Ramsay, Lukovsky advance in St. Louis County sheriff race
Local gun store operator Chad Walsh will continue on with a write-in campaign.
DULUTH — Former Duluth Police Chief Gordon Ramsay and current St. Louis County Undersheriff Jason Lukovsky will face off in a bid to be the county's top law enforcement officer.
Ramsay led the pack in the nonpartisan St. Louis County sheriff's primary, taking 40.49% of the vote. Lukovsky had 33.14%, while local gun store operator and part-time Moose Lake police officer Chad Walsh was eliminated with 26.38% in the complete, but unofficial, tallies.
Ramsay and Lukovsky, both mounting their first political campaigns, will advance to the Nov. 8 general election. Walsh's name will not appear on the ballot, but he vowed Wednesday to continue campaigning as a write-in candidate.
It's the first contested sheriff's race in St. Louis County since 2002, with 20-year incumbent Ross Litman stepping down at the end of his term.
"It's been a learning experience; it's been a challenge," Ramsay told the News Tribune. "But to see the results is touching. ... It's an honor to see the numbers. I've never been in this position, and I'm really thankful for all the people who voted for me, but also for my campaign team and all the volunteers who went above and beyond."
Lukovsky said there were no surprises in his camp, with Ramsay easily having the most name recognition in the field. But he said he expects a strong showing in a two-man race as his campaign continues to build.
"It's definitely been an eye-opener," Lukovsky said. "Working in the sheriff's office for 24 years, I know the importance of the role, but I've concentrated on doing my work behind the scenes. As I embrace this opportunity, we're feeling good. I understand that I'm not going to know it all; I don't consider myself a political person. But I'm looking forward to continuing on and doing doing this, not only for my colleagues and coworkers but for the citizens."
Ramsay, a Duluth East High School and University of Minnesota Duluth graduate, joined the Duluth police force in 1996 after short stints in Iron River and suburban Milwaukee. He went on to earn a master's degree in management from the College of St. Scholastica.
Ramsay, 49, was appointed chief in 2006, leading the department through the opening of a new headquarters on Arlington Road, the creation of a Citizen Review Board and the implementation of one of the first body camera initiatives in the state.
He left in January 2016 to head the police department in Wichita, Kansas — a 900-employee agency in a city of approximately 400,000 — before stepping down earlier this year and returning to his hometown. He has since weathered scrutiny for his tenure in Wichita, particularly involving the handling of racist text messages and images exchanged by officers there.
Ramsay has said he plans to focus on reducing crime, focusing on building strong relationships with other public safety agencies, communities and organizations; and ensuring competitive wages and benefits to attract and retain members of the sheriff's office.
Lukovsky, 50, of Fredenberg Township, is a graduate of Denfeld High School and the University of Minnesota Duluth, where he captained the baseball team. A 24-year veteran of the sheriff's office, he is the only candidate who has worked inside the agency he seeks to lead.
Lukovsky has the endorsement of Litman, who hand-picked him for the undersheriff role in early 2021 after a series of promotions through the ranks.
He previously worked in patrol, served as a sniper on the tactical team, handled major cases as an investigator — notably helping solve the 2000 killing of Trina Langenbrunner, 12 years after the fact — and supervised the 911 Emergency Communications division.
Lukovsky has campaigned on his experience in the agency. Jails and 911 operations are unique to the sheriff's office, and the department's enforcement duties are primarily in rural areas of a county that is larger than some states.
Lukovsky is currently facing administrative law proceedings after a complaint was filed last week alleging a slew of campaign finance violations. A judge immediately dismissed 38 counts, but allowed eight to continue to a probable cause hearing Wednesday morning.
The pending counts allege that Lukovsky accepted contributions from six corporations, which are not allowed to donate directly to candidates, and that is brother, Duluth Deputy Police Chief Nick Lukovsky, exceeded the $1,000 personal contribution limit by purchasing $550 worth of supplies for campaign events.
Jason Lukovsky told the News Tribune that he admitted to the violations, saying the business donations were a mistake and that his brother's excess contributions were misattributed on his finance report. The campaign could face sanctions, including a fine, in the coming weeks.
"When this all shakes out, you'll see that there will be transparency, there will be an acceptance of any wrongdoing and immediate correction to whatever the court feels is appropriate," said Lukovsky, who voluntarily disclosed the complaint on his Facebook page Friday night.
Walsh, 46, of Fredenberg Township, has spent the most time of all on the campaign trail, getting a major head start by announcing his run in early 2021. A Hermantown High School graduate, Walsh joined the U.S. Army and served overseas as a military police officer.
Longtime small-business owners, Walsh and his wife, Laura, in 2017 established Dead on Arms, an indoor shooting range and firearm dealer along U.S. Highway 2 in Solway Township.
Walsh first gained notoriety for criticizing "stay-at-home" orders that shuttered his business in 2020, and since entering the race he has faced criticism over a logo resembling that of anti-government militia group and his participation in a screening of a film that presented debunked conspiracy theories regarding the 2020 presidential election. He has also been fined for campaign finance violations.
Walsh pledged to bring an "outside perspective" and work to strengthen relations between law enforcement and the public. He also subscribes to the "constitutional sheriff" philosophy, which has been associated with far-right leaders who have vowed not to enforce gun laws.
In a brief call with the News Tribune, Walsh thanked his supports and confirmed that he filed notice Wednesday morning with county election officials to have write-in votes counted for the Nov. 8 election. He was asked if there is a viable path to victory after losing the primary.
"This is America," Walsh said. "Anything is possible."
The St. Louis County Sheriff's Office has a $36 million budget for 2022 and includes roughly 260 employees who work in administration, patrol, investigations, civil/warrants/records and court security divisions.
The sheriff's responsibilities include general law enforcement duties; emergency planning and response; processing and serving of warrants and court documents; security at courthouses in Duluth, Virginia and Hibbing; and operation of a 197-bed jail and two temporary lock-up facilities.
This story was updated several times with additional results and comments, most recently at 3:40 p.m. Aug. 10. It was originally posted at 12:02 a.m. Aug. 10.