by CHRIS ROGERS
Contested elections for key local and state offices are coming up this fall. As the filing period for candidates to throw their hats into the ring drew to a close on Tuesday, it became clear several local races will need primaries in August to narrow down fields full of candidates — from the Winona mayor’s office to the Winona County Board. In races to represent the local area in St. Paul, Democrats will challenge incumbent Republican State Senators Jeremy Miller and Mike Goggin and State Representative Steve Drazkowski.
Kruger challenges Miller; Kaehler takes on Goggin
For the last 10 years, Miller has represented State Senate District 21, encompassing Fillmore and Houston counties, the city of Winona, and the southern two-thirds of Winona County. A rising figure in the Minnesota GOP, Miller is the senate president and a leader in the Senate Republican Caucus.
“When I first decided to run for the Senate, I did so because I wanted to help make a difference,” Miller state in a press release. “Janel and I were both brought up in families where we learned important values like hard work, respect, and honesty. These are the values I bring with me to the Senate.”
Fellow Southeast Minnesota native and Winona resident Sarah Kruger will challenge Miller under the DFL ticket this fall. “… Our communities deserve strong representation, innovative leadership, and inclusive governance,” Kruger stated in a press release. “I firmly believe that everyone in our community benefits when we have a balanced approached that examines the needs of all — rather than the interests of select groups — at the forefront of our public policy.”
Also on the DFL ticket, St. Charles farmer and businessman Ralph Kaehler will challenge Red Wing-based Republican Mike Goggin for State Senate District 28, stretching from Minnesota City to Red Wing.
“I’m a long-time Red Wing resident, union member at work, and a baseball and hockey dad at home,” Goggin wrote on his campaign website. “I listen to people,” he continued. “To be successful in anything — your job, life, or as a candidate for office — a person needs great listening skills. Receiving ideas and input from others helps me determine a course of action.”
Kaehler’s family runs a livestock operation and the solar development company NES. In a press release, Ralph Kaehler described himself as a moderate Democrat and said his campaign would build relationships across partisan divides and focus on “affordable and accessible health care; out-state/rural equity and opportunity; and mitigating climate change with scalable, practical solutions.”
Diesslin challenges Drazkowski again
On the House side, DFL candidate Elise Diesslin will challenge incumbent Republican State Representative Steve Drazkowski for District 21B, encompassing northern Winona County, most of Wabasha County, and parts of Goodhue and Dodge counties. In the staunchly conservative district, Diesslin lost to Drazkowski by over 30 percentage points in the 2016 election. Drazkowski beat a different Democrat by a similar margin to win reelection in 2018.
Democratic State Representative for Winona and much of Winona County Gene Pelowski will seek reelection this fall. Barring any candidates filing within the final minutes of the filing period — the Winona Post went to press as the filing deadline closed on Tuesday afternoon — Pelowski will be unopposed. Pelowski beat a Republican challenger by a wide margin in 2016 and ran unopposed in 2018.
Alexander, Hazelton, Rockey, Sherman run for Winona mayor
Winona City Council member Michelle Alexander, Winona resident Ted Hazelton, downtown business owner and artist Jovy Rockey, and Trinona Executive Director Scott Sherman will all be running for Winona’s open mayoral office this fall, as two-time Mayor Mark Peterson prepares to step down.
Alexander is a realtor who works in her family’s property management business. She is a volunteer and leader with the Winona Area Chamber of Commerce’s Main Street Program, and she’s has been a City Council member since 2010. After serving for years as a council member, Alexander said in a February interview, “I want to have a bigger hand in how our city moves forward.” She stated she wants to ensure city zoning rules allow for development and aren’t “so restrictive that it’s difficult for people to improve their properties or grow their businesses.”
Hazelton grew up in Minnesota City and has lived in Winona for the last 18 years. He worked at Wincraft and as bus driver before being laid off during the coronavirus pandemic. He said the council’s decision to close the deer park and approve the Broadway road diet spurred him to run for office. Hazelton has had successful and unsuccessful bids for local elected office in the past, and is a former Winona Area Public Schools Board member. “We need to make the City Council more accountable and more public input is needed before decisions, like the deer park or Broadway, are done,” he stated.
Rockey owns Jovy Rockey Jewelry Studio + Gallery and helped launch the Winona Artisan Market, and has been a leader and volunteer with the Main Street Program. “As mayor I will strongly support ongoing efforts to revitalize downtown — particularly as we recover from the devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic — to make it a more vibrant area that supports public art, increased walkability and bike-ability, and is an economic driver for local business through public and private partnerships,” Rockey said in a press release.
Sherman and his wife operate the triathlon race Trinona, he volunteers as a member of the Winona County Economic Development Authority, and he is long-time Winona Area Mountain Bikers board member and outdoor recreation advocate. “I believe these next few years will hold some of the greatest challenges Winona will ever embark upon,” Sherman wrote in a press release. “I think it is crucial that we work together as a community — not only to reduce the pain we are currently experiencing, but to forge new beginnings, encourage inclusivity, and foster growth.
Potter, Zeches challenge Olson for County Board seat
Greg Olson has represented District Four (central Winona) on the Winona County Board for nearly 12 years. This year, he’ll be challenged by Craig Zeches and Jordan Potter
Olson works as a building maintenance foreman for Houston County, and he has been an advocate for environmental protection and funding social services and criminal justice reform programs as a Winona County Board member — voting for the frac sand ban, against raising the animal unit cap, and for funding Treatment Court staff. “I listen. I listen to all sides on issues, and ultimately I have to balance the issue with the constituents in District Four and hope I make a balanced decision that’s good for everybody,” Olson said. Going forward, he stated that he wants to help shepherd the planning and construction of a new Winona County Jail through to completion.
Jordan Potter grew up in Stockton, has lived in Winona since 2008, and works for his father’s company, Potter Construction, doing rural road maintenance and farm conservation and construction projects. Potter said he hopes to use his ties to rural communities in Winona County and Winona’s urban core to seek common ground. “Part of the reason why I’m running is I see a pretty big division on the board between the board members in the city and the board members in the rural area, and I’d like to try to bring some compromise and solutions to that aspect rather than having the board being constantly divided on everything — or, it seems, on mainly rural issues.”
Craig Zeches is a former Winona City Council member, a Blandin Foundation Community Leadership graduate, and a former Winona Area Chamber of Commerce Board member. He’s run a number of small businesses including a regional retail distribution company. “I want to see some growth for Winona County — growth in all measures: population, business, profession,” he said. Asked why is he is running, Zeches added, “I feel like I’ve been in leadership positions. I feel I’m young enough to still be actively involved in helping that growth occur, and yet I’m old enough to do it with wisdom and experience.”
There is another Winona County Board seat up for election this fall: the one currently held by Steve Jacob representing District Three (St. Charles and Western Winona County). Jacob is seeking reelection, and as of press time, he was unopposed. Jacob, a staunch defender of property rights, defeated environmental protection advocate Vince Ready in the 2016 election by 13 percentage points.
The three-way race for Winona’s First Ward
Chris Meier, Ty Styx, and Steve Young are all running to replace outgoing Winona City Council member Al Thurley in representing the First Ward (far Western Winona and Wincrest).
Meier is a Winona native who works as a building code expert in the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry’s Construction Codes and Licensing Division. “I understand the dynamics of city government and state government. I’m actually part of it, so I understand what’s going on with the LGA [local government aid] and what’s going to happen with it in the next year or two,” Meier stated. LGA is state funding that makes up a significant share of Winona’s budget, and that funding could be compromised as the state copes with pandemic-era budget shortfalls. Meier described a key question he hopes to focus on: “How we’re going to address our budget in the future and keep a community that’s solvent?”
Styx is a Winona native who started and built up his small business, Styx Concrete. By creating jobs with his business, “I’m able give back to the community that raised me,” Styx said. “I’m running because it’s important to me that the Winona City Council has a family man, someone to represents the families of Winona,” he continued, saying he would bring an understanding of the needs of families with young children to the council table.
Young is a rural Wisconsin native who moved to Winona and started his business as an American Family Insurance agent in the 1990s. He is a landlord, a Boy Scout volunteer, and assistant coach to the high school Nordic skiing team. “I think this is a good time in life for me to be able to serve our community,” Young stated. “Winona’s biggest export is our kids,” Young continued. It is understandable that people leave, he added, “But here’s the question: What would it take for a 20-something, 30-something-year-old young person to say, ‘I could live in Winona. I could work here. I could settle down here. I could start a family here. I could own a home here.’”
Will Gibson will challenge incumbent Pam Eyden to represent the Third Ward (central Winona) on the City Council.
Repinski challenges Schollmeier for Winona City Council seat
Winona Tour Boat Captain Aaron Repinski will challenge incumbent Paul Schollmeier for an at-large seat on the City Council. At-large seats are elected by the entire city, not just one ward.
Schollmeier is a former teacher at the Winona Middle School and Western Technical College who runs a small, home inspection and radon testing business. Schollmeier said his goals include promoting downtown revitalization and outdoor recreation. “I believe the community deserves to have a higher quality of life, and that shows up in many different ways from housing, to the workplace, to the availability of outdoor recreation, arts and culture,” he stated.
Repinski is a member of the Winona Civic Association and Steamboat Days Committee. “I own two small businesses here in Winona, and I look forward to the opportunity to help businesses in Winona,” Repinski wrote in an email. “I am running for Winona City Council because I see a lot of great things happening in Winona, and I would like to be a part of it,” he added.
Three WAPS Board seats up for election
Incumbent Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS) Board member Allison Quam won’t seek reelection this fall. Winona residents Stephanie Smith and Telsa Mitchell will complete for her seat in District Three. Minnesota City resident Kenneth Kersting is challenging incumbent School Board member and Rollingstone resident Tina Lehnertz for the School Board’s District Five seat. Winona resident Torry Moore is challenging incumbent School Board member Jim Schul in District Four.
Correction: An earlier version of this story reported that, at press time for the print newspaper on Tuesday, no candidates had filed to challenge Winona City Council member Pam Eyden for reelection. The story has been updated to include the candidacy of Will Gibson for that seat, which was filed late on Tuesday.