Presidential politics can be all consuming during an election cycle, and this year the stakes feel higher than ever. However, it’s important to remember that the daily realities of our communities are often impacted just as much, if not more, by the outcomes of local and state elections.
Data from the Census Bureau shows that 18 to 24-year-olds make up over 25 percent of the Northfield population. In a town of about 20,000, the combined 5,000 students of St. Olaf and Carelton hold significant voting power.
These demographics create exciting potential for progressive change in Northfield, but it’s also important that we wield this power responsibly and act as informed voters. City officials will, in all likelihood, have a much more tangible and long-lasting effect on Northfield residents than on any of us during our relatively brief time on the Hill. The newly elected Minnesota Senate will be tasked with redistricting the state—impacting the course of state politics for the next decade.
As an out-of-state student, I did not feel equipped to make these decisions with so little information. With this in mind, I have pulled together some materials on the policies, values, and backgrounds of local candidates. My own endorsements are marked with an asterisk — as a rule of thumb I looked for the candidate with the most progressive stance on healthcare, climate, and social issues.
Jason Lewis (R)
Jason Lewis served one term as the U.S. Representative for Minnesota’s 2nd District but lost his run for reelection to Angie Craig. While in Congress Lewis was on the Budget Committee and prioritized tax and spending cuts. He also authored the Juvenile Justice Reform Act of 2018. In the StarTribune’s election guide, Lewis emphasized his support of the Trump administration’s handling of the pandemic, as well as law enforcement, the pipeline projects and the second amendment. He does not support the Green New Deal or single-payer healthcare. Lewis has a background in talk radio and political commentary.
Tina Smith* (D)
Incumbent Tina Smith was appointed to the U.S. Senate in 2018 and won the special election to retain her seat. She previously served as the Minnesota Lieutenant Governor, and she has done leadership work with Planned Parenthood.
According to her website, Smith prides herself on being willing to work across party lines. During her time in the senate, Smith has promoted legislation that addresses the opioid crisis, healthcare costs and a bipartisan Farm Bill intended to expand broadband access and conservation practices.
Smith does not support defunding the police, but she is in favor of justice system reform and acknowledges racial disparities in treatment from law enforcement. Smith also introduced the Substance Regulation and Safety Act of 2020 which would legalize recreational marijuana.
U.S. Representative District 2
Tyler Kistner (R)
Tyler Kistener recently spent nine years as an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps. According to his campaign’s website, Kistner considers national security to be the top priority of the federal government and supports increased military funding. Kistner also emphasizes his commitment to ensuring veterans have access to healthcare. Kistner favors free-market economics, deregulation and expanded trade opportunities for farmers. In a debate with his opponent, Kistner said, “I believe in the science and I see the climate is changing, but I’m not here to sacrifice the American economy on the altar of climate change.”
Angie Craig* (D)
Angie Craig is the incumbent representative serving her first term in the House. Although she doesn’t support Medicare for All, she is an advocate for expanding the Affordable Care Act, and she has introduced legislation aimed at increasing generic drug competition and lowering prescription prices. She doesn’t support the Green New Deal, but she recognizes the severity of climate change and co-sponsored the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act to tackle aspects of this issue economically. Craig does not support defunding police, but she acknowledges the need for reforms and has voted two times in support of increasing funding for community policing programs.
Note: Adam Charles Weeks (Legal Marijuana Now) is still listed on the ballot, but he unexpectedly passed away in September.
State Senator District 20
Rich Draheim (R)
Small business owner Rich Draheim has nearly three decades of management experience. According to the campaign’s website, Draheim’s legislative priorities would be job creation and the growth of “main street economies,” reduced regulation of farms and industries and a focus on government efficiency. Draheim supports tax cuts and “rebalanced education funding” as well as efforts to keep decision making at local rather than state levels.
Jon Olson* (D)
Jon Olson is a life-long Minnesotan and a former naval intelligence officer. Olson believes that healthcare is a right and sees the development of an affordable, high quality, patient-centered healthcare system as the top priority for Minnesota. Olson also supports job creation through ensuring affordable broadband internet for all and investment in green manufacturing. His website also discusses Olson’s commitment to promote law enforcement reform and sensible gun control, protect small family owned farms and increase support for immigrant communities.
State Rep District 20B
Joe Moravichik (R)
Joe Moravichik is a former high school history teacher and police officer with a law degree from William Mitchell. In an interview with the Northfield News, Moravichik said he will make it a priority to move beyond partisan rhetoric and focus on problem solving. Moravichik also told radio station KYMN that his first goal in office would be to “lead the repair of police-community trust.” Moravichik does not support the Minneapolis City Council’s steps to defund the police, but he is in favor of “sensible reform.” Moravichik believes free market competition is the best way to keep healthcare costs low.
Todd Lippert* (D)
Todd Lippert is the incumbent serving his first term in the Minnesota House. According to the campaign’s website, Lippert supports expanding MinnesotaCare, affordable child care and paid family leave, universal background checks, K-12 funding, student debt reduction and addressing climate change through clean energy. Lippert is in favor of the Police Reform and Accountability Act passed this summer and “would like to see funding for experimental approaches to mental health response.” Lippert is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ and got involved in politics to affirm “the dignity and value of every one.”
Supreme Court, Associate Justice
Incumbent Paul Thissen served in the Minnesota House of Representatives for 16 years before being appointed to the Supreme Court by Governor Mark Dayton (D). Throughout his career Thissen has advocated for asylum seekers, victims of domestic abuse and those wrongly sentenced to death. He also started a program that trains lawyers to better support persons with disabilities. “I know that our justice system is imperfect. Too many people, especially poor people, people of color and people in rural areas, do not have the same access to justice as other Minnesotans. I am fiercely committed to changing that reality” wrote Thissen in a statement on his website. The StarTribune endorsed Thissen for this position.
Michelle MacDonald is a Family and Elder Law practitioner who founded Family innocence, “a nonprofit dedicated to keeping families out of court: resolving conflicts and injustices peacefully.” According to her website, MacDonald’s priority is stopping what she sees as an erosion of civil rights and widespread corruption within the justice system. The site also states that MacDonald is pro-life, opposes government funding of Planned Parenthood and is a staunch defender of the second amendment.
Jim Purfeerst is a fifth generation farmer in his second term as the Rice County Soil and Water Board Supervisor. According to his campaign’s facebook page, Purfeerst’s priorities include maintaining conservation practices that promote clean water and healthy soil, improving transportation and trail systems, expanding affordable housing opportunities, attracting businesses for economic development and strengthening inter-county cooperation. “Government needs to be financially sound, balancing fiscal responsibility with quality services to address resident needs,” wrote Purfeerst. In the primary, Purfeerst garnered 48 percent of the vote, compared to the incumbent’s 22 percent
Incumbent Jacob Gillen has been a seated commissioner for the past eight years. “At this time I feel comfortable with the job, I got the energy and whatever it takes to do the job, and if I wasn’t having fun with it anymore, I would have retired this year,” said Gillen in an interview with Patch News. Jacob Gillen did not respond to the KYMN voter guide questionnaire.
Current Mayor Rhonda Pownell ‘93 is a St. Olaf alum who started her career working for the Laura Baker Services Association. In an interview with KYMN Pownell described her service oriented view of public office. Pownell has been on the Northfield City Council for 12 years and was also the president of the League of Minnesota Cities. Pownell believes she can give Northfield the “consistent, steady, positive leadership” it needs. As part of her strategic plan, Pownell has committed to expanding access to affordable housing; valuing diversity, equity and inclusion; minimizing taxation; and investing in infrastructure, including sustainable forestry and solar power. Pownell received 70 percent of the primary vote.
David Ludescher has spent a total of five years on the Northfield City Council and has also been a Charter Commission member. In an interview with KYMN Ludescher stated his intention to be a mayor who “honors and obeys the Charter, who listens to all voices, and one which exercises honesty, prudence and courage in social and fiscal responsibilities.” When asked what he would do to address racial disparities in economic prosperity in Northfield, Ludescher responded, “Many people mistakenly believe that ‘disparity’ is the problem. In reality, the real problem is how to elevate the quality of living for least among us. Dividing people by race and then comparing the races creates division and envy.” Ludescher strongly opposes further tax increases. Ludescher received 22 percent of the primary vote.
Council Member at Large
Ricky A. Livingston*
Ricky Livingston has a background in public health, and he and his family have lived in Northfield for five years. During the League of Women Voters candidate forum, Livingston said he decided to run for City Council in order to address the growing gap between newcomers and existing community members and between emerging activism efforts and established Northfield organizations. Livingston’s main talking points included affordable housing, climate conscious development and improving quality of life for residents. Livingston did not respond to the KYMN election guide survey.
Brad Ness is a lifelong Northfield resident and a St. Olaf alum who was elected to the City Council in 2016. He has helped organize the Defeat of Jesse James Days since the 1980s and currently serves on numerous committees. In an interview with KYMN, Ness said, “I don’t have any hot button issues,” but he expressed his firm support of funding for traffic projects and public safety. Ness also sees enticing businesses to Northfield as a priority and was involved in the distribution of small business grants during the pandemic.
Robert Coleman is the stay at home father who has led the Northfield Community Education Advisory Council and has been on the Northfield Schools Communications Committee. Coleman has been a vocal advocate for the city’s youngest students and helped pass Northfield’s early childhood-focused bond referendum. In an interview with KYMN, Coleman said one of his priorities is ensuring top quality, inclusive education for all students, regardless of their background. Coleman was “strongly endorsed” by the Northfield Education Association.
Northfield institution Noel Stratmoen has been on the School Board for forty years. He has also served on various city committees and as the president of Bethel Lutheran Church. Stratmoen told KYMN that his main goals include successful budget management and increased opportunities for technical and trade education. Stratmoen was “endorsed” by the Northfield Education Association.
Amy Goerwitz has been on the Northfield School Board since 2017 and has served on numerous other committees in town, such as the Library Board, the Northfield Human Rights Commission and the Early Childhood Education Board. Goerwitz named keeping students and staff safe during the pandemic, addressing financial shortfalls and closing the achievement gap as her top three priorities. Goerwitz believes her experience makes her especially qualified to navigate the challenges of this time. Goerwitz was “endorsed” by the Northfield Education Association.
Eric Lundin has served on the Healthy Community Initiative board for eight years and the Family Services Committee for Habitat for Humanity Rice County. From his perspective as a psychologist, Lundin addressed the growing need to provide mental health resources for Northfield students, especially in conjunction with the continuing challenges of the pandemic. Ludin would also pursue more resources and support for the alternative high school. Ludin was “endorsed” by the Northfield Education Association.
Corey Butler is a former journalist and father of two elementary-age children. He has also served on the board of the Northfield Healthy Community Initiative and is a coach for the Northfield Hockey Association. Butler told KYMN that he would prioritize continuing the work the district has done to close the opportunity gap for students in Northfield. Butler was “strongly endorsed” by the Northfield Education Association.
Claudia Gonzalez-George is a mother of three and has been a 2nd grade public school teacher for the past six years. She served on the PTA and the Educators Association in Oklahoma. In an interview with KYMN, Gonzalez-George said, “I love the idea that I could bridge the communication gap between the board and our Spanish speaking families.” She expressed her readiness to advocate for teachers and students and her hope to be part of the “strong anti-racist vision and plan for our district.” Gonzalez-George was “strongly endorsed” by the Northfield Education Association.
Justin Merritt is a professor and former chair of the Music Department at St. Olaf College. In his interview with KYMN, Merritt predicted an impending budgetary crisis for Northfield school following the pandemic. He stated that he is running for school board so he can be “in the room to advocate for our most precious and vulnerable programs,” specifically music, sports and other extracurriculars. Merritt was not endorsed by the Northfield Education Association.
Karen Jensen was the president of the local Education Assistants Union for twelve years. Jensen hopes to increase connection and communication between students, teachers and administrators. Jensen put four children through Northfield High School and now three of her grandchildren attend Northfield schools. Jensen was “endorsed” by the Northfield Education Association.
Contributing reporting by Sophia Rice.
Hannah Summers ’22 is from
Her majors are chemistry and English.