ROCHESTER — Olmsted County residents elected four new commissioners Tuesday. The new commissioners will fill four seats of current commissioners who opted not to seek another term.
In District 1, Laurel Podulke-Smith earned the commissioner title leading with 67.34% of the votes, compared to Loring Stead's 32.2% to replace Commissioner Stephanie Podulke for a two-year term.
In District 2, Dave Senjem took the seat in a race against Gabe Perkin, with 57.7% to 41.9% of the vote. He will replace Commissioner Ken Brown for a four-year term.
In District 4, Brian Mueller led with 58.1% of the vote, compared to Kindra Ramaker's 41.6% to replace Commissioner Matt Flynn for a four-year term.
In District 5, Michelle Rossman led with 56.2% of the votes, compared to Catherine Davis' 43.4% to replace Commissioner Jim Bier for a two-year term.
Only one current commissioner, Gregg Wright, faced a challenge in seeking re-election. After running unopposed for a second term in District 3 in 2020, he was challenged this year by first-time candidate Karl Johnson. Wright led with 66.2% of the votes, compared to Johnson's with 33.6%.
In District 6, incumbent commissioner Sheila Kiscaden is running unopposed and had received 99% of the votes reported by 12:30 a.m.
The county saw the need for three extra races following changes to the district borders earlier this year in an effort to balance populations in each district based on updated counts from the 2020 Census. Only District 1 remained intact enough to allow its commissioner to fill out the second half of a four-year term. The changes put the seats Bier, Podulke and Wright won in 2020 up for grabs, with two-year terms used to maintain staggering elections in future years. Bier and Podulke ended up joining Flynn and Brown in announcing plans to step down from office at the end of the year. It will make Kiscaden, who joined the board of commissioners in 2013, the longest-serving commissioner. Thein and Wright both joined the board in 2017.
With such a sizable change in the makeup of the board expected next year, it’s unclear whether goals and initiatives will change, since many of the opposing candidates have taken similar stances on a variety of issues.
In District 1, Podulke-Smith, who sought to replace her mother on the board, has pointed to her efforts to learn how the county works since becoming aware that the seat would become available, while Stead has pointed to active involvement with a variety of nonprofits that already work with the county.
In District 2, Perkins, a first-time candidate, points to a desire to bring new ideas and a conservative outlook to the position, while Senjem, a retiring Republican state senator and former Rochester City Council points to his experience as a potential asset for the county.
In District 3, Johnson has said one of his key motives for challenging Wright was to force innovative thinking, rather than allow the incumbent to simply see another election without a challenge.
In District 4, Mueller and Ramaker have set themselves apart based on their primary focus during forums and other opportunities to compare views.
Mueller, a former Rochester Township Board member, frequently points to physical needs in the county, whether it be roads or housing, while Ramaker, a former Olmsted County Human Rights Commission chairwoman, has offered more insights into social service needs, while also acknowledging the wide-range of county work.
In District 5, Davis and Rossman brought differing views to the campaign from viewpoints that reflected the district that serves both portions of Rochester and the county west of the city. Both cited a desire to balance the needs of both parts of the district. Davis, a Rochester resident, said she’d use her experience with a variety of local organizations to meet needs of the office, while Rossman, co-owner of Rossman Farms and vice president of environmental stewardship for Dairy Management Inc., pointed to her business experience as an asset.
All results are unofficial at this point, and the Olmsted County canvassing board is slated to review and confirm the official results on Nov. 17 at the Olmsted County Election Center.