DULUTH — Several state and St. Louis County races will appear on Aug. 9 primary election ballots: House District 8B and 8A, a sheriff's race and a county board seat.
To find your polling place, click here.
The Star Tribune asked each candidate the following questions in advance of the primary to help voters decide. Answers were edited for length. Candidates are listed alphabetically.
House District 8B
City of residence: Duluth
Educational background: Bachelor's degree in business administration, University of Minnesota Duluth
Occupation: Leader of the economic development and community engagement team at Minnesota Power
Family: My wife Jessica and I are raising our 7-year-old daughter, Amelia, and 4-year-old son, Arlo, with our pug, Stella, in the Kenwood neighborhood.
Experience: I serve as the Duluth City Council President, a Duluth Economic Development Authority Commissioner, and on the boards of the 1200 Fund, Visit Duluth, Greater Downtown Council, Spirit Mountain Recreation Authority, Entrepreneur Fund, Northspan, Laurentian Chamber of Commerce, and Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation Technical Advisory Committee. Past experience includes serving as a Duluth Public Utilities Commissioner, St. Louis County Civil Service Commissioner, member of the Spirit Mountain and Earned Sick & Safe Time Task Forces, as a city council liaison to the Library Board and Parks & Recreation Commission, and on the boards of Community Action Duluth, Iron Range Economic Alliance and Northland Human Resource Association.
Why are you running? I wake up every day with a burning desire to make Duluth and Minnesota a better place for everyone. In four years as a city councilor, I have worked tirelessly to earn the trust of Duluthians. Minnesota needs leaders right now who can fight for our values while also working collaboratively to find common ground; something currently lacking in our state and national politics. My diverse experiences in the public, private and nonprofit sectors have prepared me to secure the victories we need for Duluth and our progressive values.
What are the top three issues facing your district? Protecting democracy and the rights, freedoms and liberties of all Minnesotans. Investing in public education and affordable housing, healthcare and childcare. And combating climate change, which I believe is both an environmental and fiscal issue for a community such as our city.
What are your plans to address those issues? Progress for any issue starts with the relationships and coalitions you can build in St. Paul. We have a state legislature that couldn't even agree on how to invest a record surplus in the people of Minnesota this past session. As a city councilor, I have been tested in the political arena and have a proven track record of getting things done in difficult times, as well as winning progress on all of these issues at the local level. If elected, I will use my experience and ability to forge relationships across political lines to get results for my constituents in the legislature on these issues and more.
City of residence: Duluth
Educational background: Bachelor's degree in history, University of Minnesota Duluth; Master's degree in business administration, College of St. Scholastica
Occupation: Community Relations Officer, City of Duluth's Executive Leadership Team
Family: I live with my partner Samantha and my fierce daughter, Kat, age 8, in the Hunter's Park neighborhood of Duluth.
Experience: With the City of Duluth, I've worked alongside green energy experts to implement Duluth's Climate Crisis Plan, connected community members to COVID-19 relief, and supported entrepreneurs at all stages, to name a few projects. From serving as the Community Relations Officer for Duluth to working on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives state legislation, I've built the skill to represent Duluth and work together to drive home the community-led solutions we need.
Why are you running? This campaign is a direct response to community calls for me to run after our first ever female legislator in this district, Jen Schultz, decided to seek higher office. I'm running to be the next representative in the city I was born and raised in to ensure everyone has the opportunity to thrive. My roots in Duluth and our communities run deep. I am the child of a Mexican father who worked as a union electrician and an Ojibwe mother, who, with an eighth grade education, worked as a housekeeper and child care provider. I was raised by my fiercely strong grandmother who was a hospital nutrition worker-turned educator.
My grandmother showed me how to trailblaze through any obstacle, something I've done as both a first-generation graduate from UMD and as the first Latina-Ojibwe and Two-Spirit person to serve on the Executive Leadership Team in the City of Duluth's history.
I will use my experience harnessing local, grassroots efforts to directly influence, write, and shape both local and statewide policy.
What are the top three issues facing your district? An economy that works for working families. Too many community members are making tough choices between paying rent, utilities, and putting food on the table. With the necessary courage and leadership, we can co-create policy that serves us all such as universal childcare and fully-funded education.
Protecting our environment: Protecting the earth, our home, is core to my being. As a State Representative, I will hold corporations that seek to harm our environment accountable and I support Prove It First legislation. I'm proud to have the endorsements of Duluth for Clean Water, The Sierra Club, Friends of the Boundary Waters, Clean Water Action, and the DFL Environmental Caucus.
Affordable healthcare for all: My adoptive dad is a proud veteran who suffered severe cardiovascular disease from his two tours of duty in Vietnam. I sat with him as he fought to "prove" he should get health care he desperately needed. No one should have to prove why they need health care.
What are your plans to address those issues? It is my life experience that informs the way I do the work, and that deeply matters. I know the greatest challenges residents of our community face, and I also know what it is like to overcome those challenges and help others along the way. Too often passion and integrity are pitted against experience, but I'm proud to bring both. My tangible skills of working with over 500 Northland businesses, shifting systems and resources to better serve students, creating Duluth's first Climate Action Plan, helping small businesses stay afloat and even grow during the pandemic, engaging thousands of community members and cultivating local and state-wide networks at the Capitol will ensure my success as an effective leader for these times. My approach is collaborative and rooted in relationships. The answers to our collective challenges lie in the strength of our own communities.
House District 8A
City of residence: Duluth
Educational background: Bachelor's degree in civil engineering
Family details you'd like to share: Widower, single parent, two children, two stepchildren
Experience: Served on the Duluth School Board for two terms
Why are you running? For government accountability and to remove the current representatives who are socialists, anti-mining, anti-energy and anti-working.
What are the top three issues facing your district? Inflation, the DFL stoppage of Twin Metals mine and Keystone Pipeline, failing schools in Duluth and Minnesota.
What are your plans to address those issues? Encourage energy production by permitting the Keystone Pipeline; encourage mining in our Iron Range where we have environmental controls and labor unions; and encourage charter schools and parental choice where they can decide where to send their children with parents receiving state education money.
St. Louis County Board District 6
City of residence: Virginia
Educational background: University of St. Thomas
Experience: Former IRRRB Board Member, Former Virginia city councilor
What are the three biggest issues facing your county? I am running to split St. Louis County, unify the Iron Range under the new county, then take the State of Minnesota to court to break all prior agreements in the distribution of taconite production tax revenue. The state has ripped off the taconite-producing local civic authorities.
City of residence: Canyon
Educational background: High school graduate
Occupation: Auto mechanic (specialized in electronics and hydraulics); Worked for three mining companies: J&L Mining, Eveleth Mining, LTV Steel. Continues to work part time as a St. Louis County bus driver and over the road tractor trailer truck driver.
Why are you running? A Hermantown businessman and others asked me to run, and I believe the good Lord uses people and circumstances, so I am running.
What are the top three issues facing your county? First, high property taxes. Second, exorbitant spending by the county and that's why the property taxes almost doubled. Third, the lawlessness that's going on in the county and nothing is being done about it.
What are your plans to address those issues? The home and business taxes have to be brought under control, along with spending. Number two, find out where the spending of our money is going by doing a county audit. Number three, by electing Chad Walsh to sheriff, and educating our grand jury to what their responsibilities are under the fifth amendment to our Constitution.
City of residence: Lifetime farmer and resident of Fayal Township.
Family: Married for 44 years to my bride and best friend, Lois; three adult children, and four grandchildren, all living and working here in St. Louis County.
Occupation: Former steelworker and businessman for 43 years.
Why are you running? To continue the good work of and along with my fellow commissioners on the St. Louis County Board. For the first time in the history of St. Louis County, northern commissioners have a clear majority, and we are getting things done outside of Duluth.
What are the three biggest issues facing your county? Taxes, maintaining our infrastructure, and continuing to provide valuable services in our community.
What are your plans to address those issues? Regarding taxes: Working to control property tax increases even while our state sits on record high surpluses and continues to direct more unfounded mandates to county government and your property tax dollars; control unnecessary spending and foster more efficiency in the delivery of services.
Regarding maintaining our infrastructure: In 2022 alone, investing nearly $100 million in road and bridge projects, expanding and modernizing our regional landfill, and updating three public works building, all outside of Duluth, and all done with project labor agreements, keeping our local craftsmen and women working here in our community.
Regarding service delivery: My pledge to you is to continue to work on customer service in all areas of county government, making county government work for you, not the other way around.
St. Louis County Sheriff
City of residence: Fredenberg Township, Duluth
Educational background: Graduate of Denfeld High School and the University of Minnesota Duluth, with a bachelor's degree in criminology
Occupation: Deputy sheriff of St. Louis County
Family: I am a lifelong St. Louis County resident. My wife Tami, a longtime public school teacher, and I have been married 24 years. We have a son, 15, and a daughter, 13.
Experience: I have worked for the Sheriff's Office for 24 years. I am currently the county's undersheriff, meaning second in command. During my tenure, I have achieved every promotable rank within our organization.
Why are you running? I have dedicated myself to this organization throughout my entire law enforcement career. Having worked, or supervised, in every division of the Sheriff's office, I understand the statutory responsibilities this position requires. As the current Undersheriff, I have successfully been serving in many of the roles that I would hold as Sheriff. I have had tremendous support and encouragement from all of the staff that I would be leading. The citizens of St. Louis County are deserving of a qualified candidate.
What are the top three issues facing your county, and how do you plan to address them?
- The opioid/heroin epidemic is a major issue countywide. Overdose numbers for 2022 are projected to be at an all-time high. My current support of dedicating resources to the Lake Superior Drug and Violent Offender Task Force is one step in the enforcement process. The comprehensive approach in dealing with this issue requires additional focus on the prevention, education and intervention with persons struggling with substance use disorders. Involvement by community partners is critical in the expansion of treatment and recovery support resources, post-incarceration.
- Recruitment and retention of staff is a concern among all divisions of the Sheriff's Office. The perception of law enforcement, post-George Floyd, has resulted in a diminishing applicant pool and less commitment to enter the field. Organizationally, we need to advocate for and reinforce public trust during our interactions with citizens and be creative with compensation packages, which incentivizes the retention of current staff and offers an attraction to new candidates.
- Mental health-related calls for service are an additional burden to our fire, EMS and law enforcement responders within St. Louis County and resources are being consumed unnecessarily. The current Clarity project initiative within St. Louis County has been instrumental in guiding us through the process of alternative response models and understanding the benefits of involving behavioral specialists to assist those experiencing a mental health crisis.
City of residence: Duluth
Educational background: Bachelor's degree in criminology and sociology from University of Minnesota Duluth and a master's degree in management from the College of St. Scholastica
Occupation: Law enforcement
Family: Married 25 years with two children ages 12 and 15
Experience: 29 years policing experience including 16 as police chief
Why are you running? I am concerned about increasing crime throughout the county, significant staffing shortages and the need to strengthen relationships with many throughout the county. I see a continued lack of accountability for criminals and county residents being victimized over and over and I want to change it. The current sheriff's administration has prohibited law enforcement officers from jailing misdemeanor offenders (except when required by state law) and it is leading to an increase in crime and disorder. Additionally, the sheriff's office is quashing (voiding) misdemeanor warrants, leading to further lack of accountability and lawlessness in parts of the county. Police officials who are struggling with reducing crime were not aware of this practice that has been going on for over two years and have never been informed.
I want to be a sheriff for all of St. Louis County as too often I hear from law enforcement leaders on the Iron Range that they do not know the sheriff or undersheriff, receive little to no communication and feel forgotten. We have a significant and growing drug problem in our county and we need a sheriff who can bring people together to improve drug education, prevention, treatment and effective enforcement to turn the tide.
Currently, 911 and the jail are part of the sheriff's office and they are hemorrhaging staff and in crisis. Mandatory overtime shifts, lack of a strategic recruiting and a retention plan are leading to poor morale and retention problems. This crisis is only worsening and we need a proven and experienced leader who can successfully address these issues.
Additionally, many volunteer fire and EMS workers want to see changes to dispatching protocols and their requests to the sheriff administration have fallen on deaf ears. I want to work with our public safety agencies to ensure our dispatch practices and policies work to keep everyone safe in a truly collaborative effort. Relationships are important and in many areas of the county people feel frustrated and forgotten by the current sheriff's administration.
What are the top three issues facing the county and how do you plan to address them?
- Reducing crime and illegal drugs in St. Louis County is my No. 1 goal. Two drivers of crime are a result of the sheriff's office ban on police officers jailing misdemeanor arrests and the secret practice of voiding misdemeanor warrants. I will end both of these practices immediately. We will strengthen relationships with probation and law enforcement leaders to target drug dealers who are flooding the area with drugs. I will schedule regular meetings with public safety agencies to share crime information and work together to target offenders using data. I will stand strong to ensure criminals are held accountable and victims receive justice by working closely with advocacy groups, local and federal prosecutors and community members. During my time as Duluth Police Chief, we reduced serious crime 14%.
- We overly rely on the criminal justice system to address mental health and chemical dependency issues. The county jail has become the mental health institution of the past. For decades I've partnered with other entities to decouple law enforcement from mental health calls. Years ago we partnered with the county to create the first police-embedded social worker in the state and as sheriff I will continue to advocate for additional resources and work hard on solutions. As sheriff I will advocate for more resources for mental health, stand up to ensure the criminal justice system does not continue to be the de facto mental health provider and seek alternative responses other than law enforcement for someone in crisis whenever possible.
- 911 communications and the county jail are part of the sheriff's office and they are hemorrhaging staff, causing forced overtime, poor morale and low retention. This staffing crisis desperately needs a strategic recruiting and retention plan. Law enforcement applications are also down and we need leadership who will stand up for public safety, support them and encourage good people to look at the many options in this career field. I have extensive leadership experience in this arena and more than doubled applicant numbers in four years at my last department and with input from others we will build a strategic recruiting and retention plan at the sheriff's office to bring in the best and brightest — and retain them. Having successfully addressed recruiting and retention issues previously, we will first conduct a comprehensive review of hiring practices, compensation and benefits and other variables to ensure we are putting our best foot forward. We will also review retention and training programs and ensure we are focused on retaining those we invest so much in and rely on for community safety.
City of residence: Duluth
Educational background: I graduated from Hermantown High School and joined the U.S. Army, where I became a military police officer.
Occupation: Police officer in Moose Lake and a business owner/entrepreneur
Experience: While serving overseas I saw firsthand how great we have it in America. This is where I discovered my passion for public service. After some time as a civilian police officer in South Dakota, I realized how much I love northern Minnesota and returned to Duluth to be closer to family. Over time, I built a business with my wife. We bought our first pumper truck and a dozen portable restrooms to start a portable toilet business. We had a business plan to save enough money to build an indoor shooting range, training facility and retail outlet that has become Dead On Arms.
Because I missed police work and community service, I joined the Moose Lake Police Department. As an officer, you have control over the experience of the person you are dealing with. If it's a good experience, it goes a long way to change their perspective and their behaviors for the future. My experiences over the years have shown me what really matters: a sense of place, mutual respect between the people in one's life and public service.
Why are you running? I want to make a difference in the lives of everyone who lives in St. Louis County. I'm not just looking for a new job. I have a great job, but I am committed to the people of St. Louis County and ensuring that our high quality of life is sustained. I believe it is time for a new generation of law enforcement, a generation that brings in new experiences and perspectives on how things are run and how we look at our communities. I want to bring the people back into being a part of the decision-making. We need to take a closer look into how and where money is spent, how law enforcement responds to their calls, and what actions are taken by deputies. I want to help bring the different agencies together to form a cohesive unit that works for the safety of its people.
There seems to be an attitude of us vs. them within the sheriff's department. I want to make a department that is more community focused so that the people know who their deputy is as a person. Knowing the person who is responding to help you, is a comfort for many and will help put an end to the feeling of us vs. them.
What are the top three issues facing your county? Drugs and the violence they create are major issues. The core of many thefts, robberies and violence is drug related. This trend does not appear to be slowing. Children have dropped through the cracks and have become dangers to themselves and others. It starts when children gain access to illegal drugs and weapons because their family or friends are not securing them properly. This gives them an open opportunity to choose the wrong path. It is up to adults in that situation to ensure the safety and security of their children and those around them. The fundamentals of being a productive citizen starts at home.
Another issue is that citizens and officers are tired of criminals not being held accountable for their actions. I have talked to officers who have been hesitant to arrest because the criminal is back on the streets too soon. Our citizens do not want lawlessness. Law enforcement is there to stop people from breaking the law, but a slap on the wrist is not likely to encourage anyone to take the right path. If we truly want to slow down crime, then we need to find a way to ensure that criminals are properly reprimanded and detained.
Lastly, untreated mental health issues are influencing the violence we see across our county. The resources to help stop this are available, but there is a stigma attached to getting help. I do not believe that everyone is aware of what types of support they have at their disposal. Treating mental illness before it becomes a violent problem can increase the quality of life for everyone. There should be no line between mental and physical health.
What are your plans to address those issues? Implementing a Big Brothers/Big Sisters style program for those kids is a great start to helping them choose more wisely for their futures. Early intervention will create a much safer county. Also, involving the community ensures that everyone is watching out for their neighbors. If parents cannot be around at all times, maybe a friendly neighbor can be, and this ensures that children are always being cared for and given direction.
We need to make sure criminals are aware that there are consequences for their actions. Criminals are less likely to commit crimes if they are held liable. A stronger system of accountability will be key. This will not be an overnight task, but one that will take the involvement of multiple departments and the community to make sure it is being rolled out correctly and effectively.
Treating mental illness before it becomes a violent problem can increase the quality of life for everyone. Cross-training deputies as social workers is a start to help curbing these issues. Using a system such as the CAHOOTS model, which has been in place for over 30 years with great results, will help to ensure the safety of those suffering from mental health crises and also the safety of those around them.