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Owatonna voters support continued school funding, but resist increase
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The Owatonna school district can expect to see continued local funding, but an increase in the levy wasn’t favored by voters.

Owatonna School District residents cast their vote on two referendum questions in regards to Owatonna School District funding.

As of Wednesday morning, voters passed the first referendum question to renew the current operating levy 52.35% to 47.65%. However, the question on increasing the operating levy in a phased-in approach failed with 60.96% of voters responding “no.”

“I certainly am grateful that the community renewed our current levy that we have in place,” Superintendent Jeff Elstad said.

The two questions have been discussed consistently over the last few months. Beyond mentioning it several times at school board meetings, the district set up a website dedicated specifically for the questions and hosted a public information session in October on the subject among other forms of public communication.

The district requested a renewal because the current operating levy is set to expire in June of next year. The levy will fund things like classroom instruction, supplies and staffing costs.

If it had passed, the second referendum question regarding the levy increase would have the tax impact phased in first in 2022, then again in 2025. That meant an average-priced home of $175,000 would have a tax increase of $10 per month, according to the district. School officials recognized the current economic conditions and said they wanted to be respectful to taxpayers, thus phasing in the levy.

The increased funding would have helped maintain appropriate class sizes, career and technical opportunities and quality programming for years to come, according to the district. However, because it did not pass, people should expect to see budget cuts within the district, as Elstad says the current level of revenue is not sustainable.

Additionally the district does not expect to see an increase in revenue from the state this year.

The district’s next step is to reflect on the levy results and identify why the community didn’t approve the levy increase. An increase in levy funding was requested because state funding has not kept up with inflation over the years. As a result, school districts have had to lean more on local sources of funding.

“It’s certainly going to have a big impact on our financial stability moving forward and so we’ll need to do some thinking and some reflection on how we can successfully get that message out to our community perhaps next November,” Elstad said.

Additionally, the district will start to determine where budget cuts will occur.

“We are a very human based organization and so when you think about the notion that 85% of our entire budget is in staffing and programs, that’s where we have to look, it’s going to come in people and programs,” Elstad said.

These requests come after the community approved a bond last year to build a new high school. That bond, however, was specifically for building and maintenance projects and not for instruction, programming, staffing and other operational costs.

Local Republican legislators sweep to victory
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While the race for the Minnesota Legislature was still in doubt well into election night, locally all three Republican incumbents in Senate District 24 romped to victory.

In Faribault, Sen. John Jasinski declared victory after results showed him with more than 60% of the vote against political newcomer Roger Steinkamp. In an event at the Faribault Country Club, Jasinski thanked family and friends for their support.

Jasinski is an established local political figure who served eight years as Faribault mayor and two years on its City Council before his election to the Senate in 2016. He’s risen quickly up the totem poll at the legislature too, and was elected Assistant Senate Majority Leader last year.

Less than a month before the election, Jasinski was cited for driving while intoxicated. He quickly issued a statement taking responsibility for his actions and apologizing to friends, family and supporters, and his support appears to have remained solid. Indeed, Jasinski proudly noted that he managed to win every single precinct in his district after losing three in 2016. He said he was also excited to see strong support for Republicans across the state, which appears to have left the GOP in a strong position to maintain its Senate majority.

“I’ve gotten a lot of positive support over the last few months, but you never know until the votes come in,” he said. “I thank the voters for supporting me and believing in me.”

Steinkamp held a much lower key election night event, listening to national election returns around a bonfire along with Faribault City Council candidate Faysel Ali and his fellow DFL ticketmate in District 24B, Ashley Martinez-Perez.

As a first time candidate, Steinkamp acknowledged that he was facing an uphill battle against the popular Jasinski. He said that almost anywhere he went, he found himself talking to people who knew Jasinski and respected his work.

Still, winning a district he described as “ruby red” wasn’t the only goal of Steinkamp’s campaign. The longtime agricultural educator and entrepreneur said a key goal of his campaign was achieved — namely, bringing more people into the political process.

“There are a whole lot of people who went to the caucuses who had never gone before,” he proudly noted.

The House

Along with Jasinski, voters in the District 24B portion of the district anchored by Faribault, sent Rep. Brian Daniels back to the legislature by a similar margin as the senator. Daniels held a lower key event with Jasinski, relaxing with friends and supporters at his home.

Daniels is an unapologetic supporter of President Donald Trump, and for election night he wore a Trump t-shirt. He said he’s excited to get back to work in St. Paul and hopes to make progress on roughly two dozen bills he has proposed, many of which enjoy bipartisan support.

Martinez-Perez, a first time candidate and political activist, suggested that she might run again and said she believes her vote share might well have been higher had the COVID-19 pandemic not prevented her from getting out to meet the voters.

A second generation immigrant, Martinez-Perez ran a progressive campaign, promising to advocate for the district’s working class and immigrant community. As a working mother of five children, she said her personal experiences have guided her views and advocacy.

On the 24A side of the House district, which includes Owatonna and Waseca, Rep. John Petersburg also cruised to victory in his bid for a fourth term in St. Paul, winning over 60% of the vote over DFL challenger Tom Shea.

Despite his large margin of victory, the former church administrator expressed a humble tone, reaching out to even voters who supported his opponent. He also reserved special thanks for those who had volunteered for or supported his campaign.

“I’ll move forward and do the best I can (for the district),” he said.

A former Steele County commissioner and county administrator, Shea ran for office as an unabashedly moderate Democrat who pledged to moderate the party’s caucus in St. Paul. He expressed disappointment in the final result, but said he was glad that the tone of the race remained positive.

“To run a campaign like Rep. Petersburg and I did, is the way things should be done,” he said. “Hopefully we set a bar that others will aspire to.”

Nelson loses re-election to former Medford mayor

In the battle between experienced Medford mayors, former mayor Danny Thomas has edged out incumbent Lois Nelson to take the head seat at City Hall.

Nelson, who had has represented Medford as its mayor 11 years with a 12-year gap, received 175 votes – 25% — falling short of Thomas by 333 votes. Thomas, who served as Medford’s mayor for one term after being elected in 2008, received 74% of the votes.

Nelson, a retired teacher from Riverland Community College, was first elected mayor in 1997, serving one term and losing her re-election to Daniel Kaiser within five votes.

Nelson made a run for mayor against Kaiser again in 2004, but was once again defeated by only a handful of votes. It wasn’t until Thomas decided not to run for re-election in 2012 that Nelson was able to find herself back in the mayor’s seat. Nelson ran unopposed in 2016.

Thomas had been vocal about his disappointment in the way the city has been run in recent years, specifically with three major infrastructure projects scheduled in Medford’s near future. He has been one of biggest advocates in the last year for slowing down on the Main Street reconstruction project – a projected $2.2 million venture – and including more community input and involvement. Thomas has also expressed concern about prioritizing the city’s wastewater plant that is nearing maximum capacity.

“The people of Medford did this — not Danny Thomas,” Thomas said Wednesday morning. “When the people came to me and asked me to run, I told them that I would not be going door-to-door and playing politician and that if they wanted it, they had to do it. Well, I never went to a single household because of COVID-19. The community took this, and they ran with it — the only thing I did was put my name on the ballot.”

Thomas said the overwhelming amount of votes in his favor is proof the community is ready to see change on the city level. He said that while he is humbled to have the community support him, he isn’t going to let the public involvement stop now that the election has passed.

“We’re a team, we’re a community, and we’re going to work together to solve all the issues we have,” Thomas said. “We have intelligent people who are engineers, accountants, work in wastewater in different cities who live here and we’re not using their abilities. I’m going to use them to help us make decisions.”

Looking at the immediate future, Thomas said he plans to work closely with the county as they tackle the Main Street project, which is scheduled for a city council vote at its November meeting. Thomas also said he plans to move city council meetings to a larger venue beginning in January so that community input can return to the council meetings. He said he would at least move the meetings to the fire hall to accommodate for appropriate social distancing during the pandemic.

Nelson said she sent Thomas a congratulations text at 2:30 a.m. and reminded him that he will find a “whole different city operation” from how he left it in 2012 and told him not to “muck it up.”

“After serving nine years on the school board and a total of 14 years with the city, I feel that I’m really proud of the commitment of service that I’ve made to Medford and I really have no regrets,” Nelson said. “I wish the new council all the best as there are a whole lot of things they’re going to have to look at and address soon.”

Thomas said he thanks Nelson for her service.

Election 2020 Results — Steele County
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Joe Biden: 7,794

Donald Trump: 12,472

US Senator

Tina Smith: 7,309

Jason Lewis: 11,189

US Representative D1

Hagedorn: 10,957

Feehan: 8,176

Senate D24

Jasinski: 12,184

Steinkamp: 6,856

Representative 24B

Brian Daniels: 2,513

Ashley Martinez-Perez: 905

Senate D27

Gene Dornink: 562

Dan Sparks: 426

US Representative 27A

Peggy Bennett: 654

Thomas Martinez: 396

US Representative 24A

John Petersburg: 9,417

Tom Shea: 6,136

Soil and Water D5

Michael Klecker: 10,546

Alex Wayne: 5,825

School Board ISD761

Eric Schuster: 8,320

Timothy S. Jensen: 8,640

Dom Korbel: 5,371

Deborah Bandel: 6,255

Abdulahi A. Osman: 3,685

ISD 761 School Question 1

Yes: 8,209

No: 7,471

ISD761 School Question 2

Yes: 6,103

No: 9,529

Associate Justice Supreme Court 4

Michelle MacDonald: 7,446

Paul Thissen: 9,328

School Board ISD2168

Terri Engel: 453

Nancy Lageson: 266

Dan Schmidt: 330

Karen Flatness: 179

Tami L. Tufte-LaCanne: 231

Jennifer Johnson: 179

Loren Schoenrock: 227

ISD2165 School Question

Yes: 265

No: 532

Blooming Prairie Mayor

Curt Esplan: 557

Tom Blome: 494

Blooming Prairie City Council

Greg Johnson: 767

Joseph Motl: 305

Trevor Kruckeberg: 323

Marcy Sundine: 483

Ellendale City Council

Duane Goebel: 170

Jackie Froman (Jaclyn): 153

Derek Bartness: 148

School Board ISD829

Edita Mansfield: 3

Grant Scheffert: 3

Julie Anderson: 3

Robert Dickerson: 3

Medford Mayor

Danny Robert Thomas: 508

Lois M Nelson: 175

Medford City Council

Nick Sorensen: 182

Chad Merritt: 272

Matt J Dempsey: 240

Cory Samora: 129

Mandy Mueller: 302

School Board ISD2172

James Jarvis: 4

Sherry Eichler: 3

Jamie Sommer: 3

A.J. Lindell: 3

Ben Bakken: 8

Michelle Wood: 3

ISD2172 School Question

Yes: 2

No: 9

Owatonna Mayor

Ethan Cords: 3,553

Thomas Kuntz: 9,231

Owatonna City Council Member-At Large

Matt Durand: 5,475

Douglas D. Voss: 6,573

County Commissioner D4

Jim Abbe: 2,560

James “Corky” Ebeling: 1,539

County Commissioner D3

Rick Gnemi: 2,001

Schultz, MD: 1,114