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Rukavina announces run for St. Louis County Board

Tom Rukavina speaks during the DFL Convention in 2010 at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center in Duluth. (2010 file / News Tribune)1 / 2
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Former State Rep. Tom Rukavina officially unveiled the worst-kept secret on the Iron Range on Monday: He’s running for the St. Louis County Board.

Rukavina, 63, of Pike Township outside Virginia, said he will file for the 4th District seat  held by longtime commissioner Mike Forsman of Ely, who has said he will not seek re-election.

The massive district covers all of northern and some eastern portions of the county, stretching from townships just outside Duluth to the Ontario border.

Rukavina served in the state House for 26 years, retiring in 2012. He previously served on the Pike town board and the Virginia School Board. He currently serves as an Iron Range staffer for U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan.

While Rukavina acknowledged he’s been talking about the run for a year, he said he only recently made up his mind to get back into politics and government directly.

“This is a great opportunity opening up with Mike (Forsman) deciding not to run again. I just miss shaking hands and helping people and working a room,’’ Rukavina told the News Tribune. “I miss politics. I miss being part of the process.”

Rukavina said he probably will resign his position on Nolan’s staff by July as he begins to campaign seriously.

“I don’t feel comfortable doing both,’’ Rukavina said.

The County Board district would include some of the area Rukavina represented in the House, although the county district is much bigger.

Christina Hujanen of Tower also is running for the county position. She said Monday she will stay in the race to offer voters some “new ideas.” Filings open todayand run for two weeks. If more than two people run for the post, an August primary will be held to narrow the field to two for the Nov. 4 general election.

At the Capitol, Rukavina was known as a tireless fighter for Iron Range issues, including unabashed support of mining. He announced his retirement two years ago saying he had tired of the rancorous political battles in St. Paul and wanted to spend more time with his new wife and his grandchildren.

The county position would allow Rukavina to live at home all year, unlike the Capitol position, but still dive into government issues. Known for his gregarious, some might say boisterous personality, Rukavina would be expected to add some spice to County Board meetings.

“I’m excited about it. County government is about the most basic level of government, pretty grass roots … helping people with basic problems. I like that,’’ Rukavina said.

But he quickly added that he’s not likely to drop his quirky, sometimes confrontational style.

“Politics is serious business, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t have a sense of humor about it,” he added.

In addition to the 4th District election, 7th District Commissioner Steve Raukar of Hibbing, 1st District Commissioner Frank Jewell of Duluth and 6th District Commissioner Keith Nelson of Fayal Township also face re-election this autumn.

All three have said they will seek re-election. So far, no opponents have surfaced in those races.

Raukar said that, if re-elected, this will be his last term on the board. The county’s longest-serving commissioner also noted that Rukavina would bring a “valuable and unique’’ perspective to the County Board.

“He certainly has a wealth of experience. He knows how government works at all levels,’’ Raukar said of Rukavina. “I think he’d be a good addition.”