By John Holler
When all five county commissioner seats were up for grabs two years ago, the election process had a fever pitch in Wright County with contest elections changing the landscape of county government.
Two years later? Not so much.
Of the county positions up for election this year — sheriff, county attorney, auditor/treasurer and two county commissioner seats – three of them (county attorney, auditor/treasurer and Commissioner Mark Daleiden’s seat) are running unopposed. Of the other two, Commissioner Christine Husom is facing one challenger, which eliminates the need for a primary. The only elected position that will face an August primary is sheriff.
The county commissioner elections were staggered by design when all five commissioners faced re-election bids in 2012 after federal redistricting statutes required elections. Commissioner Pat Sawatzke, along with fellow Commissioners Elmer “Ike” Eichelberg and Dick Mattson, were elected ostensibly to four-year terms, but knowing that the population disparity in Wright County would result in the entire county board being subject to new elections.
“Prior to the redistricting that we knew was going to have all five commissioners coming up for election, Ike, Dick and I were coming off of elections that were two-year terms,” Sawatzke said. “When we completed the redistricting, those three commissioner districts were decided to be the ones that would have four-year terms, so only Commissioners Husom and Daleiden were in line for a two-year term election.”
As it turned out, the only challenge in August’s primary at the county level will be at the position of sheriff — a historical sacred cow of the election process. Here is a look at the election challenges facing the sheriff and two county commissioners.
Sheriff Hagerty is facing a pair of challenges for his job from Wright County deputy Bruce Doney and Hennepin County deputy Stacy Braun, which will cause the three of them to take part in the August primary election, which has been a long time in the making since the last time.
“We haven’t had a primary since Don Hozempa ran for sheriff his first time after the death of Darrell Wolff,” Hagerty said. “That election was in 1992. A state trooper and two city police chiefs — one from Annandale and another from Howard Lake — filed and Hozempa had a resounding victory in the primary and a similar one in the general election.”
In his first election following the retirement of Sheriff Gary Miller, who replaced Hozempa, Hagerty made history by running unopposed. Incumbent sheriffs have a time-honored history of re-election, so Hagerty was surprised he wasn’t facing competition his first time around in 2010.
“It was the first time we had an unopposed election on an open seat for sheriff since 1905,” Hagerty said. “It was odd that it was uncontested. I’m a firm believer that elections should be contested. I definitely wouldn’t ask people to run against me, but I think people should have a choice. I’m only temporarily occupying this office. I don’t own it. I’m just doing what I’ve done the 29 years I’ve been working in Wright County – work hard and hope that what you’re doing has value.”
Husom has spent 2014 as the county board chair, but will have to stave off a challenge from Buffalo resident Tom McGregor in the November election. Some might find it unfair that a commissioner would have to face another challenge less than two years after taking office, but Husom was happy she was initially elected to a two-year term.
“I actually thought being elected to a two-year term was a great chance to see what being a commissioner was all about,” Husom said. “I had a pretty good idea of what I was getting into, but you never know what a job really is until you’re sitting in the seat and getting the phone calls from constituents on this issue or that and what it takes to get the background information on issues that come up. Like any job, it’s trial by fire, but, with a two-year term, I figured if I got elected I would run again. Six years is a nice run.”
In her first election, Husom was one of five candidates in the primary to claim her seat. This time around, her only opponent is McGregor. The two are pretty aligned on a lot of issues and there is expected to be very little animosity on the campaign trail – “I think he’s running for the job, not against me,” Husom said.
Two years into her time on the county board, Husom believes her experience will be valuable as she seeks re-election in a head-to-head election.
“I’ve met so many people and worked with so many people and helped so many people that it increases the base of people who I know,” Husom said. “Sometimes it can be frustrating because there aren’t always good solutions. We get mandates from the state and federal government that we can’t control. You learn at times that the different levels of government slow down, delay or even make a good resolution to a problem impossible. But, people know I care and that will make a difference – but I still have to work hard and door-knock and keep working for the people of my district and all of Wright County.”
When it comes to making her mark on the county, Husom said she stands on her record, which has often included standing alone on some issues.
“There are some votes that I was kind of the lone wolf on,” Husom said. “I don’t like seeing private land bought up by public entities – that’s a concern of mine. I can talk to anyone about the way I voted and why. Essentially, I listen to the constituents. If a lot of them ask me to vote a certain way, I do. I was elected to represent them and I want to do that”
In 2012, Daleiden was the only commissioner who didn’t face a primary. There were only two candidates for the commissioner spot, which Daleiden won. This time, he stands alone without a challenger.
When asked about running unopposed, Daleiden quipped that he was doing such a good job that nobody wanted to oppose him — an example of the Daleiden tongue-in-cheek wit that has been evidenced since the time he became a county commissioner. But, as recently as this spring, Daleiden considered not filing for re-election.
“It was because of time constraints,” Daleiden said. “This job takes a lot more time than I had ever considered. I didn’t expect it would take as much time as it does. It’s about budgeting time, which I have to learn to do better. There are three parts of it — the business stuff, the county commissioner stuff and the family stuff. I think I’ve been lacking on the family stuff — as my wife keeps reminding me.”
Like Husom, Daleiden doesn’t mind coming back up for election in such a short period of time. He wasn’t sure what he was taking on the first time around and, if he hadn’t been able to juggle the priorities of his work and personal life, he wouldn’t have filed for re-election.
“I was glad it was a two-year term because it gave me a chance to get my feet wet and figure out if it was something I could really do,” Daleiden said. “I didn’t want to put my businesses in jeopardy and I haven’t. That was the main reason why I decided to run again.”
Daleiden is proud of what he and his fellow commissioners have been able to get done in the past year and a half, but admits there is still work to be done to reach many of their campaign goals and promises.
“I think the new board has done a job of getting information out to the public and be as open as possible,” Daleiden said. “I’m impressed with what we’ve been able to accomplish, but we have a lot more yet to do.”