DULUTH – St. Louis County Commissioner Beth Olson, the only woman and only openly gay member of the County Board, announced Monday that she will not seek re-election in the fall.
Olson was elected by the county’s third district, which includes West Duluth, in 2016. When her four-year term ends in January 2021, she plans to return to the nonprofit sector, where she worked for 25 years before running for office.
“I’ve always had a commitment to providing a platform for voices that aren’t typically heard, to making our community a safer place where people who normally don’t have opportunities get opportunities,” Olson said.
When two of her close friends died by suicide in the same year in 2018, Olson said she started to reflect on her life and desire to “really focus on where I can have the most impact.”
The 49-year-old doesn’t know what specifically her next step will be, but she’s interested in foundation and philanthropic work — organizations that Olson thinks can be a bit more “nimble” than governments in effecting change.
For now, Olson still has a list of things to accomplish before her term ends. Last month, in accordance with an executive order that has since been temporarily halted by a federal judge, St. Louis County commissioners voted to postpone conversations about whether to allow newly arrived refugees to settle within the county’s boundaries.
Olson pushed for the County Board to vote in favor of the resolution to allow refugees, a largely symbolic decision as St. Louis County is too far from any of Minnesota’s resettlement agencies to receive refugees unless they have a family member living in the area. She’s pledged to continue her efforts, despite what’s decided in the end at the federal level.
Olson also hopes a woman or person of color might join the County Board when she steps down. “The one thing that was hard for me in making this decision was that I provided a voice that wasn’t there on the board,” she added.
Her seat and three others on the County Board will be up for election in the fall.
“Beth has been a valued member on the County Board, and I’m going to miss her unique perspectives,” County Administrator Kevin Gray said in a statement.