Down the stretch they come; Voters head to the polls with several local, state races to be decided

Published 11:01 am Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Tim Lastine casts his vote Tuesday morning at Ellis Middle School. -- Photos by Eric Johnson/

Tim Lastine casts his vote Tuesday morning at Ellis Middle School. — Photos by Eric Johnson/

Election Day is finally here across Minnesota.

Polls opened this morning across the state for an election that will elect City Council members, a county auditor/treasurer, several representatives, four Austin school board members and more. Here is a final look at the local candidates.

Minnesota House

Republican Dennis Schminke is challenging incumbent Rep. Jeanne Poppe, DFL-Austin, in House District 27B.

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Poppe has said she hopes to continue her strong record on education and agriculture, as she chairs the Ag Policy Committee.

She’s said the most recent state session put the state back on track by raising taxes openly to invest in people.

“I think the state is going in the right direction, and I think it’s important for us to have taken the time and the money to invest in human capital,” she said.

For Schminke, he’s looking to bring balance to St. Paul after the DFL majority made decisions he said will hurt the long-term prosperity in the state. One of the keys to his campaign has been jobs and job growth

“For a long time, Minnesota’s been a high tax, heavy regulatory state,” he said. “It’s a tough place to get things done.”

Schminke said Minnesota is lagging behind neighboring states private sector job creation, and he also noted he wants to help people get jobs and be prosperous.

Just to the west, Republican Peggy Bennett and Independent Tom Price are challenging Rep. Shannon Savick, DFL-Wells, in District 27A.

Election official Walter Schwartz hands out “I Voted” stickers to voters after they cast their ballots.

Election official Walter Schwartz hands out “I Voted” stickers to voters after they cast their ballots.

U.S. House

Republican Jim Hagedorn is challenging Rep. Tim Walz, DFL-Mankato, for his 1st District seat.

Hagedorn has run an aggressive campaign, as he’s criticized Walz for siding with Obama. Hagedorn has said he would support regulatory reform, and he would look to simplify taxes. Walz has talked of job growth and reducing the cost of government by encouraging a living wage.

Walz, who served 24 years on the Army National Guard and has been a high-school teacher and coach in Mankato, has made his mark in Congress working on veterans and agricultural issues, among others. He also helped secure federal support for Winona’s interstate bridge.

Hagedorn, from Blue Earth, is a former federal lobbyist and businessman who once served as legislative assistant to a former Minnesota congressman. His father also once represented southern Minnesota in Congress. In the primary, Hagedorn beat GOP-endorsed Aaron Miller after initially abiding by the endorsement, then jumping back into the race, saying Miller wasn’t prepared to run a full-time campaign.

If re-elected, Walz said he will continue to push for accountability in the Department of Veterans Affairs, and he has criticized the department for failing to deliver on patient health amid the well-publicized scandal where VA hospitals attempted to cover up long wait times and management problems. Walz announced Tuesday that his latest veterans’ bill, one aimed at suicide prevention, will head to a hearing in November.

Regarding the Affordable Care Act, now one year old, Walz said he’s heard success stories from folks who would have been denied coverage without the ACA. He’s also heard complaints about rising rates, especially from those in southeast Minnesota, but he said he’s not willing to return to the previous system.

He said if elected, Hagedorn would focus on repealing the Affordable Care Act, loosening EPA regulations on coal power plants, and simplifying taxes. He said he’d like to see more investment in infrastructure that could bring the costs of energy down, such as the Keystone XL pipeline.

Austin City Council

There will be at least one new member on the Austin City Council after the election.

City council candidates Judy Enright and Jon Boyer will compete for a Ward 3 seat, while Brian Staska and Dave Hagen will vie for council member Roger Boughton’s Ward 2 seat. Boughton decided not to run for re-election this year to give someone new an opportunity on the council.

Enright is a first-term council member and the physical plant manager at Riverland Community College. Boyer is president and founder of Austin’s Precision Signs. Hagen works at KSMQ Public Television in underwriting and development and has been active throughout the community for years. Staska has been a firefighter for almost 30 years and also works as an instructor at Riverland Community College.

Ward 1 council member Jeff Austin and at-large council member Janet Anderson are running unopposed for their council seats.

Austin School Board

Four of the Austin Public Schools Board seats will be filled by the end of today. With three incumbents and three newcomers running, there will be at least one if not more newcomers elected this year.

Incumbents Don Fox, Angie Goetz and Kathy Green, as well as newcomers Lisa Haase, Peggy Young and Rolando Benitez Ocampo are vying for four seats on the school board. Incumbent Greg Larson decided not to run again due to family obligations.

Fox would like to see existing programs grow, such as the gifted and talented program, the preschool programs at the Community Center and science programs for kindergartners. Fox has been a teacher and school administrator for several years.

Haase has emphasized the need for technology in the classrooms. Haase has a degree in teaching. She currently works in the finance department at the Mayo Clinic Health System in Austin.

Goetz noted the achievement gap, which she said is always existent because of the diversity of student background, that she hopes to close. She agreed with Haase that the district should focus on using technology wisely. Goetz has worked as a substitute teacher, as a dance coach, and she has worked as a college admissions counselor. Goetz currently works as the property manager for an apartment complex.

Green hopes to make the Austin Public Schools District attractive to newcomers, and hopes to help different programs continue to stand strong. Green has a bachelor’s degree for dental hygiene. She’s served on the school board for about 15 years and has been a director for Minnesota Schools Boards Association. She is also a trustee and vice president for the Minnesota Public Employee Retirement Association.

Young noted the district must be fiscally responsible, as well as the need to listen to families to make sure students’ needs are met. She also supported an increase in technical programs at the schools. Young was on the parent teacher council at Southgate Elementary School and was involved at Ellis Middle School and in the I.J. Holton Intermediate School project.

Benitez Ocampo received his two-year degree and attended classes for communication. He works at Hormel Foods Corp. in Austin and at the Austin Municipal Airport. He is a member of the Salvation Army board and is on the Bike/Walk Committee for Vision 2020, as well as Spruce up Austin. He was also on several boards during school.

Mower County

Several Mower County races are already decided. Six of the nine county seats on the ballot this year are unopposed, including Commissioners Tony Bennett, Jerry Reinartz and Mike Ankeny, as well as County Attorney Kristen Nelsen, Sheriff Terese Amazi and Recorder Jill Cordes.

The only competition is for Auditor/Treasurer Doug Groh’s seat, as he is being challenged by Adams farmer Steven Reinartz, and for two Soil and Water Supervisor seats: John Grass Jr. and James Kellogg for District 3, and John Bhend, John Fossey and Randy Smith for District 4.

Groh is hoping for a third term in the seat and he’s touted his experience working for close to 25 years in the county. Reinartz has touted the need for new blood and has said he’s earned extensive, valuable experience on auditing and budgeting through his farming operation.