On Monday, Nov. 26, the West St. Paul city council considered a site plan for construction at Garlough Environmental Magnet School as part of the 2018 school district bond referendum improvements. In addition to classroom and facility additions, the plans include adding a second driveway and expanding the southern parking lot to create a separate drop off/pick up loop, a change that should vastly improve morning/ afternoon congestion and safety issues.
After feeling somewhat despondent after the 2016 election, I decided to focus on local politics. I couldn’t do much about things at the national level, but I thought maybe I could make a difference at the local level.
I wasn’t alone.
An army of volunteers and supporters came forward, and together we worked for change. People tried to join city committees, we supported a local trail, put on a bike rodeo—we got involved.
Then the sexism controversy exploded and West St. Paul made national news. And not in a good way.
People were already starting to pay attention, but that issue galvanized people like never before. A progressive advocacy group, Women of West St. Paul formed, and they organized voter registration efforts, rides to the polls, and multiple candidate forums.
On April 23, 2018, West St. Paul’s first female mayor, Jenny Halverson, expressed frustration at what she saw as sexism, and declared, “This will not be forgotten, folks.”
After the 2016 election, I not only felt defeated, but I felt raw and shocked and a bit stupid. I hadn’t done a damn thing to advocate for the causes I cared about, so it was no wonder they lost.
That was a bitter lesson.
After the 2018 election, I feel empowered. Winning certainly helps. But I was also involved in these races. We had major wins in our local races, which is where I spent most of my volunteer time. And I think that sense of empowerment is greater than any sense of victory. Because I also know what empowered loss feels like. We lost a hard primary, one where I thought I would regret all the effort wasted.
But you know what? A loss isn’t a wasted effort. All that energy, all that enthusiasm, all those connections—they can build something that lasts, even in defeat.
So let’s do a “quick” (ha!) morning day after review of the 2018 election. (I laugh because I was awake until 3 a.m. last night, unable to sleep as all the storylines kept playing in my head.)
For the past several years I’ve been blogging about local elections. I’ve tried to stay quiet about broader politics and avoid stupid comments, but this year I couldn’t help myself. Well, I hope I avoided most stupid comments, but I couldn’t stay quiet about what was happening in our democracy.
So this year, instead of just blogging about West St. Paul’s races, I found myself blogging about the entire ballot. From city council to U.S. Senator, I covered it all. 18 posts in 18 days (plus a lot of posts before that).
The 2018 West St. Paul Ward 3 city council race is an open contest since incumbent John Bellows is not running. After a heated four-way primary, Wendy Berry and David Meisinger are vying for the seat.
No shock to anyone who’s been following along, but I’m voting for Wendy Berry.
Wendy Berry has a decade of experience in human resources and leadership. She is a mentor and volunteer. She completed the Citizen Police Academy shortly after moving to West St. Paul, showing her commitment to the city. This is her first run for office.
The 2018 West St. Paul Ward 2 city council race is an open contest since incumbent Ed Iago is not running. John Justen and Jim Probst are vying for the seat.
I’m supporting John Justen (I don’t live in Ward 2 and can’t vote in this race).
John Justen is a local small business owner with longtime roots in the community. He first ran for city council in 2016 (losing to Anthony Fernandez). He’s notable for diving into policy discussions and taking clear positions, something many candidates avoid.
The 2018 West St. Paul mayoral race is an open contest since incumbent Mayor Jenny Halverson announced she wasn’t running. Current council members Anthony Fernandez and Dave Napier are vying for the job.
I’m voting for Dave Napier.
Anthony Fernandez currently serves as Ward 2 council member (first elected in 2016) and was a previous city council candidate in St. Paul (lost to Melvin Carter in 2011). Fernandez also served on the Planning Commission (appointed by Dave Meisinger in 2015). He’s a real estate broker with a background in construction.
Expanding the tax base and economic development are solutions thrown around by candidates in West St. Paul. That’s all well and good, but sometimes they act like it’s a cure all. To get the kind of revenue we need, expanding the tax base can only do so much.
“I think we all know that we have to bring economic development to West St. Paul. That’s not some top secret thing nobody knows about and that nobody has ever heard of. It has to be done, or else we’re going to turn to Little House on the Prairie or something and there won’t be any businesses here. We have to do that, checkmark, everyone knows that.”
Some of the other candidates seem to focus on economic development and expanding the tax base as the sole approach to bringing in more revenue and helping us tackle our budget challenges. Those same candidates don’t seem to be fans of the proposed sales tax (though most seem to agree that they’ll follow the will of the voters).
So let’s do a comparison, just to get an idea of impact (because it’s not a binary choice).
I think the soul of West St. Paul is on the ballot in the ward 3 city council election. I’ve written extensively about the inappropriate behavior of candidate David Meisinger. As if that isn’t disqualifying on its own, in the rare public comments he’s made during the campaign, he’s outright lied and distorted facts.
Meisinger tries to present himself as the experienced, professional leader. But his behavior and his own statements show the opposite.
As I’ve written before, Meisinger has bullied, intimidated, and shamed local residents:
He bullied a woman in the City Pages comment section by calling her the c-word.
His own account of an interaction with another woman at Cub Foods, as told to the Pioneer Press, is simple intimidation.
He shamed a local family by posting pictures of their property to his Facebook page, calling them lazy and disrespectful and urging people to report them to the city.
This article should end right there. That should be enough to convince anyone not to vote for Meisinger. However, for whatever reason, some 450 people voted for Meisinger in the primary, enough to advance to the general election.
Real quick, the reason the city is doing this is because we have to pay for Robert Street. The state wouldn’t chip in to pay for their road, so we had to do it. We’ll be making $1.84 million debt payments every year for the next 15 years. The sales tax will give us about $1.3 million each year, which cannot go directly to pay the debt, but it will allow us to pay for other street projects that we might otherwise have to forgo.