Deb Barber, a candidate for county board seat in Scott County, paints her opponent in the November general election as the embodiment of St. Paul politics and the Republican establishment, more concerned with image than reality.
But her challenger, Mike Beard, a longtime state representative who opted to run for county commissioner instead of seeking a seventh term, says Barber is trying to divert attention from her own lack of political seasoning.
Beard coasted to victory last week in the primary, finishing with 586 votes, far ahead of the 378 votes for Barber.
The two candidates will next face off in the November election in District 3, which includes most of their shared hometown of Shakopee, the county seat.
Another challenger, Matt Lehman, a Shakopee City Council member, finished third — losing to Barber, though, by fewer than 30 votes — less than a week after pulling out of a televised candidate forum.
Barber says Beard’s tenure at the Statehouse, which spanned 12 years, was spent cozying up to special-interest lobbyists and insiders.
“They balanced the budget, but they did so on the backs of the suburban counties,” she said, singling out cuts to health and human services programs. “And I find that a little troubling that he wants to come back and represent the interests of the county.”
Beard said that his political experience has given him intimate knowledge of the inner workings of state and county government. If anything, his deep political roots will come in handy, he said at a candidate forum in a wood-paneled room at the Turtles Social Centre in downtown Shakopee.
Barber has also taken heat for her political ties, particularly with Shakopee Mayor Brad Tabke, whom political observers claim has been openly campaigning for her.
“Let’s for a moment assume that she loses: Has the mayor hurt his relationship with (Beard)? If she does get in, does this suggest a cozier relationship?” said Jerry Kucera, a close observer of politics in the county who unsuccessfully ran for County Board twice, in 2010 and 2012. “I think you could make the argument either way that either outcome is not completely free of stain.”
In an interview, Barber brushed off the criticism, saying that she and Tabke have “been friends for many years, going back to my helping him on campaigns early on.”
She continued: “I think he’ll be the first to tell you that he and I aren’t going to agree on everything.”
Kucera added that whoever is elected to succeed Commissioner Dave Menden, who is stepping down, will “have their hands full on a couple of issues, dealing with mining and how that’s going to affect local aquifers and water tables.”
Menden did not respond to a call for comment.
One issue to watch will be the proposal for a sales tax hike for roads and transit.
Barber has said she isn’t opposed to the half-cent tax being considered by the County Board, but agreed that the issue “needs further study.”
Beard could not be reached by press time to comment on the issue.
Barber said in a statement posted on her campaign website: “This roller-coaster ride resulted in Scott County needing to focus internally on maintaining necessary services under increasing financial pressures. I believe that Shakopee needs a new voice and perspective represented on the Board.”