It's the Republican elephant in the room.
Two weeks after Anoka County Commissioner Rhonda Sivarajah was selected to be the running mate of GOP gubernatorial candidate Marty Siefert, others on the county board have said nary a public word about her bid. At last week's board meeting, the subject wasn't broached -- not even in a room of veteran campaigners who aren't afraid to voice opinions.
"The county board meetings are pretty sacred," chairman Dennis Berg said this week. "We're a nonpartisan board, and that's getting into the partisan side of politics.
"We've got to be careful," he said. "We're being televised. It's just not the forum to be campaigning from, and I think Rhonda understands that."
Sivarajah said Thursday that "I'm not surprised and I'm not disappointed" that her candidacy wasn't mentioned at the meeting. She said that commissioner Dick Lang had called her almost immediately after Seifert selected her on Feb. 18 and that every other board member has privately wished her well since then. She also said she feels as if she's now wearing two different hats -- one as commissioner and one as candidate -- and will try to respect the distinction.
Commissioner Robyn West, a fiscal conservative who often joins Sivarajah on the short end of 5-2 county board votes, expressed disappointment after the Feb. 23 meeting that nobody mentioned Sivarajah's candidacy.
Commissioner Dan Erhart was the engine who helped drive the Northstar commuter rail line into existence and, before that, was part of the blitz to build a Vikings stadium in Blaine -- moves that Sivarajah voted against at every opportunity. The day after her candidacy was announced, he declined reporters' interview requests. He said he congratulated her privately, at the board meeting, but politely declined to talk about her afterward.
When Commissioner Scott LeDoux was asked this week about Sivarajah, he answered, "She's conservative." He then changed the subject.
"I don't think there's any protocol necessarily," said Commissioner Jim Kordiak, the board's vice chairman. "For the most part, we simply leave others' politics alone.
"I don't think there's any animosity," he continued. "Had she won a state award for human services initiatives, we probably would have recognized that. Frankly, it never occurred to me to bring it up."
Kordiak said he congratulates Sivarajah for "this remarkable opportunity presented to her" and says "it may have been gracious" to congratulate her at a public meeting.
Sivarajah certainly has the board's attention. Twice at the most recent meeting, she voted against the majority, once by herself. And in a recent opinion piece for the Quad Community Press, based in White Bear Lake, Sivarajah talked about "misplaced priorities in county government" and criticized fellow commissioners for voting to give county employees a small wage increase.
"All of us will have to live with the consequences," she wrote, noting that she and West voted in the minority.
Berg backed the board's decision in January to give union employees a 1.5 percent merit pool raise.
The employees are being "asked to do more with less and sometimes you have to compromise," Berg said. "You should never slice your bread so thin that you can't see there's two sides to it."
Paul Levy • 612-673-4419