, its Board of Supervisors, and how it has served both the citizens and natural resources of Ramsey County.”) I sort of wonder if he was involved in the massive drama Carrie’s talking about, but without more details, I’m not sure which of them to view as the hero and which as the villain here. Or if, in fact, it was drama that involved other people, and he just retired but wants to continue public service. (I have to admit that the fact that he stopped working as a paid job and is now running against an incumbent for an unpaid job makes me think it’s probably not the latter.)

The other detail I ran across is that Carrie Wasley is endorsed by the DFL.

I’m sticking with my endorsement of Carrie, although Tom Petersen’s web page suggests that he’s a committed and knowledgeable person as well and honestly I have no idea what to make of the backstory. No one’s dropped by to fill me in.