Julie Braastad and Scott Schulte are new to the Anoka County Board. But the life-long county residents are hardly new to local politics.

Braastad has served the Ham Lake City Council the past six years. Schulte has been a Coon Rapids council member for 12 years. Neither is afraid to ask questions.

Among the first to congratulate Braastad after her victory over incumbent Andy Westerberg last week was retired Commissioner Dick Lang, a fellow Ham Lake resident who was elected five times to the board. Braastad wasn't gong to let Lang get away without picking his brain.

"Dick is just a really good example of a nice guy that likes people and enjoys serving the public," Braastad said. "I've always liked Dick. I welcome visits from him and a chance to learn from him."

Schulte, who unseated veteran board member Dan Erhart, is the owner-operator of his family's 55-year-old business, the Hi-Ten Service Center in Coon Rapids. He likes to mingle with his customers.

"It is an absolute advantage to be on the street with the people every day -- and not just talking to them when they have [car] problems," Schulte said. "I see people of all walks of life. I can confide in them and they can confide in me at my auto shop."

And he listens. When Coon Rapids was replacing curbs during a massive street repair, one of Schulte's customers suggested the city patch curbs rather than replace entire blocks. Schulte said the suggestion probably saved the city thousands of dollars.

Another customer suggested that prison crews from the Lino Lakes prison be used for jobs that Coon Rapids employees no longer wanted to do.

"There are a lot of people who avoid City Hall like the plague," Schulte said. "But they feel really comfortable at an old service station. I invite them to sit in my shop, have a cup of coffee and talk to me."

From city to county

Now, Schulte says he is ready to expand his horizons.

"I'm not going to champion Coon Rapids at every turn," he said. "I'm looking out for all of Anoka County now.

"I think the perspective of coming from a city council, from the largest city in the county, I do bring a valid perspective and understanding of what's needed."

Ham Lake is one of Anoka County's less populated communities, but that hardly makes Braastad any less worthy as a commissioner, Lang said. Whether socializing at sunrise with customers of the Red Ox Cafe or working as a volunteer to drive fellow veterans to the VA clinic in Ramsey, Lang has never allowed himself to be anything more than one of the people.

He thinks Braastad will do the same.

"Everyone in Ham Lake is familiar with the Braastad family, which has been around forever," Lang said. "As long as Julie maintains her connections to the people, she'll know what they want and need and she'll be fine."

Braastad was one of a record four women elected to the seven-member board last week.

"I think it's definitely a good time to be a woman, and there are more opportunities," she said. "Hopefully, this encourages our young ladies to grow up and follow their dreams. Good things can happen."

Paul Levy • 612-673-4419