by CHRIS ROGERS
The candidate filing period is still three weeks away, but this fall’s local elections are already looking interesting, with some incumbents dropping out and others facing challengers.
Majorities on both the Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS) Board and Winona County Board are up for election this fall; many seats are in play. There will be at least some change in the makeup of those boards because longtime County Board member Jim Pomeroy announced he will not seek re-election, as did School Board member Karen Coleman.
WAPS Board: Baratto, Kohner undecided
“Honestly I don’t know. I just haven’t — I’ve not really thought about it that much,” WAPS Board member Ben Baratto responded when asked if he will seek re-election this fall. “There’s so much going on with what we’ve just done and what’s coming up. I just have to wait and see.”
It has been an intense six months for the WAPS Board, with voters’ 90-10 rejection of the school district’s school building referendum last November, the School Board’s contentious decision this March to close Madison and Rollingstone elementary schools, and the board narrowly avoiding cutting sports and music programs. “The last three to four months have not been fun,” Baratto said. “Closing schools is a very emotional thing, and some of the cuts —you know— have been very emotional.”
Fellow School Board member Steve Schild said he will run, while board member Jay Kohner was undecided. “We’ll see what happens between now and then,” he said of the filing period later this month.
Allen Hillery and Karl Sonneman are both members of Save Our Schools —a citizen group that supported keeping elementary schools open and challenged district staff’s financial projections. They both ran for School Board in 2016, and they both said they are considering running again this year. “I’ve considered it and talked to some people about it, but I wouldn’t say I’ve made a decision about it,” Sonneman said. “I have not decided,” Hillery stated. In 2016, Sonneman lost by 3 points to incumbent Jeanne Nelson, while Hillery got just 23 percent of the vote in a race against Coleman.
Kohner and Baratto’s seats are at-large positions representing the entire school district. Coleman and Schild’s seats represent specific geographic districts within the school district.
Winona County Board: Lewistonite challenges Ward
Lewiston City Council member Bryce Lange announced he intends to run against incumbent Winona County Board member Marcia Ward in the race to represent district five (Lewiston, Utica, and southern Winona County). Lange was elected to the Lewiston City Council in 2017 and said he would step down if he wins the County Board election. He works for Community and Economic Development Associates (CEDA), a company that provides economic development consultants to many small cities in Southeast Minnesota.
“It’s an honor to serve the people of district five, and I hope I can gather their support for another term,” Ward said.
Lange described himself as a moderate alternative to Ward. “She’s voted in favor of frac sand in the county. I don’t think it’s beneficial for anybody in the county except a handful of people,” Lange said in an interview. “Sure, you purchased a property, you’re entitled to usage, but that comes with responsibilities,” he added.
Ward has been an outspoken supporter of property rights and of livestock farming. She has voted for mining, for reconsidering the limit on feedlot size, and against stricter regulations on agriculture. Winona County has been progressive on environmental protection, she said in an interview, pointing out that there has been a local version of the state’s new buffer law on the county’s rulebooks for decades. “I think the majority of landowners do want to take care of property and be environmentalists, but they don’t need it forced upon them,” she said.
Ward has consistently voted against property tax increases in recent years, saying that many of her constituents simply cannot afford it because they depend on fixed social security incomes or are losing money in their farming operations. She did vote for the new half-cent sales tax for road repairs. “I’m not proud of the fact that we had to use the half-cent sales tax … but it will help fix our infrastructure. Our roads and bridges are critical,” she stated. Ward said the county’s consideration of a new jail will be one of the most important issues going forward. “That’s a very big concern because that will be a major issue — how we coordinate the whole criminal justice system for Winona County — and Winona County taxpayers will have to pay the price for anything we come up with.”
“Everyone wants lower taxes. There are things that [the County Board] definitely needs to provide funding for — parks, roads, bridges — all of those things need to be maintained, and lower taxes often mean these things aren’t maintained,” Lange said. Lange also expressed interest in investing more money into economic development. “Currently, Winona County plays more of a reactive role in community development. They don’t do much to help their cities … I think we should be proactive in what business and what sort of development we bring into our county,” he continued. “I can see the county becoming a recreation destination, and that takes investment,” Lange added.
Winona County Commissioner Marie Kovecsi said she will seek a second term this fall representing western Winona and Goodview, but after 10 years, commissioner Jim Pomeroy will step down from his role representing eastern Winona on the County Board. “It’s been a privilege to serve on the board. It certainly will be until the end of the year, as well, but it’s going to be time for me to move on and create opportunities for people who want to bring new blood and serve the public,” Pomeroy said.
Winona County Attorney Karin Sonneman, Winona County Sheriff Ron Ganrude, Winona County Recorder Bob Bambenek, and Winona County Auditor-Treasurer Sandra Suchla all said they will run for re-election.
Winona City Council: Newcomer to run against Krage
Winonan Eileen Moeller said she will run against incumbent Winona City Council member Gerry Krage in a race to represent west-central Winona.
Moeller is a Chicago-area native who graduated from Winona State University several years ago, later moved back to Winona, and bought a house here with her husband a year and a half ago. She sits on the city’s Fine Arts Commission and is the marketing director for Great River Shakespeare Festival.
Krage is a leader in Winona’s veteran community, the head of the Winona Workforce Center, a member of the Winona County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, and the longest serving member of the City Council, with over 30 years in the office. “At this point, I do plan on running one more time,” Krage said.
Krage and Moeller were complimentary of each other. “I applaud that,” Krage said of her intentions to run. “I think for a very important position there should always be a challenger,” he added. “I think that Winona has really benefited from all of Gerry’s terms,” Moeller stated. “But I feel that myself and a lot of people my age … are starting to feel like they need to take a more active role in their democracy and participating in their local governments. I see it not so much as I want to put down someone else, but I see it as my responsibility as a citizen to step forward if I am able.”
Asked about what issues were important to her, Moeller responded, “One thing I do want to work on addressing is the transportation needs for people in the community, whether that’s accessing the bus routes or pedestrian paths and bike routes … I think everyone in this city is affected by the resources available.”
On the same question, Krage said, “I see some tugging from some groups that try to get Winona involved in some national level discussions, and I think it really shouldn’t be. We do better when we focus on Winona.” Krage offered one example: calls from the Winona-Dakota Unity Alliance and the city’s Human Rights Commission for the city to officially oppose the Dakota Access Pipeline and to divest from Wells Fargo over the bank’s backing of the pipeline. Krage voted against both of those proposals. “We could sympathize with them. We certainly listened to them, but to take a larger stand is really not our place, and it wouldn’t have moved the needle one bit from what they were trying to get done,” he explained. When the city wades into partisan national issues, Krage said, “It takes our eye off the local ball when we do that, and it divides the city. It’s not just by chance that Winona has stayed out of that. It’s going to take some experience and some calm, grey-haired leadership over the next few years to keep us out of that.”
Council members George Borzyskowski and Michelle Alexander stated that they will seek re-election this fall.
Goodview and SWCD
The filing period for candidates wishing to run for Goodview City Council or the Winona County Soil & Water Conservation District Board is also approaching. Goodview Mayor Steve Baumgart is up for re-election as are City Council members Dick Ledebuhr and Mike Alexander. On the SWCD Board, Leo Speltz and Gerald Mueller are up for re-election.
Candidate filing period this month, later for some governments
Candidates interested in running for office must file paperwork during specific filing periods to be included on the ballot. For Winona County, WAPS, city of Winona, and city of Goodview races, the filing period is open from May 22 through June 5, and candidates should file with the county clerk, school district clerk, or city clerk, respectively. For more information, contact the respective clerk’s office or visit www.sos.state.mn.us and click “Become a Candidate” under “Election Administration.”
Some small governments, including the city of Lewiston and the city of St. Charles, have a later filing period: July 31 to August 14. For more information on filing periods, contact the respective local government.