by John Holler
Special to the Star News
Wright County Auditor/Treasurer Bob Hiivala made a prophetic prediction when the filing period for county commissioner seats opened May 22.
“Typically what you see in filings is that there is an initial flurry of activity, followed by a lull period and then another flurry of filings late,” Hiivala said. “It seems to happen that way every election cycle. Given the circumstances we have this year with all five commissioner seats up for election, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a lot of candidates file.”
While a late flurry of activity was expected, few could have predicted that nine candidates would file in the final two days, including five in the District 5 race and three in District 1, with seven of those nine candidates filing on June 5 — the final day for filing. It pushed the total of candidates running for the Wright County Board to 24.
“I’ve been involved with county elections for 32 years and I’ve never seen anything close to this,” Elections Supervisor Gloria Gooler said. “Obviously, having all five county board seats up for election has created an unprecedented number of candidates, but redistricting also resulted in the county going from four legislative districts to six.”
The only county commissioner district that won’t be subject to a primary election will be the newly created District 3, where Mark Daleiden of St. Michael will face off with Tom Darkenwald of Otsego. Those two will have plenty of time to make their case to their constituency. The other four districts, however, will be up for grabs as 22 candidates will be whittled down to eight.
Five candidates filed for the District 1 seat, including three from the Buffalo area — Christine Husom, Fred Naaktgeboren and Duane Olson – and two from Annandale — Thomas Huffman and Dan Snabb. This was a commissioner district created through redistricting that didn’t have a sitting commissioner, creating a competition for two finalists.
The District 2 battle will include two sitting commissioners — Pat Sawatke (Monticello) and Rose Thelen (Clearwater), facing a pair of challengers in the primary — Joseph Doyle of Monticello and Barry Kukowski of Clearwater.
The District 4 seat will have five candidates vying for the commissioner seat being vacated by current Commissioner Elmer Eichelberg, who opted not to file for re-election. The district has a diverse group of candidates including one from Rockford (Michael Beyer), one from St. Michael (David Dayon), one from Albertville (Mike Potter) and two from Buffalo (Matt Walker and Mary Wetter).
District 5 potentially could have also pitted two sitting commissioners, but Commissioner Jack Russek of Delano didn’t file for re-election. Incumbent Dick Mattson (Buffalo) will face a whopping seven challengers in the primary, including three from the Delano area (Larry Bartels, Paul Schoborg and Dan Vick), as well as a candidate from Waverly (Charlie Borrell), one from Buffalo (Tom LaPlant) and one from Cokato (Leonard Wozniak). Four of the candidates filed in the final two days, including three on the June 5 deadline — Bartels, Borrell and Vick joining LaPlant, who filed June 4. An eighth candidate, Vickie Nibbe of Howard Lake, filed June 5 but wasn’t officially approved until June 6 because, instead of paying the $50 filing fee, she took the other option to candidates — securing 500 signatures of eligible voters in the district, a process that took the auditor/treasurer’s office two days to verify and approve.
Gooler said that the preparation process for the county would be exhaustive. With 43 voting precincts in the county and six different legislative primaries, the county will have to generate at least 50 different ballots for the Aug. 14 primary and even more for the general election in November.
“It’s going to be something we’ve never dealt with before to this level,” Gooler said. “There will be a minimum of 49 different ballots that we will need and we are planning to order a lot of additional ballots. Typically, the voter turnout in Wright County is only about 10 percent for the primary election, but, given the number of candidates that are running and the races that will be decided in the primary, we expect the voter turnout to be much higher than in a typical election year.”
The primary will set the stage for the November election and, being a presidential election year, turnout could reach record levels. The county will be working over the next several weeks in preparation for the Aug. 14 primary and they may need that time to assure they can get all of their work completed.
“It’s going to be a very busy time,” Gooler said. “In 32 years, I’ve never seen anything quite like this — all five commissioner seats up for election, four of them involved in primaries and the addition of the two new legislative districts following redistricting. It’s going to be pretty hectic.”
And they’re off!
A total of 24 candidates filed for county commissioner elections by the June 5 deadline. Four of the five commissioner districts will be subject to primary elections Aug. 14 (District 3 had only two candidates file, so it won’t subject to the primary election).
Here are the 24 candidates running for county commissioner by district, including their mailing address as filed with the Minnesota Secretary of State’s office (which doesn’t list possible township residence). Note: * denotes a sitting commissioner
District 1 — Thomas Huffman (Annandale), Christine Husom (Buffalo), Fred Naaktgeboren (Buffalo), Duane Olson (Buffalo) and Dan Snabb (Annandale).
District 2 — Pat Sawatke (Monticello)*, Rose Thelen (Clearwater)*, Joseph Doyle (Monticello) and Barry Kukowski (Clearwater).
District 3 — Mark Daleiden (St. Michael) and Tom Darkenwald (Otsego)
District 4 — Michael Beyer (Rockford), David Dayon (St. Michael), Mike Potter (Albertville), Matt Walker (Buffalo) and Mary Wetter (Buffalo).
District 5 — Dick Mattson (Buffalo)*, Larry Bartels (Delano), Charlie Borrell (Waverly), Tom LaPlant (Buffalo), Vickie Nibbe (Howard Lake), Paul Schoborg (Delano), Dan Vick (Delano) and Leonard Wozniak (Cokato)