Elections 2018: Ramsey County Commissioner, District 5

My husband helpfully pointed out that I’d forgotten to write up this race and we’re voting in it.

I’d forgotten to write it up because while there’s a primary, it’s Rafael Ortega vs. two not particularly serious candidates.

On the ballot:

Rafael E. Ortega
Charles S. Barklind
James Jaeger

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Elections 2018: Ramsey County Commissioner, District 3

(By request.)

This was one of those races where I knew there had to be some backstory, because there’s an established (long, long, long established) incumbent who appears to be a DFLer, but who is not endorsed by the DFL, and two solid challengers, one with a DFL endorsement. Here’s who’s running:

Jennifer Nguyen Moore (endorsed by the Democratic Socialists)
Trista MatasCastillo (endorsed by the DFL)
Janice Rettman (incumbent)

In races like this, the incumbent will nearly always make it past the primary, so the primary is mostly to determine who they’ll be facing. (Occasionally the incumbent comes in third, but this is nearly always a surprise unless criminal charges are involved. No criminal charges are involved here.)

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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 2016: Soil & Water District 3

(By request.)
There are two candidates in this race:

Mara Magnuson Humphery
Ianni Houmas

Neither has a website, at least that I found. Mara is endorsed by the DFL; Ianni is endorsed by the Greens.

I found a brief statement about Mara here (note that it’s from 2012):

Mara Magnuson Humphrey (Saint Paul) is endorsed by the DFL, PROGRESSPPAC, Senator Mee Moua, Ramsey County Commissioner Jim McDonough, Representative Tim Mahoney, and City Council Member Dan Bostrom. She was (is?) a registered lobbyist for the financial industry (per Fraters Libertas, 2008). She is a member of the Ramsey County Capital Improvement Program Advisory Committee; Board of Directors, Friends of Lake Phalen; Vice President—Governmental Affairs, Minnesota Credit Union Network. She was the past president of New Bridge Homeowners Association. She has a B.A. in Government, St. Lawrence University. She is married and has two children.

(That site also includes contact information that might or might not be current. Oh, hey, while hunting for something else I found her Twitter — looks like she still is a lobbyist, for credit unions, which are definitely part of the financial industry but we’re not talking a lobbyist for Wells Fargo here.)

Ianni is quoted talking about environmental issues in a 2009 MPR news article. I also tracked down his mostly-friendslocked Facebook. I was not impressed by his coherence in those posts I could see. (“Why has there not been talk of reparations, to the Indigenous of north america, by way of tabacco? States and health care did it for obvious reasons. It is an indigenous plant cultivated by the original people here. Just a thought. Maybe there has and im not aware.” — I’m not opposed to reparations, but I’m not even sure what he’s suggesting here and also he misspelled “tobacco.” I totally judge people running for office on incoherence and bad spelling.) He also appealed or sued (I’m not 100% clear) for unemployment coverage back in 2009 https://mn.gov/law-library-stat/archive/ctapun/0910/opa082283-1013.pdf — when Qwest fired him for cause. The “cause” was that he had a job that involved a lot of driving, was supposed to have a clean record and report any moving violations, and he racked up so many speeding tickets his Minnesota license got suspended. This did not impress me either.

Edited to add: someone on Twitter passed along this site, which includes a statement about Ianni’s candidacy:

IANNI HOUMAS – RAMSEY COUNTY SOIL AND WATER CONSERVATION SUPERVISOR, DISTRICT 3

Ianni is an appointed member on the City of St. Paul’s Transportation Committee. Ian feels that devising better ways of moving people and goods around our metro area is important for the mitigation of highway gridlock and of fossil fuel emissions that negatively impact our climate.

Born and raised in Philadelphia and later on the South Shore of Lake Superior, Ianni came to St. Paul as a teen and eventually attended the University of Minnesota. To support his growing family, he chose to work in utilities, first for NSP, then for Qwest, where he acted for eight years as a CWA union steward.

After a layoff in 2008, Ianni refocused his life and began Adonis Eco-Housing, a non-profit with a mission to create affordable, sustainable housing in the midst of the housing crisis, and later started Midway Green and Granite.

“When I take something on, I dedicate my life to it: to my family, to my alt energy non-profit, to my small business and to public service. Likewise I would dedicate myself to the duties and tasks of Soil and Water Conservation Supervisor.” –Ianni Houmas

So you know, if someone gets fired from a job because they racked up a bunch of speeding tickets, I don’t care. I was not impressed that he applied for unemployment, and appealed, despite the fact that he was terminated for cause, but it’s basically a “meh.”

If you got fired for cause but you say in your campaign materials that you were laid off, that’s a full-on lie. And given that this comes up when you Google his name, it’s a really stupid lie. I am even less impressed than I was before.

Conclusion: if this race is on your ballot, vote for Mara Magnuson Humphery.

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.

Election 2014: Ramsey County Commissioner, District 5

If you ever get the urge to go into politics, but you’re totally in it for the power and really not interested in the glory (because “glory” in the case of politics mostly just means people e-mailing you with complaints), run for County Board. At least around here, the County Board does an amazing array of stuff and yet people largely ignore it completely. How completely? Well, Republican Gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson has been on the Hennepin County Board for years and yet even in the metro area, an awful lot of people don’t even know who he is. (This excellent article talks about the problem in some detail, though it’s focused on Hennepin County, not Ramsey.)

(For the non-Minnesotans who read these posts for the snark and weird stories, I’ll just quickly note that Minneapolis and St. Paul are in different counties. Minneapolis is in Hennepin County; St. Paul is in Ramsey County. Both of these counties include a bunch of suburbs and Hennepin I think includes a little bit of rural land.)

In my part of St. Paul, here’s who’s on the ballot:

CHARLES S. BARKLIND – NONPARTISAN
RAFAEL E. ORTEGA – NONPARTISAN

Rafael Ortega is the incumbent. He has (1) the job, at the moment; (2) the DFL’s endorsement; and (3) yard signs (I’ve seen them.)

He does not have a web site that can be found with Google.

Well, he has a job web site, but the complete lack of a campaign web site kind of makes me wonder where people got the yard signs. I mean, obviously people had their methods back in the era before the Internet — heck, I pounded in yard signs for Ken Golden the first time he ran for Madison City Council — but seriously, don’t you want people to be able to get them easily? and more importantly, to donate money to you easily? He must not be very worried.

To clarify the DFL endorsement thing despite the fact that no party is listed: there are a bunch of offices that are officially non-partisan; the political parties in town can endorse candidates if they want and if they can agree on somebody. The DFL routinely does endorsements for the mayoral races, the city council races, the school board races, and the county board races. The Republicans in Minneapolis and St. Paul occasionally do endorsements but mostly just stay out of it because an endorsement from Republicans in Minneapolis isn’t going to motivate people to vote for you, it’s going to be the MARK OF CAIN that people point to and say “you can’t vote for this guy; he’s a REPUBLICAN.” The smart Republicans, like Cam Winton, run as Independents.

Rafael Ortega

His office web site says he grew up in a tough neighborhood in New York, where he learned firsthand about the importance of transit. He was a social worker and a director of a social services organization before becoming the first minority elected to Ramsey County board and the first Latino elected to ANY county board in Minnesota, which happened in 1994. So twenty years in, it’s no wonder he’s not super worried about getting re-elected.

His achievements list mentions, “Did critical site cleanup for Sholom Home East on West 7th in Highland Park, paving the way for what the Star Tribune calls the ‘future of nursing homes.'” Sholom Home is a genuinely nice facility: pleasant and (more critically) well staffed with people who are well trained, attentive to the residents, and friendly. My grandmother has lived in three different places since moving to the Twin Cities, and I toured several others, so I speak from a pretty good knowledge base when I say that Sholom Home is EXCELLENT. So I will happily give him points for that. That whole little corner went from a disused industrial site to a thriving mini-neighborhood; I think it was anchored by Sholom Home.

On the other hand, you could probably fairly blame him for some of the most annoying things about the Green Line, the LRT line that runs from Downtown St. Paul to Downtown Minneapolis.

Here’s the thing about the Green Line. (Why did they call it the Green Line? Why couldn’t it have been the University Line, like the Blue Line was and should have stayed the Hiawatha Line?) It runs down the center of University Avenue, and they didn’t feel that they could let it preempt the traffic lights, because Snelling (the biggest north-south street it crosses) is already a mess, and letting the Hiawatha Line preempt the lights created some seriously effed-up east-west traffic. Years after they opened the line, they finally had the technology installed so that the traffic lights could resume the cycle where it left off, instead of starting over from the beginning.

So to solve this problem on University they are not letting it preempt the lights for the north-south streets at ALL. Now, on Snelling: yeah. You can’t. I think it makes sense to not let the trains preempt Raymond, Fairview, Snelling, Hamline, Lexington, Victoria, Dale, or Western — all of which are stops, anyway. But there’s a light at Prior. There’s a light at Pascal. There are lights up and down all of University; making the train stop at Pascal is just ridiculous.

There is a fascinating, if someone technical, article from back in July about how they’re trying to fix this problem by timing the signals to create waves of green in both directions. When you do this right, cars and trains will get a whole long string of greens and then one red and then another whole long string of greens. Except I would think the trains would keep screwing this up by stopping at stations for unpredictable amounts of time, and in fact, the bus that used to run along University Ave was faster than the goddamn train.

Mind you, the Green Line is getting a ton of riders, despite all the annoying aspects; it’s way above ridership predictions and actually seems to be a huge success. And it has not made it any more difficult to cross University by car than it already was. (In fact, it’s a whole lot easier than it was during construction, when it was horrific.) I found a whole bunch of blog-type posts about Rafael at the Pioneer Press site and one of them quotes him saying that he doesn’t think cold weather will depress ridership, and I think he’s right; trains are nice year round, but they are particularly awesome when it’s snowy and the roads are a mess.

…and HEY, while hunting for information about Charles Barklind I found a voter’s guide that had a link and I FOUND RAFAEL ORTEGA’S WEBSITE. (I sent them a note suggesting ways they could make it a bit easier to find.) In addition to his transit stuff he mentions creating a program that offers mental health and chemical dependency treatment under one roof, protecting sex trafficking victims, and redeveloping land like the old Army Ammunition Plant.

Charles S. Barklind

Charles really truly does not have a website. He’s a man of many contradictions, though, so let me just go through a few things I found in semi-chronological order.

Back in 2010, when he ran for this same seat, he turned in some answers to a voter’s guide. This is a highbeam.com link but conveniently, Charles’ extremely succinct answers are in the teaser bit. In 2010, he was 62 and a golf caddy. Candidates were invited to submit a 100-word essay about the issue that was most important to them. I quote Charles’ essay in its entirety: “The University Corridor of light rail transit. I’m in favor of it.”

A year or two back, he got profiled on a blog that does news analysis. In the piece, he describes himself as a Republican, although mostly he sounds like a harmless crank with a letter-writing hobby.

This year, he’s got a profile in an East Metro voter guide. In response to the question, “What would be your top three priorities if elected?” he says, “Maintain our excellent credit rating. Take from the rich. Give to the poor.”

Anyway. I am not going to speculate about what precisely is going on with Charles, other than to say I’m glad he’s found a rewarding hobby in running for office and I’m glad he lives in senior housing where presumably there are people to keep an eye on him. He sounds like he’s probably both incredibly hardworking and very kind, and I hope the people in his life appreciate him. I don’t want him as my County Commissioner, though.