Washington County Commissioner Dennis Hegberg is the latest Republican leader to lose his party's support for voting to increase taxes for transit projects.

Hegberg, the longest-serving member on the county's Board of Commissioners and its chairman, lost the party's endorsement Monday night in Hugo. He said despite the snub, he will seek reelection in District 1, which includes Forest Lake, Grant, Hugo, Mahtomedi and Scandia.

Eric Langness, a member of the Forest Lake school board, received the GOP endorsement on the first ballot.

Hegberg's vote last spring to approve a controversial, quarter-cent sales tax to fund mass transit was the main reason delegates chose not to endorse him, acknowledged John Meader, chairman of Senate District 52 for the Republicans.

Meanwhile, Langness has vowed to work to repeal the tax in Washington County if he is elected.

Hegberg became a county commissioner in 1989. He said he was disappointed but not surprised by the party's decision to endorse Langness. "The Republicans don't like the sales tax. It's a big issue," he said.

He filed his candidacy paperwork on Tuesday. It was the first day of the candidate filing period, which runs until July 15.

Technically, the county commissioner positions are nonpartisan and candidates' party affiliations do not appear on the ballot. However, party endorsements are significant because they provide candidates with access to phone lists of likely voters and financial support for campaign literature and signs.

Langness said delegates told him they liked his pledge to reverse the sales tax. "The reason I set forth is that the tax is not going to help Washington County. I see it as a wasteful source of taxpayer money for county residents," he said.

Hegberg's vote shows he's out of touch with citizens, Langness said. "If the party leads down a path of supporting candidates that claim to be Republicans but then vote differently, I think somebody needs to step up to the plate and take the endorsement and run for the office," he said.

Hegberg defended his decision to endorse the tax. "I feel that it was a good vote and something that was necessary for the transit issues of the metro area. I think it will serve Washington County. I feel there will be express buses to Forest Lake, to Minneapolis and St. Paul, out of those funds."

Washington County Commissioner Gary Kriesel said he was disappointed by the Republican decision not to back Hegberg. "When you look at the good things that Commissioner Hegberg has brought to Forest Lake -- the library, the service center -- I just think it's bad when a party of either side would cast out a good public servant for a disagreement on one vote."

The transit tax issue divided the board of commissioners last April, with Hegberg, Myra Peterson and Dick Stafford supporting the tax and Kriesel and Bill Pulkrabek opposing it.

Kriesel is running for re-election in District 3, which includes Afton, Bayport, Oak Park Heights and Stillwater. He is not seeking party endorsement.

Stafford, appointed to the board to replace the late Gary Orth, is not running.

Allie Shah • 651-298-1550.