UPDATE: Interesting races on St. Louis County board

St. Louis CountySt. Louis County is a huge swath of land in Northeastern Minnesota. The county includes the region’s largest city of Duluth, more than half of the Mesabi Iron Range, and much of the Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness Area — along with miles and miles of woods, waters and small towns. Geographically St. Louis is the state’s largest county. Its board has a big influence on issues important to a fairly broad spectrum of people.

But only rarely do St. Louis County Board elections seem to garner much attention. You occasionally see a close race, more rarely do you see an incumbent lose. Open seats can be interesting, but not in any sort of way that would apply to normal people.

This year, two county board incumbents are not seeking re-election. The races that follow may or may not be exciting, but they’ll shape the tone of the county board more than most recent elections.

In western Duluth’s St. Louis County Distrct 3, Chris Dahlberg is not seeking re-election. Dahlberg is an attorney who very nearly won the GOP endorsement for U.S. Senate in 2014 were it not for a late-night strategic misjudgment. Dahlberg has been a swing vote on the board, which has four seats in the Duluth area and three seats on the Iron Range and in the rural North. In disputes Dahlberg would sometimes side with the rural “Rangers” and sometimes he’d be with the the more urban-focused Duluthians.

Seeking to replace Dahlberg so far are two reasonably well-known candidates.

Beth Olson

Beth Olson

First to announce was Beth Olson, the executive director of the First Witness Child Advocacy Center in Duluth. New to elected politics, she’s made a name as a community organizer and advocate for families in need.

Mike Jaros

Mike Jaros

Later, former DFL State Rep. Mike Jaros, who retired in 2010, announced he would also seek the District 3 seat. Jaros served West Duluth in the legislature for 32 years. His former colleague Tom Rukavina is already on the board having been elected in 2014. Across Minnesota, many former lawmakers have made the switch to county boards — usually for chance to address local issues with higher pay and less driving.

Even if these are the only two candidates, and that’s probably not the case, this race reflects an interesting dynamic between the more traditional blue collar aspect of West Duluth politics in Jaros, and the newer more progressive model of Duluth politics represented by Olson.

It seems unlikely that these will be the only two candidates. At least one conservative would be expected to contend for the seat being vacated by Dahlberg.

Jeff Polcher

Jeff Polcher

Meanwhile, up on the Range in District 7, which includes Hibbing and Chisholm, longtime incumbent Steve Raukar announced this year he would not seek re-election. He ran unopposed four years ago after handily winning re-election in previous cycles.

The only candidate to announce so far is Jeff Polcher, a county worker and Hibbing School Board member. Polcher is a substance abuse prevention and intervention social worker for St. Louis County.

Like most of the legislative candidates this cycle, Polcher cites new mining projects as a potential cure for current Iron Range economic woes. He also talks about the IRRRB’s Recharge the Range events being held Feb. 29 and again in the summer.

There will certainly be other candidates in District 7 as well. There is a complicating factor in that the House District 6A seat is open at the same time. I’ve heard of a number of candidates considering whether to run for the House or County Board. The legislature might hold more prestige, but the county board pays almost twice as much and you don’t have to drive farther than Duluth or Ely.

So far, the House 6A race is full of relative neophytes to elected politics. I think some experienced city officials and big time muckety-mucks are waiting to see who runs where before they jump into the race of their choice.

Then again, maybe people chicken out at the prospect of a hard-fought campaign. The psychology behind all this is wild.

UPDATE: Chisholm Mayor Mike Jugovich announced Feb. 25 he would also run for county commissioner in District 7.

Back in Duluth, in District 2, Patrick Boyle is running for re-election. Still no word on an opponent there.

So we will see interesting races across mighty St. Louis County in the 2016 election. If anyone else is running or has more information, please let me know and I’ll share it here at MinnesotaBrown.com.


  1. Aaron —

    Frank Jewell was re-elected in 2014 and is not up for election this year. Patrick Boyle, a former city councilor who has been on the County Board for four years, is up for election, and in fact has no opposition so far. Boyle is popular in his district, and it would not surprise me if no serious GOP candidate chose to challenge him. He defeated a well known right wing opponent, former city councilor Jim Stauber, by a comfortable margin in 2012. He may end up with a token conservative opponent, or none.

    In addition to Jaros and Olson, Skip Sandman, who ran as a Green candidate against Rick Nolan in 2014, has been telling people he is interested in running for the vacant county seat. He even went so far as to send out invitations to a campaign kick off event. However, the event was cancelled, and it remains to be seen what he will do in the end.

    The most frequently touted conservative candidate for the seat is Jay Fosle. Numerous Duluth Republicans have been encouraging a run by him, reportedly offering financing as well as talking it up. Fosle, although nominally a Democrat, has a record far, far to the right of DFL positions in his current role as a city councilor, and the nominally non-partisan nature of the county seat could allow him to maintain that position. He did win re-election to a third city council term by a comfortable margin last fall, and his council district contains a large part of the county board district.

    I would be very startled if GOPers do not find a candidate for the seat, since it represents a critical balance on the board, potentially flipping it from predominantly conservative to predominantly progressive. Of course a progressive win in Hibbing would have a similar impact, albeit with a Range rather than Duluth flavor.

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