It’s the only contested race for the Anoka County Board this election season and it couldn’t be more unpredictable.
When Commissioner Carol LeDoux opted not to run for re-election, the scramble for her District 5 seat burst wide open. Vying to succeed her are Andover Mayor Mike Gamache, former state Sen. Debbie Johnson and political newcomer Reid Oines.
Two candidates will advance from the Aug. 12 primary to the Nov. 4 general election. Two other County Board seats will be on the ballot, but incumbents Jim Kordiak (District 4) and Scott Schulte (District 7) were the only candidates to file. The same is true for County Sheriff James Stuart and County Attorney Tony Palumbo.
Gamache, who has been mayor of Andover for 14 years, has long been a supporter of LeDoux and her late husband, Scott LeDoux, the former heavyweight boxing contender who served as commissioner before her. Scott LeDoux was one of the county’s most popular commissioners ever. Carol LeDoux earned more votes than any other candidate running for the Anoka County board in 2010.
Gamache is well known in Andover, Coon Rapids and Fridley — the three cities in which District 5 voters live. He’s been president of the North Metro Mayors Association. He’s been involved in transportation discussions, even though there are no state highways or interstates running through Andover.
In 2006, Gamache pushed for an open-space levy and says that Andover has 80 acres that never will be developed. He compares Andover to the entire county, noting that much of the area remains rural while many communities have welcomed development.
“We’re trying to continue to build the north metro as a business community,” said Gamache, a product specialist for General Mills the past 36 years. “At the same time, the county is a lot like Andover: We’re striving to keep that balance between a suburban area and rural area.”
Gamache says that he has always had good relationships with the county and County Board and that his experience as mayor will translate nicely to the board, should he be elected.
Johnson also is familiar with area government, having represented sections of the district while she served as a state senator for 10 years.
She has run unsuccessfully for county commissioner in the past two elections, but in District 2. She has since moved from Ham Lake to Coon Rapids.
“When I found out that Carol was retiring, it piqued my interest,” Johnson said. “After I moved to Coon Rapids and learned I had the support, I thought, ‘I’m going to do it.’
“I’m familiar with the folks, having represented pieces of Andover for 10 years and other sections of the district for eight,” she said. “I love this area and want to continue to serve.”
Johnson was a member of several Senate committees: Capital Investment, Consumer Protection, Health, Housing and Taxes. She said she is well aware of the amount of time she will need to commit to the County Board.
“When I worked in the Legislature, that was called part time,” Johnson said. “It’s not part time; it’s a full-time commitment. There’s more work to be done with the county because you’re more hands on.
“I’m committed to that effort.”
Oines, of Andover, is a 33-year resident of Anoka County. He says he recently retired after a long career in science and engineering.
“I’m planning on winning this,” he said of his political initiation.
But don’t call him a politician. A constitutional and fiscal conservative, he said he has no intention of making politics a new career.
“Politicians who stay in too long get stale,” he said.
What he is, he says, is a problem solver.
“A lot of times, problem solving in politics is slap a band-aid on it or throw money at it,” he said. “Sometimes, it’s just the result of a knee-jerk reaction.
“It shouldn’t be that way. You have a checkbook. I have a checkbook. If we see government overstep its bounds, we say something.”
He said the county is fortunate to have a board that is fiscally responsible and believes he would fit in with the current commissioners.
He said he is concerned over the increase in sex trafficking and drug use that’s poisoning the metro area.
“Anoka County’s not like other counties that overstep their bounds,” he said. “I want to be part of this. If I get elected, I want to make sure we continue to have fiscal responsibility.