West Range Itasca County race takes shape

Last week I reported a vacancy on the Itasca County Board after Mark Mandich resigned his District 5 seat on the western Mesabi Iron Range. Two candidates emerged over the past few days.

Ben DeNucci

Ben DeNucci

Nashwauk Mayor Ben DeNucci said he was running for the Itasca County Board. DeNucci owns a bar in Nashwauk and an auto shop in nearby Keewatin. He most recently ran for House 6A Representative, losing in the primary to State Rep. Julie Sandstede (DFL-Hibbing).

“Simply put, I believe in servant leadership and I am passionate about public service – it is the most worthwhile and rewarding work I do,” said DeNucci in a press release. “The job of an elected official is to listen to the concerns and issues of the people and work to address them. I will be a visible and active leader that is the conduit bringing changes people want to see to life. I believe I bring the necessary experience, track record, and stewardship to the table in order to serve the people of our area.”

DeNucci continues, “It takes a commitment to putting in the work to address issues from economic development to public safety … social services to land use, I am no stranger to these things because I am involved with such topics on a daily basis.” He added, “I look forward to these challenges and serving the people of Itasca County.”

United Steelworkers 2660 at Keewatin Taconite announced their early endorsement of DeNucci.

Casey Venema

Casey Venema

A few days later, the Grand Rapids Herald Review reported that Casey Venema, chair of the Lawrence Township board of supervisors, also plans to run for the Itasca County Board.

Venema told the paper: “I worked in the timber industry for 18 years and have been in mining now for the last 14 years. I really want to give back to my community and to all industries in Itasca County.”

Venema says jobs and tourism are his priorities, and that he’s confident in his ability to oversee budgets.

Venema has also owned his own private weld shop for the last 10 years. As the owner of a mom-and-pop shop, he’s had to wear a lot of hats and take on a number of responsibilities for his business.

“I feel that it is my time to give back and work as Commissioner for this district. I’m ready to work with the public and area businesses to help move Itasca county forward and be successful,” Venema said.

Analysis

Both of these guys are fairly well known, well liked people in the rural West Range universe where I live.

DeNucci’s recent run for the legislature gives him some solid campaign experience. He easily carried the parts of 6A that overlap with Itasca District 5.

Venema hasn’t run for county or state office before. However, he has been involved in the Greenway Recreation Board and youth sports for many years. I could see him doing well on the “Greenway” side of the district. Meanwhile, DeNucci enjoys an advantage on the “Nashwauk-Keewatin” side.

Election Days

Filing will open Aug. 1-15. If no one else runs, DeNucci and Venema will advance to a Feb. 13, 2018 general election. However, if another candidate files a primary will happen on Oct. 24.

Then the successful candidate will have less than nine months until the term is up for the November 2018 election.

Nevertheless, this could certainly become an interesting local race on the western Mesabi.

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