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SCHOOL BOARD: Red plan incumbents advance to November

In a race that many see as a de facto vote on the Duluth school district's controversial long-range facilities plan, voters didn't take advantage of their first shot Tuesday to knock out the incumbents who adopted it.

In a race that many see as a de facto vote on the Duluth school district's controversial long-range facilities plan, voters didn't take advantage of their first shot Tuesday to knock out the incumbents who adopted it.

All three incumbents on the ballot who supported the red plan got enough votes in the primary to move on to the Nov. 3 general election. But by far, the biggest vote getter was Tom Kasper, a challenger who has taken a middle ground on the plan.

"I am overwhelmed, just totally overwhelmed," Kasper said about his victory margin. "I am just so encouraged that so many people were receptive to my message of compromise and my message that we need to restore faith and cooperation with the public of this community."

Coming in behind Kasper was incumbent Mary Cameron followed by incumbent Nancy Nilsen. Both are strong supporters of the red plan. Maureen Booth came in fourth, preventing Bryan Jensen from advancing to the general election. Booth has not clearly stated her position on the red plan. Similarly, Jensen had remained publicly silent about his positions on the plan throughout the race.

The top two among the four candidates will win the At Large seats in November.

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Incumbent Ann Wasson garnered the most votes in the District 1 race, coming in well ahead of challenger and red plan opponent Marcia Stromgren. Gary Glass, a current At Large board member, placed third after throwing his support behind Stromgren and essentially bowing out of the race last week.

Wasson said she was pleased with the results but wouldn't take them for granted.

"I still have a lot to do before November," she said. "But I guess this tells me the people of this community are pleased with the job I'm doing."

Stromgren said she, too, had a lot of work to do before the general election.

"I wasn't planning on a primary, and I had other things in my life going on so I couldn't put the effort in that I wanted," she said. "Now I can."

Many voters said the red plan drove their decisions at the polls Tuesday.

"I think this red plan is ridiculous," Kathy Lundgren said after casting her ballot at Bethany Baptist Church in West Duluth. "I want all new board members. We have no say in what's going on right now. I think that' pretty lousy."

The red plan led Roger Joppa to vote the opposite way at Faith Lutheran Church in Lakeside. He supported all incumbents.

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"The School Board for years didn't do anything for our schools, and finally we have a school board with a backbone," he said.

With three incumbents and three challengers now advancing to the general election, it's hard to draw firm conclusions from Tuesday's vote, according to Craig Grau, a retired University of Minnesota Duluth associate professor of political science.

"I think it looks like it could be pretty close," Grau said. He added that fewer people seemed to vote in the At Large School Board race than they did for the City Council primaries, which might mean Duluthians still are waiting to learn more about the At Large School Board candidates before weighing in.

One sentiment came through clearly though, Grau said: People like Kasper, who works as Duluth's city gardener.

"I wasn't surprised to see that," he said. "He campaigned hard and seemed to have a wider appeal than some of the other candidates."

Harry Welty, the most vocal opponent of the red plan, said the low voter turnout at the primary likely favored the red plan, but he doesn't think the same will be true in November.

"Yes, all the red plan incumbents advanced, but I would have been amazed if they hadn't at this point," Welty said. "The thing to note here is that the person that blew everyone away was a non-incumbent. I would say that means the red plan people have their work cut out for them."

In all, four open School Board seats will be up for election Nov. 3: the two At Large seats and the District 1 and District 4 seats. No primary was held for the District 4 race Tuesday because there are only two candidates competing--Laura Condon and Art Johnston.

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