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'Unusual' field to challenge Anoka County's Andy Westerberg

  • Article by: PAUL LEVY
  • Star Tribune
  • June 9, 2012 - 9:43 PM

Anoka County Commissioner Andy Westerberg calls himself a fiscal conservative. So imagine his surprise when he learned that all of the other candidates for his County Board seat are also fiscal conservatives -- Debbie Johnson, Julie Braastad and Mike Jungbauer.

"It's unusual," Westerberg said of the field vying to represent District 2, after the candidate filing period closed last week.

It's an unusual election year. Redistricting has prompted elections for six of the seven Anoka County Board seats; only Commissioner Jim Kordiak doesn't have to run for re-election.

In Sherburne County, four of the five board seats are being contested; only Commissioner Felix Schmiesing is unopposed. One race pits board Chairman Larry Farber against Bruce Anderson, the retired longtime county sheriff. In another, veteran commissioner Rachel Leonard is up against Wendy Kowalski, a Zimmerman City Council member who sued the five county commissioners this year over their right to impose a special levy to support the Northstar commuter-rail line.

Primary required

In Anoka County, two of the races will require an August primary. In District 1, incumbent Matt Look will face off again former county Veterans Services Director Allison Lister, former Ramsey Mayor Tom Gamec and Oak Grove City Council Member Dan Denno.

Look, a former Ramsey City Council member, has been on the County Board for less than 18 months. Gamec was Ramsey's mayor from 1979 to 1984, stepped aside and then was talked into running again in 1996. He was elected and remained mayor until 2007, before retiring again.

Lister, who spent 21 years in the Air Force, chastised County Board members in e-mails sent to all seven commissioners earlier this year. She described the county's leadership as "appalling" and faulted the board for a "complete lack of communication." Despite the memo, several commissioners praised Lister for her work with veterans.

The other primary will be in District 2. Westerberg, a four-term state representative who was elected to the board for the first time in 2010, said he's "excited about the possibility of continuing." He knows all of his challengers and says he hasn't heard criticism from any of them concerning his brief record on the board.

Johnson, a former state senator who says she is the most conservative of the bunch, ran against Westerberg for commissioner two years ago.

"I laid the groundwork in the last race and can't see stepping away now," she said. "I'm more conservative and I have a proven track record that shows that."

But Braastad, a Ham Lake City Council member, says that she is "by far the most conservative" and wants to "stop wasting resources on losing efforts." She says that she hopes "to improve the working relationship between county employees and the board," but did not elaborate.

State Sen. Jungbauer lost the Republican Party endorsement in March to fellow Sen. Michelle Benson on a fifth ballot; redistricting had placed the two in the same district.

Junbauer says his wife wanted him to run for the County Board two years ago and now "I feel the call."

"I'm detailed, I campaign hard and I think I have a wonderful grasp of the issues driving this county," he said. "I don't like the partisan side of politics. I think I'm better suited for county-level government."

Longtime Commissioner Dan Erhart is being challenged by Coon Rapids Council Member Scott Schulte. Incumbent Carol LeDoux has been challenged by Scott Bromley of the Coon Creek Watershed District board. Incumbent Robyn West is running against Dan Sanders of Blaine. Rhonda Sivarajah, the board chairwoman, will again run against Kevin Ryan of Stacy, whom she defeated in 2004 and 2008.

Paul Levy • 612-673-4419

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