Hennepin County Board of Commissioners, District 1 primary

The Hennepin County Board of Commissioners primary race in District 1 is between three candidates: Mike Opat, Chris Rains and Joy Marsh Stephens. The top two winners of the primary election will face off in the Nov. 6 general election.

Mike Opat

Address: 4529 York Ave. N., Robbinsdale

Family: Wife, Kim, three children

Education: Masters in Public Policy

Occupation: Hennepin County Commissioner

Years in county: 51 years

Community involvement: ARC – Honorary Board Member, Robbinsdale Little League coach, Armstrong Traveling Basketball coach

Have you run for any other office in the past? If so, list what, when and for how long you served (if applicable): Yes, have served as Hennepin County Commissioner since 1992

Information: [email protected]


• Why are you running for this office and what differentiates you from the other candidates?

We’ve been facing the challenge of doing more with less for several years, and I don’t anticipate that challenge going away anytime soon. We’ve adapted and found better ways to deliver services, often at a lower cost to taxpayers. And we’ve begun to develop broad strategies for delivering integrated health and human services to the most vulnerable that will help reduce disparities and lead to successful outcomes.

• What are the two biggest challenges facing the county and what would you do to solve them?

One of the most important issues for District 1 is the final approval and construction of the Bottineau Light Rail line from downtown Minneapolis through North Minneapolis, Golden Valley, Robbinsdale, Crystal and Brooklyn Park. The $1 billion project will directly link our suburbs with existing LRT, and thus MSP Airport and Mall of America.  I truly believe the project will bring jobs and development to our cities like nothing ever before. I’ve been engaged on this issue for many years. We stand at the dawn of a new and exciting era for the County, and I want to continue working to see it happen.

Hennepin County’s enormous financial responsibility for kids in our human services and corrections system is clear, but we also have a moral responsibility to prevent as many young people from falling into our social safety net as possible.

The good news is that trend lines for child protection, juvenile crime, teen pregnancies and out of home placements are down. We’ve begun to partner with school districts to cut down on truancy and increase graduation rates, and our libraries have after-school programs to help with study, raise reading levels and find employment. That said we still face a challenge in fostering a robust environment that assists kids early and consistently. We can do more to collaborate with schools and cities and I intend to work to that end.

Chris Rains

Address: 10303 Major Dr., Brooklyn Park

Family: Wife, Annette, three children

Education: High School

Occupation: Real Estate broker and retail storeowner

Years in county: 40

Community involvement: Sunday school teacher, Sharing and Caring Hands

Have you run for any other office in the past? If so, list what, when and for how long you served (if applicable): No

Information: chrisrains.com


• Why are you running for this office and what differentiates you from the other candidates?

I have been a small business owner since 2002. Now more than ever, it’s time for new people with real-world experience in government. It’s time to have someone who has felt the impact of the recession and understands what it means to have to cut back. As you know, it doesn’t take a bureaucrat; it takes someone with conviction, clarity, and common sense.

I have never run for office before nor did I intend to. In the last 20 years with Mike Opat serving on the Hennepin County board, he has increased his pay, his perks and our property taxes 18 of those 20 years. This does not sit well with me. So I have decided to bring a new mindset to the county board.

• What are the two biggest challenges facing the county and what would you do to solve them?

One of the most challenging aspects will be convincing fellow board members that Hennepin County has to set more defined limits of authority and focus more on the core functions of public safety, transportation and providing a social safety net to those most vulnerable and in need. By looking at current fiscal debt load and projection, it should become apparent that without restraints, the county would continue to add more debt and subsequently push service fees and property taxes higher.

Equally challenging will be lowering property taxes. Last year, an amendment was offered to cut the general property tax levy by 2.5 percent. That amount is what the Budget-Finance Department said would be necessary to hold the median-value home in Hennepin County harmless from a county tax increase. The proposal failed on a vote of 1-6. We are struggling through a recession, yet the county has not acted to lessen the burden on taxpayers. A reduction in property tax rates can happen through prioritizing government spending, evaluating county programs against specified criterion of success and reducing the bureaucracy of government.

People buy mortgage payments they can afford, not the listed price of your home. The higher your property taxes are, the less you can afford to spend on the overall home price. By lowering property taxes, additional equity can go back into your home. This is what creates economic prosperity. This especially hurts the unemployed, the working-class and seniors on fixed-incomes. In fact, property taxes can be the biggest expense a senior citizen makes the entire year. When ordinary citizens have to cut back, so should government. We have to prioritize spending.

Joy Marsh Stephens

Address: 7320 York Ave. N. Brooklyn Park

Family: Husband, John, four children

Education: Masters Degree in Special Education

Occupation: I am a project manager-process improvement manger for UnitedHealth Group.

Years in county: 28

Community involvement: I have been a community organizer and board member with ISAIAH, a coalition of faith-based organizations working for racial and economic equity, for three years; Minnesota Children’s Theater Company and Habitat for Humanity. Have you run for any other office in the past? If so, list what, when and for how long you served (if applicable): No

Information: joyfordistrictone.com


• Why are you running for this office and what differentiates you from the other candidates?

I believe that the fundamental role of County government is to be a human services agency.  In this capacity, the most effective way the County can serve its residents is by ensuring that all residents are on a path to prosperity.  In the last 20 years that the incumbent has represented District 1, we have see more children living below the poverty level, fewer students of color graduating from high school, increasing property tax burdens on the poor and middle class, growing healthcare disparities between the wealthy and the poor, and a lack of attention on creating sustainable living wage jobs that move people out of poverty and onto a path to prosperity.

As our region becomes increasingly racially and economically diverse, these disparities will grow if we do not redirect the County’s focus on fulfilling its mission to make families successful.

I have been at square one on county-managed aid programs.  I know what it takes to transition from those programs because I’ve done it.  I know what is broken.

I believe the most effective way for us to move forward as a County is to create well-equipped 21st century workforce, expand our tax base and effectively manage taxpayer dollars through addressing racial and economic disparities.

• What are the two biggest challenges facing the county and what would you do to solve them?

I believe the primary challenge facing Hennepin County is a lack of vision on the board to meet its mission of creating successful families.

The greatest predictor of academic achievement is socio-economic which are factors that the County influences.  We are at a point of crisis and have been for a long time, yet the incumbent is only now talking about the County focusing on education.

To be effective stewards of taxpayer dollars, I will work aggressively with others to strengthen the socio-economic factors to improve student academic achievement so that we are developing a well-equipped 21st century workforce.

Our growing economic and racial disparities have resulted in even greater challenges today in access to affordable housing, transit that serves the entire community, living wage jobs, and access to quality healthcare for the poor and working class than we did 20 years ago when the incumbent took office.

As County Commissioner I will leverage my relationships at the state and city government levels, as well as the community and private industry to implement effective solutions that close these disparities. Through my community and private sector work I know there are leaders and people from across the state that are committed to addressing these challenges.

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