In Dakota County's District 7 based in Apple Valley, political newcomer Victoria Swanson and former state senator Chris Gerlach are competing for the board seat of retiring Commissioner Will Branning.
Six of seven seats on the county board are open to election this year with the redrawing of board district boundaries following the 2010 census. District 7 has one of four contested races. Two incumbents, Tom Egan and Paul Krause, are running for reelection unopposed. Commissioner Kathleen Gaylord was spared a race because the population of her district did not shift significantly.
The District 7 campaign has been civil and low-key. Both candidates say they are happy with county operations, and neither has anything he or she specifically wants to change.
Swanson, 53, makes a point to present herself as a "nonpartisan" candidate. "I am not a career politician. I am not a puppet" to a party, Swanson said. "I am going to make my own decisions, collaborating with the team of board members I will be working with."
Gerlach, 47, a former state representative and senator who became a Republican leader at the Capitol, did not seek party endorsement for the nonpartisan county race. But he says that after 14 years in office, "It ought to be no secret that I am a Republican.
"I am a low-tax, limited government politician," Gerlach said. "I can simply run on my record of 14 years of being conservative."
Dakota County, the state's third-largest, provides parks, roads and transit, libraries and social services.
Swanson said she is seeking election to make sure key services are not cut. "I know that we are going to have fewer dollars, and I don't believe in spending money we don't have," she said. "But I want to make sure that the things that are important to people who live here stay intact.
"We have a great library system. We have great parks. ... Right here in our back yard it's like being Up North. I think we have a beautiful area, and I would like to keep it that way," Swanson said.
Gerlach would keep county spending on its current course. "Dakota County has the lowest per-capita tax levy of all the counties. I am pleased with that ranking, and I want to make sure we maintain that."
With his background in state government, Gerlach is presenting himself to voters as someone who could foster a good relationship with the Legislature. When at the Capitol, he said he worked with Branning to deliver funds for the Cedar Avenue Bus Rapid Transitway.
Gerlach owns Capital Direct, a direct marketing and bulk mail processing business in Eagan. He was born and raised in Apple Valley, the youngest of six children. He went to college at St. Thomas. After graduating he served as an officer at Ellsworth Air Force Base in Rapid City, S.D. He earned a master's of business administration from the University of South Dakota.
He and his wife, Shelli, have a daughter, 11, and a son, 8. To spend more time with his family, Gerlach decided not to run again for the Senate. Then Branning announced his retirement, and Gerlach saw a way to continue working in public office and be closer to home.
Swanson grew up in Richfield, where at age 10 she began distributing literature for her father, former Rep. Jim Swanson, DFL-Richfield, who served in the Legislature for 18 years.
Swanson has a bachelor of science degree from North Park University in Chicago. Her professional background is as an environmental compliance coordinator. She is working as a substitute teacher during the campaign. She has lived in Apple Valley for 26 years. Her son, Alex, 20, is a college student.
Swanson, a hiker and dog owner, describes herself as "an active participant at my church in Apple Valley, where I sing and play piano on the worship team and with children's ministry. I'm a member and volunteer of the Apple Valley Chamber of Commerce, member of Minnesota Erosion Control Association and have volunteered at District 196 schools."
Laurie Blake 952-746-3287