Local GOP backs candidates for District 833 School Board, St. Paul Park mayorThree candidates running for the South Washington County School Board and a St. Paul Park mayoral hopeful are getting the backing of the local Republican Party as the Nov. 8 election approaches. Similar GOP endorsements in the 2009 District 833 School Board race created a stir as some candidates and Democratic activists complained of political involvement in the nonpartisan race.
By: Scott Wente, South Washington County Bulletin
Three candidates running for the South Washington County School Board and a St. Paul Park mayoral hopeful are getting the backing of the local Republican Party as the Nov. 8 election approaches.
The Senate District 57 GOP mailed an election newsletter to south Washington County homes encouraging voters to support School Board candidates Leslee Boyd, Ron Kath and Joe Ryan. The local party also backed challenger Keith Franke over incumbent John Hunziker in the St. Paul Park mayor’s race.
Similar GOP endorsements in the 2009 District 833 School Board race created a stir as some candidates and Democratic activists complained of political involvement in the nonpartisan race. Candidates for city and school board offices don’t run with a political affiliation on the ballot.
Two years ago Senate District 56 Republicans made endorsements. That district includes Woodbury. This year District 56 Republicans did not issue endorsements, candidates said, but the District 57 GOP, which includes south Washington County, did pick candidates to support.
The local DFL groups did not endorse candidates.
At least two of the candidates were surprised to learn they had the GOP party’s backing in this campaign.
“That’s news to me,” Ryan said when contacted for comment.
“Somebody told me about that yesterday,” Franke said.
Neither candidate said he had sought an endorsement or was contacted by District 57 Republicans.
A District 57 GOP official could not be reached immediately for comment.
Franke, a first-time candidate, said he had “no idea” whether the party backing would help him in his bid to unseat Hunziker.
“I’ll take all the endorsements I can get from anybody,” he said.
Ryan said he turned down an endorsement offer from Republicans in District 56. Ryan said he has been to their meetings and knows many of the activists but did not want to inject partisan politics into the School Board race.
“Do I tend to be conservative? Yeah,” Ryan said, “but I chose not to seek out an endorsement because I believe the School Board … this should not be a party race.”
Kath is a former Republican state Senate candidate. As a member of the District 57 GOP, he said he is happy to have the group’s backing in his School Board re-election bid, but it does not mean he feels obligated to vote certain ways as a board member.
“When I walk in that board room, all of my affiliations fall at the door,” Kath said, and the focus is on students.
Kath said the District 57 GOP’s expressed “support” for the three board candidates is not a formal endorsement, which would have required input or a vote from activists, not just a decision by local Republican leaders.
However, he acknowledged that the general public probably would not see a distinction, comparing it to whether something is called a tax or a levy.
“How they interpret it is really up to each person,” he said.
Endorsed candidates often gain access to a party’s voter data, which is helpful when targeting activists or likely voters by mail, phone or door-knocking. Candidates endorsed this year said they have not been given any voter data or help from District 57 Republicans.
Still, Boyd welcomed the political party backing.
“I appreciate the support,” she said. “I think in a district like ours the majority of people, regardless of the party they are affiliated with, tend to be fairly fiscally conservative.”
But Boyd said she hopes people decide who to vote for based on which candidates are aligned closest with their personal views.
“I’m sure that there are some people who see a person endorsed by a particular party and that may turn them off a particular candidate,” she said, “but I would hope they’re more concerned with where candidates stand and candidates’ experience than someone else’s endorsement and support.”
Some School Board candidates said they attended a question-and-answer session with the union representing South Washington County Schools teachers, but have not seen any endorsements issued by the union. Union endorsements usually go to Democratic-leaning candidates.
Democrats are not formally endorsing anybody in the nonpartisan, local races, said District 57 DFL Chairman Don Slaten.
“Let’s just say it’s kind of needless at the local level,” Slaten said. “They’re supposed to all be nonpartisan.”
While Democrats have not endorsed in the local races, Slaten said the District 57 DFL will discuss future endorsements at a December meeting, noting that Republicans have done it in the past two nonpartisan election cycles.
Slaten said he does not support endorsing in nonpartisan races, but wants to give party activists an opportunity to discuss the issue.