Candidates debate in northern MN

PHOTO: Tony Webster, Flickr CC

PHOTO: Tony Webster, Flickr CC

With only a month to go before the Nov. 8 general election, folks are finally tuning into their local elections after 18 months of hardcore bloviation about the U.S. presidential race.

Here in Northern Minnesota, legislative, city council and school board forums will take place over the next few weeks. These are often the best way to learn about the differences between the candidates further down your ballot.

Here are some of the upcoming forums. I’ll keep you posted on others as I hear about them.


Hibbing School Board
Tuesday, Oct. 11; 6:30pm – 8:30 p.m.
Hibbing Chamber of Commerce forum, broadcast on HPAT

Six District 701 candidates will clash over three seats. Only one incumbent is running after a year of significant controversy on the Hibbing School Board. State complaints of civil rights violations against students, an administrator was pushed to resign, along with other closed personnel complaints color this race. In two years, the six-person board failed to elect a chair due to factionalism among the board members. The fracas has attracted many candidates looking for reforms.

Candidates include Erica Gray, Jim Paulsen, Kim (Kotonias) McLaughlin, Mike Egan, Rachel Delich Sullivan, Rian Burkes and the only incumbent, Bob Clover, who has said he is unable to attend.

Grand Rapids City Council
Friday, Oct. 14
Noon at Grand Rapids City Hall, broadcast on ICTV

Hosted by the Grand Rapids Herald-Review, KMFY, and the Minnesota Council on Non-Profits, this forum features the seven candidates running for three seats on the Grand Rapids City Council. They include appointed councilor Rick Blake, Charles Burress, Dan Chase, incumbent Dale Christy, Tasha Connelly, Lynda Jo Thompson and Tony Ward.

There are some interesting dynamics in this race, most notably a slate of candidates running as fiscal conservatives. Longtime mayor Dale “Spud” Adams faces a challenge from Bob Ward, who is running with Thompson and Tony Ward on the conservative ticket. It might not go anywhere, but provides tension to a race drawing more attention than usual.

St. Louis County Commissioner, District 7
Thursday, October 13, 2016
5-6:15 p.m.

In this open seat, Chisholm Mayor Mike Jugovich faces domestic violence family advocate Melissa Scaia in what could be a very close race. It has the feel of a referendum on the Iron Range political structure, with Jugovich representing the inside candidate and Scaia the reformer. The Duluth News Tribune endorsed Scaia last week, while Jugovich has the backing of many local officials.


Northeastern and North Central Minnesota features some very competitive House and Senate races that could shape control of the Legislature, and some others that might not change hands but could reveal new electoral trends in Northern Minnesota.

Lakeland Public Television is sponsoring several debates for North Central Minnesota districts this week. Hibbing Public Access is sponsoring a 6A debate.

Senate District 5 (Bemidji, Grand Rapids and western Mesabi Range)
Sen. Tom Saxhaug (DFL-Grand Rapids) faces Grand Rapids Republican Justin Eichorn. This district will be competitive someday, but 2016 doesn’t seem to be the year. Eichorn lost to Tom Anzelc handily in the 2014 House 5B race under ideal GOP conditions. Saxhaug appears safe, but Eichorn gets this one chance to try to knock him off his game. (7 p.m. Monday on LPTV)

House District 5A (Bemidji area)
Rep. John Persell (DFL-Bemidji) will face Republican Matt Bliss. This seat leans DFL and Persell usually outperforms the DFL index by quite a bit. There is a conservative streak in the district, however, and turnout on the Leech Lake reservation is very influential on the outcome. Persell has personal ties to Leech Lake and has always enjoyed big turnout and margins there. The forum will be an opportunity for Bliss to engage Persell one-on-one. (8 p.m. Monday on LPTV)

House District 5B (Grand Rapids, portions of Itasca and Cass counties)
Rep. Tom Anzelc (DFL-Balsam Township) faces Republican Sandy Layman and the Green Party’s Dennis Barsness in one of the most closely watched races in the state. Anzelc has been targeted before and won. He’s a political maverick who runs his own style of campaign. For both parties, this district represents the border between the GOP-leaning Central Lakes region and the DFL-leaning Iron Range, a political Constantinople of sorts. Layman, a former GOP IRRRB commissioner, is a top recruit. Barsness petitioned for ballot access, but hasn’t been very visible on the trail.

The DNT endorsed Anzelc and, so far, the race seems very similar to the 2012 race between Anzelc and then Rep. Carolyn McElfatrick after redistricting pitted two incumbents against each other. Anzelc won that race by five points. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in outside spending are expected, however, which is uncharted territory for this district. The forum provides candidates a chance to cut through the spending with their actual positions on issues. (9 p.m. Monday on LPTV)

(NOTE: I am Tom Anzelc’s friend and campaign manager)

Senate District 6 (central and eastern Mesabi Range)
Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2016
5-6:15 p.m.on HPAT
David Tomassoni (Incumbent, DFL)
Skeeter Tomczak (Republican)

Tomassoni is safe for re-election, but we’re always watching to see if Republicans manage to dent the massive DFL margin in the 6th district this year. Tomczak, a young military veteran, is a political newcomer.

Senate District 2 (northwestern MN)
Tuesday, Oct. 11
7 p.m. on LPTV
Incumbent Sen. Rod Skoe (DFL) faces Republican Paul Utke. Skoe has weathered many opponents in this swingy district before. Utke hopes this is the GOP’s year.

House District 2A
Tuesday, Oct. 11
8 p.m. on LPTV

Republican Matthew Grossell faces DFLer Jerry Loud in an open seat. DFLers were hoping for a pickup opportunity here, but Loud has struggled to explain abuse allegations in old divorce papers. This may come up in the forum. This is Loud’s last chance to shore this up with enough time to affect the race. Grossell is currently favored here.

House District 2B
Tuesday, Oct. 11
9 p.m. on LPTV

Rep. Steve Green (R-Fosston) faces DFLer Bryan Klabunde of Waubun. Green might be vulnerable in a normal presidential year, though this year is not normal. This seat is on the periphery of DFL hopes to regain the House.

House District 6A (Hibbing, Chisholm, Floodwood and eastern Itasca County)
Thursday, Oct. 13
5-6:15 p.m. on HPAT
Julie Sandstede (DFL)
Rob Farnsworth (R)
Steven Hakley (write-in)

This open seat boasts a heavily DFL index, and probably remains safe for Democrats. Two things will be interesting to watch. Sandstede, a social conservative, music teacher and labor leader, was the unexpected winner of a crowded DFL primary. The result rankled some liberal and establishment DFLers. That’s not enough to cause her too much trouble, but it’s a factor. Second, Farnsworth is an above-average Republican candidate, working hard with a credible, crafted message for the district, something the Duluth News Tribune pointed out in endorsing him. Farnsworth will probably outperform past Republicans. If he beats 40 percent, he’ll have an interesting argument to try again in the 2018 midterm. This Hibbing Chamber of Commerce forum could be an important opportunity for the candidates to establish themselves to voters who just don’t know them very well.

Senate District 9

Sen. Paul Gazelka (R-Nisswa) faces DFLer Jason Weinerman. (7 p.m. Wednesday on LPTV)

House District 9A

An open seat, featuring Republican John Poston of Nisswa and DFLer Meg Litts of Staples.  (8 p.m. Wednesday on LPTV)


Senate District 10 (Brainerd Lakes)
Sen. Carrie Ruud (R-Breezy Point) faces DFLer Tiffany Stenglein. Ruud has been beaten before, but won her seat back four years ago. Until Trump’s recent implosion, I’d have argued that the Central Lakes were trending GOP. That’s probably still the case. Ruud — an embodiment of the “all politics is local” style — is favored here, but the forum will be an opportunity for Stenglein to make her argument. (7 p.m. Thursday on LPTV)

House District 10A
This was one of the key seats that flipped two years ago to give Republicans control of the House of Representatives. This year, freshment Rep. Josh Heintzeman (R-Nisswa) faces DFL newcomer Quinn Nystrom. Heintzeman is probably a little more conservative than his district, but Nystrom is relatively inexperienced. So this one probably leans Republican, but the forum will be very telling. (8 p.m. Thursday on LPTV)

House District 10B
Another of the close races that flipped House control, this Cuyuna Range and Aitkin County seat is held by Rep. Dale Lueck (R-Aitkin). He faces teacher and DFLer Erin Wagner. Lueck is 1-1 in runs for this office, having lost to former Rep. Joe Radinovich in 2012 and beating him in 2014. This is a very swingy district, but probably drifting toward the GOP due to demographics. It’s not attracting nearly as much spending as last time, signaling that the GOP thinks it’s safer. Nevertheless, Wagner has a chance to stand out against Lueck in this forum (9 p.m. Thursday on LPTV)


U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan (D-MN8) faces another challenge from Republican Stewart Mills in a race that remains among the nation’s most competitive. There has been only one debate between Nolan and Mills. (Watch it here). That contest revealed clear contrast between the candidates, but seemed very similar to their only debate two years ago. Mills declined to participate in any more debates.

Outside spending in MN-8 is cranking up to absurd levels. Nevertheless, the outcome of the race will have much to do with the shape of the presidential race. Nolan will outperform Clinton here, but only by so much.

The Duluth News Tribune endorsed Nolan this Sunday. The editorial cited, alongside Nolan’s accomplishments, Mills’ unwillingness to interact with voters outside of choreographed campaign events. In a fascinating turn, both the United Steelworkers and mining CEO Lourenco Goncalves rushed to Nolan’s aid this week, citing his work in strengthening Northern Minnesota’s mining industry.

Is there an Iron Range or Northern Minnesota debate I missed? Let me know in the comments. You’ll note that I have a “west Range” bias now that I live over here. East siders, send me your info.

Shortly before the election I’ll release my final analysis of legislative races and key local races in Northern Minnesota. But I’d encourage everyone to do what I’ll be doing over the next few weeks: watching debates to see how candidates measure up in their own words.


  1. David Gray says

    I had an Erin Wagner volunteer come to my door and we had a bit of a chat. I explained that I couldn’t support the DFL since it had turned its back on what used to be a sizeable DFL pro-life caucus. I’d voted for people like Rudy Perpich and long time local rep Steve Wenzel but I couldn’t vote for a candidate who defended legalized abortion. I thanked her for her civic involvement. She was very polite and I got the distinct impression that what I was telling her was something she was hearing a lot on people’s doorsteps. Joe Radinovich, when he ran, at least was formally pro-life and if he had not been he wouldn’t have beaten Dale Lueck the first time they faced off. I suspect the issue will doom Wagner.

  2. Don Bogdanovich says

    Thank you for the clear and concise synopsis of the area government races.

  3. Anthony Ward says

    Mr. Brown for your information Grand Rapids City Council Candidates do not run on a “ticket”. Your assumption that I am running on a conservative ticket exposes your bias and poor investigative reporting. You have never talked to me or questioned me about my views on issues. Thank you for the opportunity to reply to your opinion. Anthony “Tony” Ward for City Council … Fiscally Conservative Responsibly Progressive ….

  4. I’d also like to know what Tony means …

  5. I would like to know when any of the Wards (Rob or Tony) were EVER progressive. They are well-known conservatives in the GR area. Take it for what it’s worth.

    • People’s positions on specific issues, especially when running for city or county offices, would be more useful than blanket labeling them. I have no idea what progressive means.

      Webster says – Progressive: “happening or developing gradually or in stages; proceeding step by step”. That doesn’t tell us much. That makes an alcoholic, or Hitler, or Danny Heinrich, or whomever a progressive.

  6. Webster also says “using or interested in new or modern ideas especially in politics and education”.
    I think you can figure that out, ranger… and there is always an internet search.
    P Diddy is correct on the Wards.

    • Ok, so let’s just talk ideologies, not issues and positions on issues. Nice. No wonder Balsam, the region, state, country, world is a mess. i.e. I’m pro-life, you’re pro-death. ok? Got that settled..

      • ….so moving on to real issues, we could ask the candidates, what’s their plan to address Americans Top Fears from the recently released Chapman University Survey of Fears:

        Top Five Fears & % Afraid or Very Afraid
        Corrupt government officials – 60.6%
        Terrorist Attack – 41%
        Not having enough money for the future – 39.9%
        Terrorism – 38.5%
        Gov’ment restrictions on firearms – 38.5

        If that’s uncomfortable for you, or you wish to keep it on local issues, try:

        What are your top 3 priorities for the city of Grand Rapids?
        Do you plan to address these priorities by increasing, deceasing or leaving property taxes at the level they’re at?
        Which of your top priorities would you push to have increased spending?
        Which of your least priorities would you push to have decreased spending?

        In the meantime, just to get another ideological argument out of the way: I’m pro-legal immigration, you’re pro-illegal immigration. ok? Got that one settled as well..

  7. Via Wikipedia: In Internet slang, a troll (/ˈtroʊl/, /ˈtrɒl/) is a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory,[1] extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a newsgroup, forum, chat room, or blog) with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response[2] or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion,[3] often for their own amusement.

    • So trying to find out where candidates stand on issues (such as the following I mentioned) vs. broad-brushing them as “liberal” or “conservative” is trolling Aaron?? I click into you from time to time only cause you were a step above ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, MSNBC…but I’m losing faith.

      “If you wish to keep it on local issues, try: What are your top 3 priorities for the city of Grand Rapids?

      Do you plan to address these priorities by increasing, deceasing or leaving property taxes at the level they’re at?

      Which of your top priorities would you push to have increased spending?

      Which of your least priorities would you push to have decreased spending?”

      Again, you call asking a candidate those questions trolling??

  8. There is a city candidate forum tomorrow at City Hall at noon, We’ll see if the Conservative faction shows up. Rob Ward has already refused to debate Mayor Adams . My city taxes were down for the past year. I have this foolish idea that taxes are what we pay for a civilized society. Obviously that ideal has gone by the board for many.

    • Oh Jackie..where to start. Decreasing taxes doesn’t mean lesser services. Nor does a tax increase equate to improved services. That’s liberal/progressive hogwash 101. If it were true, the War on Poverty would have ended years ago…and the Minneapolis school system (highest per student spending in the state) would be producing thousands of Rhodes scholars. And neither has happened. If fact, just the opposite has happened. We continue to spend billions on each and we’ve got more poverty than ever and fewer high school graduates, not to mention no Rhodes scholars, coming out of Minneapolis.

      The latest in a continual string of bad news on Obamacare might ring closer to home with you. You can’t find one friend or neighbor who’s had premiums and deductibles go down and their coverage/service improve. In fact, again, just the opposite. Costs have skyrocketed and coverage has decreased. So…if you think higher taxes means “problem solved”…Yikes! That thinking is why the country is $20 trillion in debt.

      So… let’s ask those running for Grand Rapids city offices, what they wish to spend more on and what they’ll spend less on. AND, if the net result will increase or decrease taxes. Certainly more to be gained with asking that than asking if they’re liberal or conservative…or brand them as such.

      And you’re correct, it is a foolish idea that taxes are what we pay for a civilized society.

  9. You’re correct ,too, Aaron…on the troll thing. Perhaps our resident troll can give us his plan for balancing budgets while helping out all those women whom he thinks should reproduce, ad infinitum….and their children. I personally think cutting back on wars would be helpful, but that would be sooo unmasculine

    • C’mon Jackie…you’re pro-death, I’m pro-life. Amen.
      We agreed to get to actionable issues, local issues, Balsam issues…

    • David Gray says

      I wonder if Hillary Clinton isn’t more likely to produce a war than Donald Trump. In either case neither is getting my vote.

      • David
        I sense the debate on this gist of this post is over. Jackie, Aaron don’t wish to talk issues…but instead ideologies. So…let’s talk war.

        Jackie likes to think she’s “non-violent.” She abhors the use of war, and views it negatively. What she fails to differentiate is there is just and unjust war. She thinks she’s risen above the nasty, violent cultures of her ancestors. She believes “violence isn’t the answer.” She’s wrong. She herself relies on violence, every single day.

        Order demands violence.

        A rule, a law not ultimately backed by the threat of violence is merely a suggestion. Until Obama’s administration, we relied on laws enforced by people ready to do violence against lawbreakers. Obama’s actions have obviously undermined our law enforcers and look at the chaotic violence taking place.

        Without action, words are just words. Without violence, laws are just words. Violence and war isn’t the only answer, but it is the final answer. It’s the final answer to the question, “or else what?” Violence, war is the gold standard, it guarantees order. It’s universally understood. It crosses all lines…philosophies, religions, races and cultures. A punch in the face hurts the same no matter what language you speak. Ask the Sioux, the Inca, the Jews, the Confederates, etc. They all know “or else what.”

        Of the millions incarcerated, most did not turn themselves in without the threat of violence. And most don’t try to escape at night because there is someone in a guard tower ready to shoot them.

        It’s when ordered violence gives way to disordered violence, such as following a natural disaster, or in Ferguson or Baltimore or St. Cloud or in, or in , or in….that we are forced to see how much we rely on those who maintain order through violence.

        People loot because they can. Kill because they think they’ll get away with it. Having violent people who will protect you from other violent people becomes a real and urgent concern, when it’s necessary.

        There is no evidence to support the idea that humans are inherently peaceful creatures. There is substantial evidence to support the notion that violence has always been a part of human life

        If we feel as though we live in a non–violent society, it is only because we have turned over so much power over our daily lives to the government. Maybe too much….as seen by the unprecedented rise in “conceal/carry” permits nationwide.

        Based on the available evidence, there’s no reason to believe that world peace will ever be achieved, or that violence can ever be stopped. It’s time to quit worrying and learn to love the battle axe, the knife, and the gun. History teaches us that if we don’t, someone else will.

        That’s my take on the necessity to have a president who understands the need for ordered violence, ordered war…in contrast to the disordered worldwide/nationwide violence taking place today.

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