Board race buzzword: experienceCandidates disagree on whether experience is a benefit or liability
Who represents south Washington County in Stillwater next year could come down to how much voters value experience — or whether they think a fresh set of eyes is what the county needs.
County Commissioner Myra Peterson is seeking a fifth term representing District 4 — which includes Cottage Grove, Newport and St. Paul Park — on the Washington County Board of Commissioners. Her opponent, Autumn Lehrke is making her first run for public office.
It’s a contrast both are eager to make. And it’s one that both candidates say they feel works in their favor.
A Washington County Commissioner since she was appointed in 1993, Peterson is no stranger to Stillwater. She touted her nearly two decades of experience on the board in an interview last week, saying her county government know-how will be vital as commissioners face the possibility of further painful cuts to funding from the state when lawmakers tackle Minnesota’s massive budget deficit next year.
Washington County in recent years has lost almost $8 million in program aid from the state. Peterson, 71, says her experience “is absolutely crucial. We’re going to have to make tough choices in the next four years.”
Lehrke, 28, who is making her first foray into government at any level, said she thinks those difficult decisions should be made by someone “with a different point of view,” who hasn’t spent years in the county board room. Despite her thin resume, Lehrke said her business background and education give her the tools needed to help lead Washington County.
“Everyone has to start somewhere,” Lehrke said. “I think that my value system is what’s going to guide my decision-making.” Those values, the 28-year-old Lehrke said, include “less government and less taxes.”
Lehrke hit Peterson on her reluctance to support a flat property tax levy as part of the county’s 2011 budget, saying the commissioner “is out of touch,” and that her experience will hurt her in the eyes of voters.
The county needs to spend within its means and operate more efficiently, she said. “I would like to go in there and look at things on a case-by-case basis,” Lehrke said. “Right now, I don’t have anything in mind specifically (but) I’d like to look at all areas.”
Most of the county’s problems, however, aren’t of the county’s making, Peterson said, citing the impact of the state’s ongoing budget crisis. And the ability to hit the ground running in 2011 will be key, she said.
“It will be hard to come in and participate in a meaningful discussion without any background” in county issues, Peterson said.
Live debate Thursday
Peterson and Lehrke will debate Thursday, Oct. 14, at Woodbury City Hall. The debate will be shown on cable Channel 18 and online at www.swctc.org at 7 p.m. Thursday.