A look at some hot local racesby Michael Caputo, Minnesota Public Radio
All politics is local. Most observers don't argue with that. But some local issues on the November ballot are hotter than others. Here's a sampling.
St. Paul, Minn. — Issues on the local level are as different as the communities themselves.
Some issues are parochial, like how a community governs all-terrain vehicles. Sometimes a local campaign turns on a personality, or the dynamic of the governing board.
Then there are the issues that can be more universal, but flash hot in some places. Take the city of Afton and land use.
AFTON: NOT ANOTHER WOODBURY
Stephen Rosenmeier worries whether current zoning laws in this small city "will or will not protect Afton from evolving into another Woodbury." Places like Lake Elmo and the aforementioned Woodbury have dealt with development issues. Now it's reaching a boiling point in Afton, a small community in Washington County, which sits along the St. Croix River.
"(Development) is the focal point of Afton politics," said Rosenmeier, an Afton area resident and former member of the city's Groundwater and Natural Resources Commission. Rosenmeier was among a group of voters who responded to an MPR question about local politics and what makes them interesting.
The question in Afton -- quite simply -- is how a small suburban city handles the potential for growth with a desire to keep some spaces open.
Mayor Dave Engstrom, the incumbent, has supported a plan called concentrated clusters. This means zoning regulations that would preserve open space by allowing developers to build in concentrate clusters.
His opponent, Julia Welter, has opposed these concentrated clusters -- believing that they will actually be a way to introduce rapid growth to Afton.
It's not just the mayor's seat that is in play. Two of the four city council wards are contested in these nonpartisan elections. And these also hinge on growth issues in Afton.
ATVs DRIVE THE CROW WING COUNTY ELECTION
Can an election hinge on all-terrain vehicles? In Crow Wing County, the answer is "yes." Mixed in with the usual concerns about taxes and road improvement, those running for Crow Wing County's Board of Commissioners also better have an answer about how to handle ATVs.
It's an issue reminiscent of how communities deal with snowmobiles in wooded areas or jet-skis on placid lakes.
In Crow Wing County, some candidates would like to create an ATV park to keep the vehicles out of highway ditches, and relegate them to designated parts of the county's woods. That's what has John Reynolds of Merrifield worried.
"We could have an ATV park rammed down our throat, leaving taxpayers stuck with the bill and consuming more than two square miles of public land," Reynolds wrote to MPR.
Those running for open Crow Wing County Board seats will have to answer whether they support the park idea, and how they would wrestle with the environmental concerns of the vehicles.
SMOKING IN ST. LOUIS COUNTY
If only Minnesota state legislators would enact an indoor smoking law. Then, perhaps, it wouldn't become an election issue for places like St. Louis County.
The smoking conversation really took off in 2005, after smoking ordinances were enacted in Ramsey County (including the City of St. Paul), Hennepin County and the City of Minneapolis.
Some municipalities, however, aren't following suit, such as St. Louis County. Incumbent County Commissioner Dennis Fink has voted against a countywide ban, opting for a statewide solution. His challenger, Frank Jewell, would like a ban.
Voter Jill Rogers of Duluth wrote MPR about the Fink-Jewell race and said this smoking issue is a clear dividing line between the two candidates.
STATUS QUO IN ELK RIVER SCHOOLS
John Humphrey, a Rogers resident, wrote MPR about the school board electoral battle in Elk River. And some of what Humphrey worried about sounded like issues you might hear in other districts -- large class sizes, loss of state funding.
In fact, the voters there will have to vote on a levy referendum to raise additional school funds.
But Humphrey also wrote about "mistrust" among school board members after one of them resigned a few weeks ago. Patricia Scharber stepped down from the board and, in her statement to the press, said she struggled with the status quo.
"My only option is to leave this organization, if only to bring attention to the necessity to effect change. Change in attitude, change in how we do business," Scharber wrote in the resignation announcement.
Candidates for the school board in Elk River will not only have to deal with school funding, but how they will work together to change the board dynamic.
ANOKA MAYOR: THE YOUNG AND THE EXPERIENCED?
And then there are the races that are about personalities. Take Anoka, where you wouldn't think a three-term incumbent mayor would be accused of being inexperienced.
But not when the incumbent is Bjorn Skogquist, who first won the part-time position in 2000, when he was just 22 years old. Now 28, Skogquist faces Steve Schmidt, a 61-year-old businessman whom Skogquist beat two years ago.
And so, in what would have to be considered one of the more unusual circumstances, it's the challenger, Schmidt, who will run on experience, even though it's Skogquist who is the incumbent.