A slew of candidates have signed up to run for city and county offices, some wide open after decades.
Study up, Dakota County voters.
An unusually large roster of candidates is coming out of the woodwork for this fall's elections, and together with redrawn districts and high-profile retirements, it portends big changes in Dakota County politics.
The Dakota County Board could see the most turnover of any local government, with two seats wide open because of retirements, a rematch of a close 2010 race prompted by redistricting, and a three-way contest for another seat. The two-week candidate filing period ended last week.
With longtime Commissioner Joe Harris retiring, his seat representing Hastings, Farmington and the southern rural townships is unclaimed for the first time in three decades. Five candidates signed up: Dean Birnstengel of Hastings, who has previously run for the position; Brian Jaye Budenski, chairman of the Eureka Township Board; Christy Jo Fogarty, a member of the Farmington City Council; Mark A. Henry, a member of the Dakota County Fair Board from Castle Rock Township, and Mike Slavik, a member of the Hastings City Council.
The race to replace Commissioner Will Branning, who is retiring from his post representing the Apple Valley area, is notable as much for who didn't enter as for who did.
Apple Valley Mayor Mary Hamann-Roland had said just hours after Branning announced his retirement that she would run for the county board. But she opted to stay put as Apple Valley mayor rather than face off against Chris Gerlach, a retiring state senator who submitted his paperwork for the county office on the first day of filing.
"I'm not interested in a battle," Hamann-Roland said. "Whoever has that seat, I'm going to work with them. We need to work for the betterment of the city of Apple Valley."
Gerlach, a Republican leader in the state senate, said he decided to retire from that post to reduce demands on his time and be closer to home. As a county commissioner, he said, he saw an opportunity to stay involved but at a local level with a more consistent schedule and workload. And his state connections would be an asset to the county, he said.
"We always wrestle with the county-state relationship," Gerlach said. "I know how the levers are pulled at the state. I know what motivates the Legislature."
But he's not running unopposed. Apple Valley resident Victoria "Vicki" Swanson filed just before the deadline.
Residents who wanted to be on the ballot in cities and counties that hold primary elections had until last Tuesday to file. For offices where the number of candidates exceeds two per open seat, there will be primaries Aug. 14 to whittle the lists down before the November general election.
In Inver Grove Heights and Rosemount, redistricting has prompted a midterm rematch of a close 2010 contest between incumbent Nancy Schouweiler and Bill Klein, a member of the Inver Grove Heights City Council.
Schouweiler won reelection two years ago by 755 votes, but the district has since been redrawn based on the 2010 census, sliding southward to include most of Rosemount.
Klein said he entered the race because of the redistricting and plans to run on many of the same issues: cutting spending, protecting private property rights and warning against moves to "urbanize our suburbs."
And he thinks his chances are good, given the new shape of the district.
"I know a lot of the folks down there," Klein said. "I'm a door knocker, so I'll be around."
Schouweiler, the chairwoman of the county board, chalked up the close 2010 race to an anti-incumbent fervor. She said she has already started reaching out to people in Rosemount and plans to campaign on her record.
"The [county] board approval rating's been high. We've kept taxes down," she said. "I don't think people really have issues."
Commissioner Liz Workman faces challenges from two Burnsville residents -- Peter Beckel and Dave Giles -- in District 5.
"None of my elections have been handed to me," said Workman, a former Burnsville City Council member who is completing her first county board term. "I have always had to work hard and I'm just used to it."
Beckel, who described himself as an investor and has previously run for the Burnsville school board, said he wants to run for the county board to cut spending on anything that isn't required, including parks and libraries. Giles, previously a Burnsville firefighter, now works for the county's Transportation Department. He said he's running because he's proud of the county and wants to continue seeking ways to improve services and save money through collaboration.
"I just think I could do a really good job," he said. "It's good to have a little bit of different flavor, have a variety of people."
Incumbents Thomas Egan and Paul Krause are both running unopposed.
Gustafson stepping down
Municipal races so far also pose opportunities for voters to put new people in office.
In Burnsville, Council Member Dan Gustafson filed and then withdrew from the race. He will be stepping down at the end of the year.
"My wife and I had talked about me possibly not running for a while," Gustafson, 59, said. "I had eight great years on the council with many, many things accomplished."
He said he plans to focus on his new food truck business and explore other opportunities, spend time with his family and maybe travel as he looks toward retirement.
Gustafson was often an ally to Mayor Elizabeth Kautz amid controversy over the Burnsville Performing Arts Center.
His decision to withdraw from the race leaves six candidates for the August primary, including incumbent Mary Sherry. The mayor's race will also have a primary with three candidates -- Kautz, her 2008 opponent Jerry Willenburg and Bill David Ansari -- vying for two spots on the November ballot.
Elsewhere, incumbents declined to file for council seats in Inver Grove Heights, leaving two spots open for four candidates.
In Rosemount, Council Member Matt Kearney did not file for reelection. Primary voters will trim a list of six candidates to four for the general election.
Katie Humphrey • 952-746-3286