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After Deadline: Trump is the least of my worries

October 12, 2018

Despite all the hubbub last week, President Trump is the least of my worries right now, politically speaking.

As former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill often said, all politics is local. Right now, that’s my focus. Whether it is the Winona School Board races or the battle between state Rep. Steve Drazkowski and DFL challenger Jonathan Isenor.

Anything bigger than that, and I just don’t have the time.

Someone’s running for governor or senator or Grand Poobah of the Loyal Order of Water Buffaloes? Talk to the hand, as the kids say these days.

We’re All Stressed

Elections are a hectic time in a newsroom, and that’s certainly true as October is upon us here in 2018. Yes, we’re paying attention to the races for governor, senator, U.S. House, Minnesota Attorney General and Secretary of State. But I say “we” in the “not me, exactly” sense of the word.

Local elections in the counties of my coverage area are of much greater concern. And while some races are pretty much over before they’ve started — in Goodhue County, both commissioner seats feature incumbents running unopposed — others will be felt long after Nov. 6.

Cannon Falls will get a new mayor and at least one new city council member. For a city where the leadership can be described as “embattled,” that’s a lot of change. In Red Wing, after just replacing a big chunk of its city council, the voters will decide whether to keep the short-term replacements or replace them with the folks they voted down last time.

Down in Wabasha County — but still partly in Goodhue County — Lake City’s city council election could mean reversing course on the U.S. Highway 61 realignment project. That race has seen one candidate propose a scheme to reduce the field and give the three-lane supporters a better chance of winning.

Like Goodhue County, the Wabasha County commissioner races feature a bunch of incumbents running races alone. In fact, the only countywide races with actual opponents on the ballot are the seats on the Soil and Water Supervisors board.

Political Battles

If you want to see some races, Winona County is the place to be. Aside from three contested commissioner races, at the city level there is at least one contested race in nine of the 13 cities.

But the real battles in Winona are the school board races. With the sale of buildings still in flux at the moment — sales of the former Central and Madison schools still are in limbo — the issue of whether to close and to sell the schools will be relitigated Nov. 6.

Local Impact

Say what you will about the top of the ticket, but those local races often are the most impactful in your daily lives. Who runs the schools in town and decides on spending for programs, who sits on the county board and decides which roads are fixed and how it’s funded.

Usually, the issues at the forefront are better defined for the voters. Will U.S. Highway 61 be realigned or simply repaved through Lake City? Will the issue of closing elementary schools finally (probably) be put to rest in Winona or not?

With so many races across the region, it’s a big juggling act deciding what to cover closely and what to follow simply as vote totals on election night.

The Specter of 2000

But, honestly, I’ll take it over the glaring lights of national politics. After all, I learned my lesson many years ago.

The night of Nov. 7 — and well into the morning of Nov. 8 — 2000, will forever be etched in my brain. I worked as news editor for the Galveston County Daily News (proudly the oldest newspaper in Texas).

There was an election that night. You might remember it. It’s where we all learned the rules for recounting races, what a “hanging chad” is, and why the popular vote and the Electoral College are two different things.

I spent most of the night recoloring the state of Florida in an AP graphic red, then blue, then red, then purple, then striped red and blue, then gray, then ... you get the point. We struggled with the headline, everything from versions of “Bush Wins” to “Gore Wins” to something about Florida and recounts.

Finally, I suggested “Dubya Claims ‘W’” using the dual meaning of “claims” as either “takes as a prize” or “assert that something is the case without evidence or proof.” I thought it was clever and, in the haze of 4 a.m. exhaustion, my two bosses agreed.

Obviously, every reader in Galveston County took a glass-half-empty approach to the headline the next day, and our phones rang off the hook from the moment those newspapers hit people’s driveways. The two bosses spent the day despising me and my clever headline.

So take your up-ballot races. I’ll stick with the cities, counties and school boards. I just hope my coverage of soil and water commissioner races doesn’t come back to bite me.

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