Randy Maluchnik spent his decades in local government fighting for the little guy.

Though the 65-year-old Chaska resident's tenure as a Carver County commissioner — a seat he lost in November — is remembered for policy wins including securing funds to expand U.S. Highway 212, it is also marked by his nonconformity, both as a Democrat in a conservative county and an elected official with a habit of extending a hand to those others overlooked.

"Randy very heavily backed me when others didn't," said Noah McCourt, a 26-year-old Black man with autism and other mental health issues who has run for office and filed accessibility lawsuits in Carver County as a disability-rights activist.

For Maluchnik, the reasoning is simple: "I learned in the military we do not leave people behind," he said.

Maluchnik grew up in Johns­town, Pa., a city he remembers as racist and intolerant — including toward his family, who were of Polish descent. His mother was addicted to prescription drugs and suffered from depression — experiences that helped shape his awareness of prejudice and support for people with mental illness, he said.

After moving to Wyoming, where he said he was inspired by the ways residents supported the elderly, Maluchnik joined the National Guard, which helped pay his way through college and graduate school. But after eight years of recruiting duty, he became burned out, he said. He had developed orthopedic problems and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

Maluchnik left the military as a disabled veteran and went on to work for U.S. Rep. David Minge, a Democrat, and then the Department of Veterans Affairs. He served on the Chaska City Council as well as the Carver County Planning Commission and Parks Commission before being elected to the board of commissioners in 2006.

"I have my disagreements with Randy," said Chaska Mayor Mark Windschitl, noting Maluchnik's support for McCourt despite his filing lawsuits against the county. "His views and values were maybe less conservative, put it that way."

But the mayor, whose son-in-law defeated Maluchnik in the November election, also acknowledged the former commissioner's work on transportation and on behalf of veterans and social services — achievements that former colleagues noted, too.

"He just worked very, very hard, especially for veterans and transportation," said former Commissioner James Ische, who retired from the Carver County board last year. "He put more time in than anyone" to secure county, state and federal funds to expand U.S. Highway 212, shrinking residents' commutes, Ische said.

Maluchnik brought a 30,000-foot view to his work on the board, colleagues said, developing relationships with U.S. senators and other officials in Washington, D.C., and considering the local implications of statewide policies.

"I've got a lot of respect for the man," said Ramsey County Commissioner Victoria Reinhardt. "He understands that what happens in Ramsey County matters to Carver County — and what happens in Clay County matters to Carver County."

Ultimately, though, voters opted for a new direction. Matt Udermann, a 41-year-old Chaska resident with experience on the Carver County Library and Chaska Parks and Recreation boards, won Maluchnik's seat by nearly 13 percentage points in the November election.

"Randy spent a lot of time in St. Paul and in D.C." when he should have been focused on Carver County, Udermann said. "It's not a good use of his time or taxpayers' dollars."

Udermann noted that some of Maluchnik's campaign contributions came from sources outside the county and included donations from unions, which Udermann said his own campaign did not accept.

Two months after his defeat, Maluchnik describes himself as "proudly retired." He and his wife, Suzette, had planned to travel — but then the pandemic put life on hold.

"I'm going to do a little consulting," Maluchnik said. "I might do some ridiculously simple job until this is over."

Katy Read • 612-673-4583