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Brick City Blog Endorsement: Jeff Ross and Amy Logue for District 112 School Board

The race for School Board in Eastern Carver County Schools has been mildly disappointing so far.  As a Chaska resident, with five Chaska citizens running for the three open spots on the Board, I was expecting a lot of interaction from the candidates.  Less than two weeks before the election, though, I haven’t been door-knocked or received any literature from any of the candidates.  There’ s a smattering of road signs, and the usual Q&As in the Chaska Herald.  People I know who are usually pretty plugged in to these elections have been left scratching their heads about who to vote for.

Based on my research, there’s one candidate who clearly stands above the others and that is Jeff Ross.

Ross works as key executive in a start-up biomedical firm, and has a doctorate in biology and genetics.  He speaks intelligently and with purpose on the critical issues that face our District.  His real-world business experience will help the District address any future potholes in the budget process.

Most importantly, though, he has a defined vision of where he wants to the see the District go:  enhanced partnerships with business, return-focused investment in technology, better two-way communication with all citizens in the District, and continued emphasis on science and technology across all grade levels.  That vision is one of the key factors that distinguishes him and is one of the key factors voters should look for in a School Board candidate because ultimately it is the School Board that sets the strategic direction for the administration to follow.

I’m also planning on voting for Amy Logue.

Logue has a strong history of dedication to the District.  She rightfully identifies the 112 Foundation as an opportunity to augment the District’s budget that is not being utilized to its full potential as well as the critical importance of school libraries and media centers to the educational experience.  Logue speaks smartly to potential benefits and possible pitfalls with the upcoming changes in teacher evaluation and compensation (Ross does as well) and the critical need for the District to do a better job of soliciting feedback from parents and residents.

I encourage you to vote for Jeff Ross and Amy Logue on November 6.

Let me talk briefly about the other three candidates.  All of them are qualified to be on the Board, and they each bring their own strengths to the table.  As of this moment, I’m still undecided who I will vote for for the third open position.

Larry Doran deserves credit for pointing out what no one else wanted to talk about in this campaign:  the feeling among a portion of the community that Chaska High School was getting the short end of the stick when compared to Chanhassen High School.  And while that feeling is, in my opinion (and Doran’s as well), more perception than reality, we need leaders who are willing to address that issue head on and tackle it.  Doran’s record as the President of the Chaska High Booster Club shows that he is well-positioned to build those external partnerships that will be required to supplement the District’s budget.

Jim Leone and Heather Nelson are the two incumbents running for re-election.  They can take pride in the strong academic performance  the schools have delivered in recent years as well as the selection of key executives — Superintendent Jim Bauck and Finance Director DeeDee Kahring are top-notch professionals.  Leone has spent the last nine years on the Board, and his experience has helped guide a Board filled with a lot of newcomers.

Nelson’s background in science and technology is similar to Ross’s and she brings real passion to the table for improving the District’s efforts in that area.

However, Leone and Nelson have to bear responsibility for the District’s muddled technology referendum campaign last year.  The District’s technology future is still largely up in the air because of the way that issue was handled.  For Leone to express his puzzlement at why some people don’t think the District does a good job of communicating when the District doesn’t do things that it could easily do like publish full minutes of their Board meetings on their website, for instance, causes me to express puzzlement.

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Brick City Blog Endorsements: Randy Maluchnik and Cheryl Ayotte for Carver County Commissioner

Today, we’re happy to make endorsements in two of the Carver County Commissioner races — Cheryl Ayotte in District 2 and Randy Maluchnik in District 3.

Let’s start with Randy Maluchnik.  Maluchnik has raised the hackles of some by calling himself a “Common Sense Conservative” in his campaign ads.  The description, though, fits perfectly.  Maluchnik is an Army veteran, a former staffer for Blue Dog U.S. Rep. David Minge, and has been a reliable force for the kind of moderate leadership that has helped Carver County grow so fast in recent years.  Maluchnik and the rest of the County Board have kept the lid on taxes, while encouraging the sorts of prudent infrastructure investments that help the private sector grow and flourish.

As President of the Association of Minnesota Counties, Maluchnik has been at the forefront of helping county and local governments redesign their organizations and processes to maximize taxpayer value and has been a powerful advocate for holding the Legislature accountable for its promises to stop meddling in the affairs of local governments.

There is a sharp contrast between Maluchnik and his opponent, Vince Beaudette.  Beaudette is one of the Republican-endorsed Commissioner candidates who has chosen to participate in the ill-conceived boycott of the League of Women Voters candidate forums.  Beaudette’s campaign seems just as much focused on national and state issues as county ones, and he’s long been a fountain of misinformation on such topics.

Randy Maluchnik is the clear choice for District 3 residents.

In District 2, Cheryl Ayotte has run a textbook campaign.  Prospective Carver County candidates should take a note of how she has approached the daunting task of challenging a long-time incumbent.  The planning and execution she has brought to the table here indicates she would be a strong Commissioner.  Let’s look at what she has done.

First, she’s presented a positive message, explaining the key things she wants to focus on and the personal qualities she brings to the table.  Second, she’s presented a clear message explaining why her opponent’s record should cause voters to seek to replace an incumbent.  Finally, she’s tied those two pieces together to create a compelling story as to why she would be a better Commissioner than Tom Workman.  Here’s an example of a lit piece she produced that ties it all together.

Ayotte is a solid conservative, but she understands that she serves all Carver County residents — something that Workman seems to have forgotten.  Her agenda is decidedly nonpartisan — as it should be!  County issues aren’t Democratic vs. Republican issues — they are issues of common sense and making sure that we’re maximizing value for residents.

Workman, who is also one of the candidates ducking the LWV forums, has a long history of partisan divisiveness.  It’s time for him to go.

I encourage residents of District 2 to vote for Cheryl Ayotte and residents of District 3 to vote for Randy Maluchnik on November 6.

As for the other races:

District 1 voters are fortunate to have two strong candidates in Gayle Degler and John Siegfried.  Both have spent a decade providing good service to Carver County residents as a Commissioner   Degler, as the incumbent, can point to a solid record of managing the county’s tax burden in a time of growth.  Siegfried, though, raises some interesting questions about the declining fund balances.  Thursday’s League of Women Voters forum should be useful for District 1 voters to help them decide.

In District 4 and 5, challengers Frank Long and Jim Walter have chosen to travel down the same regrettable path as Workman and Beaudette with regards to the LWV forums.  I cannot recommend voting for candidates who treat citizens with such disdain.

Brick City Blog Endorsement: Jim Weygand for State Senate

The record of incumbent State Senator Julianne Ortman merits discussion — certainly a more intelligent discussion than what occurred in her primary election race versus Bruce Schwichtenberg.  Ortman, as Deputy Majority Leader and Tax Committee Chair, gives Carver County a prominent voice in the Legislature.  She is a well-informed legislator and an eloquent advocate for her positions.  The real question, though, is how she uses that voice, and to what ends.

I have long advocated on this blog for fundamental reform of state taxes — specifically taking a hard look at our personal and corporate income tax code that is littered with special credits and deductions (known as tax expenditures) that make the tax code complicated and often unfair.  This used to be an issue that Sen. Ortman talked about frequently before the Republicans took the majority in 2010.   She floated it once early in 2011 — and after that point, Michael Brodkorb began shutting down her ruminations on that topic.  From that point forward, Sen. Ortman has spouted the same hard-line stance as the rest of her caucus, which may explain in part why she was rewarded with the promotion to Deputy Majority Leader following the Amy Koch scandal.

In her campaign this year, Ortman has talked about reforming sales and property taxes.  Unfortunately, her proposals would only enhance the ongoing regressivity in state and local taxes in Minnesota that has existed since the Ventura tax cuts of the late -1990s.  Some of the individual components she proposes — such as broadening the base of the sales tax and lowering the rate, for instance — have merit.

Yet, without looking at all three legs of the state’s taxation “stool” we can’t have tax reform that is fair and will provide benefits to all Minnesotans.  Why?  Because broadening the sales tax base — while beneficial to the state by making revenues more predictable — will tend to hit lower-income earners harder than higher-income earners.  You need to find a way to offset that increased burden on lower-income folks, and the income tax is likely the best vehicle to do so.

Gov. Dayton has promised a significant tax reform package, and his Revenue Commissioner, Myron Frans is well-respected on both sides of the aisle.  If returned to the State Senate, what role would Sen. Ortman play?  Is she ready to rediscover her pragmatic tax reformer past, or will she continue to demonstrate a less flexible approach to placate her extremely conservative caucus?

Ortman’s increased partisanship can also be seen in her rejection of the appointment of former State Sen. Ellen Anderson to the Public Utilities Commission this year.  Certainly, if Sen. Anderson is too partisan to hold such a position, then logic would dictate that Sen. Ortman would fail her own test for suitability to similar appointed positions.  That’s not a standard that we want to be setting for future Governors and their appointments.

Ortman has a history of promoting legal reforms that work against the interest of ordinary Minnesotans.  This, too, is a trend which has gone the wrong direction during the last two years.  Another example of Ortman turning her back on middle-class Minnesotans?  Her flip-flop on the renters tax credit, which had the effective impact of raising the tax bills of thousands of renters across the state.

Ortman’s frequent support for amending the State Constitution is also a concern.  Ortman voted in favor of the two Amendments on the ballot this fall, and proposed a third that didn’t receive legislative approval.  It’s this third Amendment that is of particular concern since Ortman was the chief author of the bill (carried in the House by Chaska State Rep. Joe Hoppe).  This amendment would tie the hands of the State Legislature by putting limits on how much the Legislature can spend in a particular biennium.  Using the Constitution to manage the State Budget is exceedingly poor policy — one need only look at the mess California is in to see that.  The answer to our budget problems is as simple as voting for legislators who can get the job done the right way.

Which brings us to Ortman’s opponent, Jim Weygand.  Weygand has a long history of public service, dating back to the late 1970s in his former home of Rochester.  Weygand spent a decade as the mayor of Carver, leading the city through an era of rapid growth that continues today.  He’s a member of the Carver County Library Board, the Board of The Community Foundation of Carver County, the Beacon Council, and Carver’s Park and Recreation Board.

Weygand is a practical problem-solver.  He’s a Democrat, but he’s not afraid to buck the party line when it’s required.  You don’t get elected to office for a decade in Carver County if you’re ideologically indistinguishable from an Uptown Minneapolis liberal, after all.  Anyone who has worked with him or talked to him knows that he’s a guy who tries to bring people together to keep things moving forward.

One of the real strengths Jim brings to the table is his understanding of and support for infrastructure development — both statewide and here in Carver County.  As a rapidly growing area, one of the things that holds back growth and development is resource constraints on infrastructure.  We see it and experience it everyday on our drives to work and school.  Even with the addition of new US-212 from Eden Prairie to Chaska, and even with work on MN-5 from Chaska to Victoria, there is still much to be done to make sure that Carver County has the right transportation connections to the rest of our State.  We are incredibly underfunded just in roads and bridges over the next 20 years in this State.

Unfortunately, Sen. Ortman has taken the notion of increasing taxes to pay for this backlog off the table.  In fact, Ortman voted against this year’s bonding bill, which contained funding for a number of statewide transportation projects.  Legislative Republicans have failed to articulate any long-term strategy to address this growing crisis that threatens our state’s economic growth.  Weygand will work to make sure that we get the robust transportation system our state needs to remain competitive economically.

Education is another critical component of the Weygand platform.  Both parties in this State bear responsibility for the dreadful practice of shifting funds away from our K-12 schools.  What we need from both parties in St. Paul is a sustained, predictable plan to pay back that shift.  After all, it ‘s hardly fair to blame schools for financial mismanagement when St. Paul is failing to meet their commitments every budget cycle.  Weygand is the only candidate in this race that promises that as a priority, while Republicans continue to rely on one-time monies and vague promises to make our schools whole.

It’s time to stop the partisan bickering, Carver County.  It’s time to move Minnesota forward again. Jim Weygand is the right candidate to do that.  Please vote for him on November 6.

Brick City Blog Endorsement: Keith Pickering for State House 47A

I am pleased to announce the endorsement of Keith Pickering for State House in District 47A.  Anyone who reads this blog will not find this to be much of a surprise, given the numerous things we know about his opponent, State Rep. Ernie Leidiger.  And, in fact, one could construct an argument to support Pickering based solely on the disastrous record Leidiger has put up in his single term in the state legislature.

But there’s also a positive case to be made for Keith Pickering.  So let me tell you a few things about him.  Pickering does not have the usual background of a state legislator.  He recently retired after a long career in the information technology field.  He’s a historian — an accomplished and recognized expert of the journeys of Christopher Columbus principally — but has also written about Minnesota explorer Ralph Plaisted.

Pickering is a long-time Watertown resident.  He knows this area inside and out.  His background as a systems analyst means he loves data and facts.  We need more folks in the state legislature who can take problems apart and apply logic to them as opposed to shooting from the hip and having only a talking-point deep understanding of the issues our state faces.

Pickering is a moderate, who is committed to working together to solve the problems that face out state instead of engaging in all-out partisan warfare.  Regardless of which party ends up holding the legislative majorities after November’s election, it seems likely that both houses are going to be closely divided.  If we expect the people’s work to get done, we need pragmatic and principled leaders willing to do the hard work required to reach compromise.  Keith Pickering will be one of those leaders.  We have had enough of backbenchers who don’t contribute to solving our state’s problems.

Carver County, you have a choice in this election.  I encourage you to find out more about Keith Pickering, and his vision for honest and balanced leadership.  Visit his website — www.keithpickering.com — to learn about his views.  And then, I urge you to vote for him on November 6.

Brick City Blog Endorsement: Mark Windschitl for Chaska Mayor

In the first of our endorsements for the 2012 election cycle, I’m pleased to announce support for the re-election of Chaska Mayor Mark Windschitl.

When Windschitl first ran for the office, in the 2010 Special Election, I did not support him.  (On a side note, I am very pleased that we will see the return of Windschitl’s opponent in that election, Jay Rohe, to the City Council.  His voice will be a welcome addition to the Council.)

Windschitl’s 2010 Special Election campaign focused on his personal qualities and long history in Chaska to the exclusion of what agenda he wanted to pursue for the city.

That said, his performance since his election has exceeded my expectations.  He has grown into the role and has overseen the long-awaited completion of the Downtown Master Plan.  The city is in the midst of refreshing its plan for Southwest Chaska — another important effort.  Windschitl’s support of these efforts has been important, and now we need to see him and the rest of the Council follow through to make sure city staff are executing the plan to the best of their abilities.

On the downside, many of the problems that have existed in Chaska for years and years are still there.  Principally:  communication.  The city still does a lousy job of communicating basic information to its citizens.  The city’s website is still a mess.  Last month, the city passed its preliminary levy, setting the ceiling for property tax collections in 2013.  There’s no link to the backup documentation on the front page of the website, nor on the Finance/Budget page.  (If you want to find it, you need to read the staff report from that particular council meeting.)  It shouldn’t be that hard to find basic information about a current, critical issue.  It’s long past time for the Mayor, City Council and staff to stop making excuses and get with the program.

The city also continues to kick the budget can down the road, putting off hard decisions year after year, while patting itself on the back for “not raising taxes”, even though it’s increasing the property tax rate every year.

Windschitl’s opponent, attorney Richard Swanson, is an energetic proponent of downtown Chaska.  While he provides a coherent explanation of the problems in downtown Chaska, he offers little in the way of actionable solutions or insight as to how his leadership would be different than Windschitl’s.  As such, Swanson offers no compelling reason to displace Windschitl.

Windschitl’s experience and record lead us to believe that he is the best choice to move Chaska forward for the next two years.  The city has the ball moving in the right direction, and Windschitl deserves the opportunity to keep things moving.

Below is the video from last week’s League of Women Voters candidate forum for the Chaska Mayor race, so you can evaluate Windschitl and Swanson for yourself.

 


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