The special election to replace Rep. Pete Stauber on the St. Louis County Board arrives Tuesday for voters in Hermantown, Proctor and other areas surrounding Duluth.
The county's 5th District voters will be asked to choose between Wayne Boucher and Keith Musolf. The candidates advanced from a five-person primary in May. That election yielded just 6 percent voter turnout in a district with 19,265 registered voters.
A same-day primary in the city of Duluth for mayor and city council has raised the profile of Tuesday’s election day, but there’s no crossover between the 5th District special election and what’s happening in the city.
Another low turnout would mean it’s anybody’s race between Boucher, the Hermantown mayor, and Musolf, a union organizer with Iron Workers Local 512 in Hermantown.
“It’s going to be very hard to predict,” Boucher said. “The people that want someone in this seat are going to get what they want if they show up to vote.”
The seat opened following Stauber’s election to Congress last November, and will be up for election again in November 2020. The winner will be sworn in immediately and hold the seat through Jan. 4 2021. Annual salary for a county commissioner is $63,648.70.
When contacted by the News Tribune last week, Musolf was in the process of conducting interviews for a new apprenticeship class for ironworkers. Adding workers is a nice problem to have, Musolf said.
“We’re trying to stay ahead of the game to make sure we have enough manpower to cover the projects we have coming to the area,” Musolf said.
Musolf was feeling good about responses during his door-knocking campaign.
“People are excited about a guy who comes from an everyday background going to work for working people,” he said.
Retired following a long career in the Hermantown Police Department, Boucher owns 18 years of local political experience, beginning on the Hermantown City Council in 2000.
In recent months, he’s been a regular attendee at county board and even local township board meetings. In addition to Hermantown and Proctor, the 5th District represents the city of Rice Lake along with Brevator, Canosia, Duluth, Gnesen, Lakewood, Midway and Solway townships.
“If I’m expected to fill this position,” Boucher said, “I need to learn everything I can to do that. The only way I know how is being at meetings and being involved. I want to be prepared to take office.”
One of Boucher’s primary aims as commissioner would be to help increase the county’s tax base.
“We did it in Hermantown,” he said. “We grew the property value of the city over $1 billion (during his years in office). When it grows it spreads the tax burden out over a larger group — especially when you have business and industry. It takes the burden off the people.”
Musolf promised that as commissioner he’d be protective of citizens’ tax dollars. But he’s got causes to call his own: filling a need for more child care options being one of the main ones.
“Working families struggle with child care,” he said. “It falls in the shadow of major national issues, but it’s a huge local issue.”
Musolf also made a point of saying he was in favor of moving on from the war on drugs by creating better paths for people to overcome substance abuse.
“A lot of people get stuck in a vicious cycle,” he said. “We can do better to develop programs that get them jobs and back on their feet.”
Asked if he’d hire someone in that scenario, Musolf said, “Absolutely. With the ironworkers, that’s where I have experience with different programs.”
For Boucher, the issues arise when he talks with people.
“A lot of people don’t feel connected to the county and their only connection is their tax bill,” he said.
The other day Boucher said he heard a man wonder aloud why Hermantown “gave” the hospital the city’s upcoming $26 million Essentia Wellness Center. Boucher explained to the man how the facility was conceived and paid for and that Essentia bought the naming rights for $2 million and will be paying rent for its portion of the facility.
“He appreciated the effort,” Boucher said.