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.

Election 2014: Minnesota State House, Districts 63A and 64B

So I’m just going down the ballot in order, and next up on your ballot will be State Rep. I used to live in 63A, where I was represented by Jim Davnie. Now I live in 64B, where I am represented by Michael Paymar but won’t be for very much longer because he’s retiring.

All the interesting stuff in 64B actually happened back in March, when there was an endorsing convention. I went. It was, to my surprise, significantly faster and more efficient than the endorsing conventions in Minneapolis have ever been. The DFL endorsed candidate is Dave Pinto, who I like quite a bit, though he wasn’t my first choice going in. (My first choice going in didn’t even make it to the second round of voting, alas.)

Anyway, I’ll do Minneapolis first. For State Representative District 63A, your choices are:

KYLE BRAGG – REPUBLICAN
JIM DAVNIE – DEMOCRATIC-FARMER-LABOR

Kyle Bragg appears to have no website. When I googled for his name, I found a union organizer who lives in Queens; I’m thinking this is probably a different Kyle Bragg. (I mean, there are Republican union members — it does happen — but you can’t run for the Minnesota House of Representatives if you life in New York.) The New York Kyle Bragg actually sounds pretty damn cool

The Minneapolis Kyle Bragg has a LinkedIn profile that says he’s a lease specialist for an office machines company; his Facebook page has a lovely picture of Minnehaha Falls in winter, so I’m pretty sure I’m looking at the right guy.

Anyway, the bottom line is, he’s not a serious candidate; if you can’t even be bothered to set up a Facebook page for your candidacy, you’re not actually running for office even if you’ve filed for it.

Jim Davnie

I have known Jim for over fourteen years; I was pregnant with Molly (and his wife was pregnant with their older daughter) when he ran for office the first time. Jim is smart, funny, honest, thoughtful, and an amazing speaker. If you live in his district, not only should you vote for him, you should seek him out at neighborhood events to chat. Jim is freaking awesome. I would vote for him for anything. Well, maybe not Attorney General. I think you’re supposed to have gone to law school to be AG.

On to St. Paul.

This district has been represented by Michael Paymar since 1996. Paymar is stepping down at the end of this session, so there’s no incumbent. You might think this would have led to a bunch of people filing, but nope. For State Representative District 64B, your choices are:

DANIEL SURMAN – REPUBLICAN
DAVE PINTO – DEMOCRATIC-FARMER-LABOR

According to the Pioneer Press, Daniel Surman is an office director for a Republican campaign office covering the 4th Congressional District. In the MNGOP notice about the endorsing convention they held in July, they note that Daniel Surman is the only candidate who filed, and adds, “With the retirement of former-Rep Michael Paymar, he hopes to rally Republicans in our community to make sure our next State Representative will be a Republican!”

So possibly the problem is “rallying Republicans in our community.” I mean, I know there are a few. But you’d be hard-pressed to find them. Even though Daniel is so Republican he works for the party, and even though he has a Twitter, a blog, and another blog (this one’s with a group of bloggers), he doesn’t seem to have a campaign site of any kind. In other words, like the guy in 63A, he filed but he’s not actually running.

If you’re a Republican you’ll probably vote for him anyway, although you might ask yourself, don’t you want a State Rep who acts like he wants the job of representing you?

Dave Pinto is a county prosecutor. During endorsement season he held “conversations” (with topics) rather than meet-and-greets, which was an interesting idea. He doorknocked us at least once and I also talked with him on the phone; I found him thoughtful and engaged. When he doesn’t have an answer, he’ll ask for your ideas (as opposed to pulling buzzwords out of his ass to try to make it sound like he has all the answers.)

Anyway, I think Pinto’s going to be an excellent State Rep, and I’m planning to vote for him.

Election 2014: U.S. House in District 4 and District 5

Both District 4 (St. Paul and some suburbs) and District 5 (Minneapolis and some suburbs) are rather solidly DFL districts. The 4th District was last represented by a Republican in the late 1940s; the 5th in the 1960s. We do have Republicans running in both these districts this time around and strange things do happen, but these are not generally considered to be competitive races.

In District 4, here’s who’s on the ballot:

DAVE THOMAS – INDEPENDENCE
SHARNA WAHLGREN – REPUBLICAN
BETTY MCCOLLUM – DEMOCRATIC-FARMER-LABOR

Dave Thomas

So whereas the Independence candidate in the Senate race was running somewhere to the right of the Republican, the Independence candidate here (who is actually endorsed by the Independence party, unlike the guy in the Senate race) is running to the left of the Democrat. Whereas the Independence guy in the Senate race is your embarrassing bigoted uncle, the Independence guy in the Congressional race is your extremely liberal and overly enthusiastic very young cousin whose Facebook feed has more than its share dubiously sourced re-shares about the dangers of plastic water bottles or whatever it is this week. When you talk to him at family parties, he wants to buttonhole you about some ISSUE that he is currently passionate about. One Thanksgiving it was the paleo diet; another it was marijuana legalization. You don’t actually disagree with him about much of this stuff, mind you, but his passionate declarations of fervent belief make you realize that you’ve gotten old.

Dave Thomas doesn’t give a bio on his campaign website, which had me wondering if he was still in college. His Facebook page, however, says that he is “an Iraq War veteran, volunteer firefighter and works in the special education department at Brimhall Elementary in Roseville, MN. He is happily married with two beautiful children.”

Anyway! He wants a system of state-funded tuition-free public higher education, and in the meantime we should forgive all loan debt. He wants universal paid maternity leave. He wants a manned mission to Mars and a 5% increase in our National Park lands. He wants energy self-sufficiency in eleven years, he wants marijuana legalization, he wants the NSA to be defunded.

To pay for the stuff like tuition-free college, he wants a new tax code: “A sliding scale, percentage-based flat tax on all income generated (from the federal level) would rectify most of the problematic situations that our current code perpetuates.” I’m not sure what a sliding-scale flat tax is, other than contradictory sounding.

Under Veteran’s Affairs, he suggests that when members of the Armed Service go through extensive training equivalent to a technical degree, we call it an Associate’s Degree. This strikes me as possibly really reasonable (and wouldn’t cost anything extra — essentially it’s a way of upgrading the credentials soldiers are already coming home with into something employers recognize). I wonder why this isn’t what they do now?

Possibly the funniest, from the National Security section “It should be illegal to sell any seed which is unable to produce viable offspring.” So just to be clear: he thinks it should be illegal to grow seedless watermelons. (Marijuana: legalize and tax. Seedless watermelons: BAN.) (I’m sure he’s actually thinking of some of the varieties of corn developed by Monsanto that are specifically designed to make it impossible for you to save seeds. But his proposed legislation basically bans hybrid garden vegetables.) Dammit, Dave Thomas, YOU CAN HAVE MY SEEDLESS WATERMELON WHEN YOU PRY IT FROM MY COLD, DEAD HANDS.

Sharna Wahlgren

Sharna is the Republican. She provides a fairly standard political bio (community service on non-profit boards, work ethic honed by high school labor at the State Fair) and states that her priorities are fiscal responsibility, local solutions, and job growth. She’s got a paragraph about each. I salute her willingness to run in a race she’s going to lose, and her pragmatism in accepting that this is not a campaign worth investing a lot of time in.

Betty McCollum

Betty is liberal and hardworking, and has so far avoided embarrassing us with any scandals or criminal behavior. I kind of preferred being represented by Keith Ellison just because he upsets so many Republicans just by existing, but I really have no complaints about Betty. I’m going to vote for her.

In District 5, here’s who’s on the ballot:

LEE BAUER – INDEPENDENCE
DOUG DAGGETT – REPUBLICAN
KEITH ELLISON – DEMOCRATIC-FARMER-LABOR

Lee Bauer

I clicked on Lee Bauer’s website with trepidation, eager to find out which variety of Independence nutbar I’d find.

I don’t really want to make fun of him, but I wouldn’t vote for him, either. Lee is a blue-collar, working class, gay single father. (Based on the age of his kid, I’m guessing he had a brief marriage to a woman.) He’s earnest and means well but is overly fond of exclamation points and doesn’t know much about most of the issues.

For example, here’s his comment on drug costs: “Prescription drugs, by bring down the price of will benefit the ones with chronic symptoms and the older folks. How about asthma for instance, There is a drug called Albuterol, it was put on the market 1968, the year I was born, Albuterol 5 years ago was $17.00 cash with no insurance, but today it’s $57.00, and if you were to buy in Mexico its less than five dollars for three bottles. One bottle would last a month for most and this is one drug of many that can be lowed.”

I had basically the same question last year — WTF is up with albuterol prices? This is not a new drug; why does it cost so goddamn much? It turns out that this is due to environmental regulations. The old inhalers contained CFCs. CFCs were banned by an international treaty in 1996 because they were causing ozone layer depletion; the albuterol inhalers that used CFCs were phased out in 2008. The new formulation is legally a new drug and so it’s under patent again (or maybe it’s the inhaler design that’s new? I am not 100% sure.) Anyway, that’s why albuterol suddenly costs so much. There were a lot of things that the government could have done differently to mitigate the situation; I would be a lot more interested in his ideas if he got into any of that, but he doesn’t.

Anyway, a lot of his website is like that.

Doug Daggett

Doug has another fairly standard political bio (his first job was delivering the morning paper). He’s 50, married, a tech sales person, and reasonably competent with Twitter. He presents himself as a fairly moderate Republican, suggesting changes to the Affordable Care Act rather than demanding it be immediately repealed. (He thinks people should have catastrophic coverage policies and HSAs.)

The bit that made me roll my eyes and think, “so very Republican” was this bit on education:

We all want our children to have a great education and great opportunities. Yet in Minneapolis, most likely 1/2 of our children (46%) will not graduate. This is an economic and social disaster for all of us in the 5th Congressional District! We need a leader who will get Washington DC out of our schools and allow teachers and parents to decide what’s best for our children. Doug Daggett is that leader.

Minneapolis is doing a crap job, therefore get Washington DC out because local control is the answer!

Keith Ellison

Keith is a solidly liberal, hard-working Representative who so far hasn’t embarrassed his constituents with scandals or criminal behavior.

But what I really adored about Keith Ellison back when I was living in Minneapolis was being able to tell my out-of-town friends that I was represented by a pro-Choice pro-marriage-equality Muslim black guy. Keith Ellison has been making right-wing heads explode since he took his Oath of Office on Thomas Jefferson’s copy of the Koran.

Were I living in Minneapolis, I would definitely vote for Keith.