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The ISD 197 school board election just finished up, but we’re already looking ahead to the 2022 general election as two candidates have announced runs for Dakota County positions. Ramsey County Assistant Attorney Elizabeth Lamin started her campaign for county attorney this past summer and West St. Paul City Council Member Robyn Gulley announced her campaign for county commissioner last week.
The 2022 election on November 8 will include our Congressional representative, state senate and representative, state-wide offices such as governor, county positions, and local city offices including mayor and city council.
The three county positions on the ballot are county attorney, county commissioner, and sheriff.
Dakota County Attorney
Early in 2021, longtime Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom announced his retirement due to medical issues. His term runs through 2022, forcing the Dakota County Commissioners to appoint a replacement (state law doesn’t allow counties to hold a special election for a vacant attorney or sheriff position). They interviewed two finalists and unanimously appointed the chief deputy in the county attorney’s office, Kathryn Keena, to the remainder of Backstrom’s term.
While voters didn’t get a say in the appointment, they will in 2022 as both finalists will run.
“Dakota County is the third-largest county in the state of Minnesota and has not experienced a truly contested election for the position of county attorney in nearly 30 years,” Lamin said. “This is an important position and plays an essential role in local government and it takes time to give voters an opportunity to learn about the position and also connect with the needs of this diverse community. By starting my campaign early I am taking the time to learn from the community and also invite them to ask questions, learn about me, and fully engage with voters.”
Backstrom was also appointed to the county attorney position in 1987 and ran unopposed in seven out of eight elections. 1994 was the last contested election for county attorney.
“I want to help connect compassion and justice by utilizing evidence-based programs and outcome-based policies to create a balanced response to today’s challenges,” Lamin said. “I am an accomplished prosecutor with over 15 years of experience handling thousands of criminal cases and trying complex homicides, shootings, assaults, and other serious felonies. Having worked on the front lines has provided me with an opportunity to observe strategies that work and those that are not effective and also see the impact of violence on communities.”
Keena hasn’t officially announced yet, but she does plan to run. Keena’s appointment made her the first woman to serve as Dakota county attorney.
“I haven’t really reflected on that, other than when you stop and think about it, you say, ‘Wow, what has taken so long?'” Keena said in a Star Tribune interview. “I hope it inspires other young female attorneys that are going into public service.”
Dakota County Commissioner, District 2
Retirement is also a factor in the race for district 2 county commissioner, which includes West St. Paul, South St. Paul, Sunfish Lake, and parts of Inver Grove Heights, as current County Commissioner Kathleen Gaylord does not plan to run again.
“To run a great grassroots campaign—which is not just about winning but about learning what our community needs, neighbor to neighbor, and getting people engaged in the issues—takes time,” Gulley said. “I am ready to start that work now.”
Gulley says she knocked on every door in her ward three times—more than 8,000 doors.
“District 2 includes more than 20,000 voters,” said Gulley, “I plan to work just as hard to reach out and introduce myself and our campaign to every voter.”
But that work also happened just over a year ago. Gulley only took office 11 months ago. If she wins the county commissioner race, she’d only have two years of experience as a an elected official.
“It is not unusual for City Council members, elected to four-year terms, to campaign for another elected office in the year they are not up for election,” Gulley said. It’s happened four times in the past 20 years—Anthony Fernandez and Dave Napier in 2018, Ed Iago in 2008, and John Zanmiller in 2004, all running for mayor. Three of those—Fernandez, Iago, and Zanmiller—were first-term council members running half-way into their term like Gulley. A better parallel might be Thomas Stassen—nephew of Minnesota Governor Harold Stassen—who served two years as a city council member before winning a seat as county commissioner in 1974.
Gulley emphasized her experience as a union leader, educator, nonprofit executive director, DFL party chair, and more.
“There has not been a commissioner in district 2 elected from West St Paul in 40 years,” Gulley said. The last West St. Paul resident to serve as county commissioner was James Kennedy from 1977 to 1980 (Kennedy also served on West St. Paul City Council before and after his term as commissioner). Prior to 1982 redistricting, West St. Paul used to be in multiple districts.
In fact, West St. Paul’s current district 2 hasn’t seen much turnover with only three commissioners in the past 50 years:
- Kathleen Gaylord (2003-2022)
- Donald Maher (1987-2002)
- Gerald Hollenkamp (1970-1986)
All three lived in South St. Paul.
Speaking of South St. Paul, there are rumors that South St. Paul Mayor Jimmy Francis will run for the district 2 seat. We talked with Franics, and he hasn’t made a decision yet.
Dakota County Sheriff
The final Dakota County elected office on the ballot in 2022 is sheriff. Tim Leslie has held the post since being elected in 2014. He won in 2014 with nearly 75% of the vote and ran unopposed in 2018.
Leslie plans to run in 2022 and says he’ll officially announce his intentions after the first of the year.
At this time we’re not aware of any other candidates for sheriff.
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