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John Nephew

Maplewood City Council Policy & Politics


My Ballot

This is a big election year, as you may have heard. While the media focuses on the “headline” races, such as President and Senator, there are actually twenty-one choices to make on my precinct's ballot. In some Maplewood precincts, with school board races, there are even more races to be decided.

If you're like me, in many years you've gone into the voting booth only to wonder, “Who the heck are all these people?” Not this year – I'm determined to examine the candidates in every race, and figure out ahead of Tuesday who I'm going to vote for.

A big help in this regard is the Star Tribune's website, and its “My Vote” feature. Enter your address and ZIP code, and it'll tell you your polling place and which races are on your ballot. Click on the candidate names to see the profiles that the candidates themselves filled out for the Star Tribune (which often include links to candidate websites).

What follows are the results of my own homework on contested races in the non-partisan portion of the ballot, including the referendum question.

Clean Water, Wildlife, Cultural Heritage, and Natural Areas (Constitutional Amendment)
Somewhat reluctantly, I am planning to vote in favor of this amendment. As a matter of principle, I think a constitutional amendment is a lousy way to set spending priorities. I am also no fan of reliance on sales tax, because of its regressivity. On the other hand, as a practical matter, this amendment would provide desperately needed funding for all these areas. The need has only become more apparent to me from my experience on the city council. In general terms, these are areas where investments are for the long term, which makes it too easy in the legislative process for them to get cut or delayed in each year's budget process at every level of government. Tomorrow's generations rarely have as loud a voice as those who want lower taxes today. I remain conflicted, but at this point, my inner pragmatist is winning the argument.

County Commissioner
I enthusiastically support the re-election of Victoria Reinhardt for County Commissioner. I even wrote a letter to the Maplewood Review endorsing her in September.

Conservation District Supervisor, District 2
As far as I can tell, of the three candidates for this seat, only David Bogue has a website, albeit not much of one. He's also the only one of the three who answered a questionnaire from the Minnesota Association of Soil & Water Conservation Districts. His Star Tribune profile suggests he has good qualifications in terms of an education in environmental studies, professional experience with water quality and habitat restoration, and volunteer activities. He seems like a good pick, so I plan to vote for him.

Conservation District Supervisor, District 3
This race has some “interesting” candidates, including former Maplewood City Manager Greg Copeland; and an incumbent, Jill Wilkinson, who who reportedly embezzled money from the Libertarian Party when she served as its treasurer.

I plan to vote for Mara Magnuson Humphrey.

Supreme Court, Associate Justice 3
Incumbent Paul Anderson was appointed in 1994 by Gov. Arne Carlson. The supporters listed on his website are an impressive and bipartisan roster, with luminaries such as Democratic former Vice President Walter Mondale and Republican former U.S. Attorney Tom Heffelfinger giving Anderson their seal of approval.

From reviewing the website of challenger Tim Tingelstad, I come away with the impression that he wishes both to subordinate our laws and constitution to his interpretation of the Bible, and to increase the role of politics and partisanship in the selection of judges. An article in The Minnesota Independent corroborates that impression. If there's one thing history teaches us about the Bible, it's that different people and sects read some very different things in its pages, and I have no desire to see our court system turned into a venue for debating interpretations of scripture.

Anderson has my vote.

Supreme Court, Associate Justice 4
Incumbent Lorie Skjerven Gildea was appointed to this seat by Gov. Pawlenty in 2006. The names I immediately recognize on her list of supporters skew toward the right (such as Sarah Janacek of Politics in Minnesota and John Hinderaker of conservative blog Power Line). I also see former Chief Justices Kathleen Blatz, Russell Anderson, and Sandy Keith on the list. And on the DFL side, I do see former Speaker of the House Phil Carruthers, and former Attorney General Mike Hatch.

Her opponent, Hennepin County Judge Deborah Hedlund, recently won herself some media attention by hitting reply-all on a message she sent, appearing to agree with an e-mail suggesting that Muslims can't be good Americans. As the Minnesota Independent reports, this isn't the first time she has been controversial in her time on the bench.

Interestingly, I see that Gildea authored the majority opinion in Wensmann v. City of Eagan, also known as the Carriage Hills Golf case, in 2007. This was an important land use case, with implications for recent Maplewood situations such as the CoPar litigation and the question of the “park” comp plan designation for Gethsemane Lutheran Church's land.

I am comfortable voting to re-elect Gildea.

Court of Appeals, Judge 16
Terri J. Stoneburner was appointed to the Court of Appeals in 2000 and then re-elected in 2002. Supporters listed on her website include former governors Wendell Anderson (DFL) and Arne Carlson (R), among others across the partisan spectrum. Notable in her website Q&A is the statement that Judge Stoneburner “is concerned about those who seek to introduce partisan politics or religious or issue-specific tests into the judicial selection process.”

Her opponent, Dan Griffith, is another judicial candidate who wants the judicial races more politicized. An article in the Minnesota Independent describes Griffith as “a right-wing evangelical Christian who would make rulings based on his faith.” (I'm seeing a trend among this year's judicial challengers ...)

I will vote for Judge Stoneburner.

Ramsey County District Court, Judge 21
This is an open judicial seat, with candidates Howard Orenstein and Gail Chang Bohr. Both have impressive resumes, impressive endorsements, and appear to have worked hard in campaigning for the spot. I've seen their volunteers out dropping lit, and have received mailings from both campaigns. Both campaigns, as far as I have seen, have been upbeat and focused on the positive attributes of their candidates. (The Minnesota Lawyer Blog says of the recent Orenstein/Bohr candidate forum, that though the "race is one of the tightest of any district court race in the state, the tone of the forum was cordial.")

As I write this on Sunday afternoon, I have yet to make up my mind between them. To be perfectly honest, my impression is that they'd both make great judges. I guess being uncertain whom to pick between two great candidates isn't such a bad place to find oneself in a democracy.

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