By John Holler
It was known that the Wright County Board of Commissioners would have a new look in 2013, but, following the Aug. 14 primary elections, it became clear that four new commissioners will be seated. Four of the five districts were subject to primary elections to narrow the field down to two candidates and three of the sitting commissioners were forced to run.
Two them — Commissioners Pat Sawatzke and Rose Thelen — were the two top vote-getters in District 2 and will face off against one another in November. Commissioner Dick Mattson finished third in the eight-candidate field in District 5 and won’t be on the November ballot.
The candidate field was pared down to 10 as the top two vote-getters move on to the general election. In District 1, Christine Husom (577 votes) and Fred Naaktgeboren (550) distanced the other three candidates to move on. In District 2, Thelen won the primary with 597 votes, while Sawatzke finished a close second with 563 votes. In District 4, no candidate got more than 26 percent of the votes in a tightly contest primary between five candidates. In the end, Mary Wetter (229 votes) and Mike Potter (199) will move on to November. In District 5, Charlie Borrell (367) and Leonard Wozniak (340) earned more votes than Mattson’s 313. There wasn’t a primary in District 3, where Mark Daleiden and Tom Darkenwald were the only candidates to file, which didn’t require a primary run-off.
The end result is that there will be four new commissioners on the county board when it convenes in January. The only two sitting commissioners that advanced will face off head to head. Thelen said she was surprised that she got more votes than any of the commissioner candidates in any of the commissioner districts, but said it came through getting her message out.
“I worked hard and I’m ecstatic about how things turned out,” Thelen said. “I may be the newest member of the county board, but I came in saying that we didn’t have to do business as usual. I respect Pat, but I see things much differently that he does. We both represent the citizens of Wright County, but I bring a different mindset to the job. In these economic times, there is a call for innovative governance. I believe I can bring that.”
Sawatzke said he would campaign on his experience, which he believes will be critical as the board goes through an unprecedented overhaul after the November elections.
“There will be four new commissioners coming on,” Sawatzke said. “I want to bring a fiscally conservative approach to the board and believe that I can be of value in helping to acclimate the new commissioners to the board. My biggest concern was the primary, because, with low voter turnover, anything could happen. Primaries always scare me. The general election is where I intend to shine.”
Mattson’s defeat in the primary will end his commissioner tenure of more 20 years. Last month, Mattson was hospitalized after suffering from diverticulitis — a life-threatening illness that required surgery and effectively shut down his campaign.
“I was heading to a meeting and suddenly has intense stomach pain,” Mattson said. “I was going to turn around and get my wife before I went to the hospital, but it was bad enough that I knew I had to get to the hospital. The doctors told me later if I had gone back, I might not be here now. What saddened me was that I was just starting up my campaign and that got shut down. Right now, my health is my primary concern. What bothers me most is that, in 20 years, I never missed a meeting. The timing was just all wrong.”
With the field now whittled down to 10, the campaigning will begin in earnest for the Nov. 6 election. Who will be seated when the board has its first meeting in January is far from certain, but one thing is clear — 80 percent of the current county board won’t be there when the 2013 county board is sworn in.