St. Louis County election faces cold, apathyJim Stauber and Patrick Boyle aren’t just facing each other in next week’s St. Louis County Board special election in eastern Duluth.
By: John Myers, Duluth News Tribune
Jim Stauber and Patrick Boyle aren’t just facing each other in next week’s St. Louis County Board special election in eastern Duluth.
They’re also facing cold, wind and snow — and likely a major case of voter apathy.
Many voters in the district may not even know about the special election that will replace Steve O’Neil, who died in July from cancer. Others may know about it but choose not to venture out.
“Have I been out there knocking on doors? No. It’s too cold. It hasn’t been a normal campaign that way,” Stauber told the News Tribune. The cold and snow “are big factors. But I think the other issue is that we are the only ones on the ballot. There’s no school district referendum or city races or legislative or federal races … It’s just us. I’m not sure how much of a draw that will be.”
Even in a city that traditionally sees voter turnout topping 80 percent for presidential general elections, it’s expected just a fraction of the roughly 28,000 residents of the district will bother to vote on Jan. 14 — likely closer to the usual 12 percent eligible voter turnout for a September primary election.
As far as anyone can recall, the city hasn’t seen a mid-winter election in decades, maybe ever. The calendar has made campaigning tough.
“If it’s after 5 p.m. and dark and 5 below zero, people don’t want to open their door while you talk to them. So I’ve been doing a lot on the phone, trying to encourage people” to get out there to vote, Boyle said. “Another problem is that a lot of people have left town to go south.”
Boyle is hoping that, for those who haven’t left yet, they’ll bother to cast an absentee ballot.
Big differences between candidates
Both Boyle and Stauber are known quantities in Duluth; both are City Council veterans.
Stauber (the cousin of current county commissioner Pete Stauber of Hermantown) served 12 years on the city council before deciding earlier this year to retire from that post. When O’Neil’s position opened, Stauber jumped early and became the leading conservative in the pack.
Stauber and Boyle go out of their way to say they have worked well together on the council and respect each other. But beyond the kind words, both say there’s a clear difference between them in basic political philosophy.
“I’m very conservative. I’m very concerned with the constant increase we see in all kinds of taxes,” Stauber said.
Stauber said he would have even voted against the 1.5 percent levy increase the County Board approved for 2014. Boyle said the increase was modest and helped fund critical services the county provides, like road plowing, law enforcement and building repairs such as those underway at the county’s Government Services Center in downtown Duluth.
Stauber has a strong opposition to government borrowing, even for major construction projects like roads and bridges, something governments at every level nationwide do. Corporations borrow by bonding, too. Citizens take out mortgages. Even current conservative members of the County Board have backed borrowing for such major projects as the $22 million reconstruction of the downtown Duluth Government Services Center.
Stauber does not.
“I know I’m in the minority on this … but all this borrowing is giving us the benefits and leaving the costs for our children to pick up for us. We should be paying for these things as we go,” Stauber said.
Boyle says that while Stauber’s hard-line, anti-tax stand may make fans among conservative politicos, it’s bad public policy. Boyle promises a more progressive agenda on the County Board, following in the footsteps of Steve O’Neil.
“It’s one thing to say you’ll vote against all new taxes, and Jim has voted against them, but the county has 3,000 miles of roads to take care of … we still have vulnerable children and adults to protect. It’s irresponsible to say you will never vote for a tax increase when we have real needs out there,” Boyle said. “I’m all for being fiscally responsible, and my record on the council shows that … But how would you ever come up with enough money, enough cash in hand, to do something like the’ Government Services Center if you didn’t borrow money to do it?”
Stauber also expresses unbridled support for Northeastern Minnesota’s possible expansion into copper mining, saying it will help not only the Iron Range but also suppliers and other businesses in Duluth. While the county doesn’t play a key role in mining, Stauber said it’s important for local politicians to be a cheerleader for projects such as PolyMet. And he brushed aside environmental concerns as scare tactics by extremists.
“I’ve read the executive summary (of the PolyMet environmental review) and I’m convinced we can have the jobs and protect the environment,” Stauber said.
Boyle has been less sure, saying he fully supports iron ore mining in the region but wants to see the results of the state/federal environmental review of PolyMet before offering his support for the state’s first copper mine.
Three years left in term
Results from the election are expected to be certified and the winner sworn in in time for the Jan. 28 County Board meeting. The winning candidate will serve the remaining three years of O’Neil’s term.
Boyle topped the list of candidates in the November primary, followed by Stauber who squeaked in as finalist by just 33 votes over Scott Keenan, the former Grandma’s Marathon director. Cary Thompson-Gilbert finished fourth. Two other candidates were on the November ballot, Adam Jaros and Nick Patrons, but both had pulled-out of the campaign not long after filing for the office.
O’Neil’s wife, Angie Miller, was appointed by the County Board in September to fill the time until a special election could be held in compliance with state election statutes. She did not run in the special election.
If Stauber loses the Jan. 14 race he’ll be out of politics for now. Boyle’s situation is unique and less clear.
Boyle not only won the County Board primary on Nov. 5 but also won unopposed re-election to his county council seat (it was too late in the process for him to remove his name from the city race, election officials ruled.) If he wins on Jan. 14, Boyle will resign his city council seat, forcing a city council special election to be held during the next municipal election in 2015, with someone likely appointed to the post until then. If he loses the county race, Boyle will retain his city council post.