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This week four incumbents were re-elected to the ISD 197 school board in an uncontested election. There’s not a lot of drama in an election with no challengers, so let’s look at some history for some interesting factoids.
Going back 30 years, 2019 and 2017 are the only years the district has had completely uncontested elections. In all other years there was at least one more candidate than positions available.
(1996 is a weird anomaly where there were two positions of different lengths on the ballot, and one of those positions had only one candidate while the other had three plus candidates plus a write-in campaign).
There have also been a lot more women winning and serving on the school board. I counted nearly 20 women serving on the ISD 197 school board in the last 30 years. In all of its history, West St. Paul has only had seven women serve on city council.
The most successful write-in campaign came in 2009 when Ed Usset joined the race a week before the election. He earned most of the 13% write-in vote, which put him within 4% of securing a seat. The three winning candidates earned 22%, 19%, and 17% of the vote in the nine-candidate field (including Usset).
Another attempt came in 1996 when former board member James Nikolai earned 28% of the vote. But wasn’t nearly enough with Steven Anderson earning nearly 50%.
Write-ins earned 7.5% of the vote in the uncontested 2017 race, thanks to a last-minute write-in campaign. That time around winning candidates earned around 30%.
The uncontested 2019 race saw just over 4% write-in votes, but there was no coordinated write-in campaign. Of the 120 write-ins, only six wrote in the same name.
In 1991, Kitty Haight lost to Susan Maher by 7 votes, 893 to 900.
There’s a false assumption that school board is a good launching pad for higher office. That’s rarely the case. There are only three examples from the last 30 years:
- Current state Senator Matt Klein served on the ISD 197 school board from 2013-2016.
- Current Dakota County Sheriff Tim Leslie served on the board from 2005 to 2009.
- Finally, former Dakota County Commissioner Patrice Bataglia served on the school board in the 1980s, then more than a decade as a Dakota County Commissioner before an unsuccessful bid for Congress against Betty McCollum in 2004.
The school board has seen a number of candidates who also ran for office in West St. Paul. It’s generally not a successful venture. A few did eventually win one position, but no one in the last 30 years has served on both school board and West St. Paul municipal office.
Successful school board candidates include Max Saucedo (council: ran and lost in 1988; school board: ran and lost in 1994, won in 1997 and 2001) and David Jackson (council: ran and lost in 2000; school board: ran and lost in 1992, won in 1993 and 1996).
Losing attempts include former Council Member Lee Walker (council: served in the 1980s and late 1990s, ran and lost in 2008; school board: ran and lost in 2003), Susan Stradtmann (council: ran and lost in 2008; school board: ran and lost in 2007), , and former state Representative Raymond Mickelsen (mayor: ran and lost in 1988 and 1992; school board: ran and lost in 1994, 1996, 1997, 1999, 2001, and 2003).
Looks like Raymond Mickelsen ran for school board a lot, right? Mickelsen passed away in 2008 and his obituary noted:
“It was not unusual to see a ballot in Dakota County or West St. Paul with his name on it; he loved dropping in at the WSP City Hall or the council meeting ‘just to check on things.'”
Mickelsen had a long history of community service, including serving in World War II, being elected to one term in the state House in 1950, serving on the West St. Paul Planning Commission and Charter Commission, and yes, being heavily involved in ISD 197.
“I vowed to help my country out as long as I can from day one,” Mickelsen told the Sun Newspaper in 2003. “I’ve always wanted to be involved. I think I am in a position to help and win or lose I can contribute something.”
A self-described “transsexual” candidate ran multiple times for school board in the 1990s. Thomas Knaus ran in 1994, 1995, and 1996, and then in 1997 as Cheryl Andrea Bruhn. She also ran for mayor in Mendota Heights in 1994, 1996 and the early 1970s. But the controversy wasn’t gender, but her views: She talked about minority youth causing violence, wanted to limit immigrant benefits, and argued for closing schools.
For more on what it’s like to serve on school board, read our interview with Board Member Maureen Ramirez who serves as vice chair.
(Most of this information came from scouring old newspaper articles in NewBank, so it’s entirely possible I overlooked something. If that’s the case, feel free to let me know in the comments below.)