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Party endorsement of school board candidates draws scrutiny

This postcard, sent to voters throughout the school district, was paid for by the Republican Party of Minnesota.

The Republican Party of Minnesota has made a late push in support of three candidates for the District 833 School Board, delivering flyers touting the party's support to area doorsteps and angering some candidates who said Monday the race should remain non-partisan.

Literature backing school board candidates Laurie Johnson, David Kemper and Ed Nowak arrived in some mailboxes just days before Tuesday's election, when voters will elect four board members from the 10-candidate field.

Johnson said Monday she did not seek the Republican Party's endorsement, but was approached by a friend active in the party.

"I guess it's not unheard of to endorse candidates," Johnson said. "I am very happy to be endorsed by somebody."

Johnson said she never received notification of the endorsement.

Kemper and Nowak could not be reached for comment Monday afternoon.

Bill Pulkrabek, a Washington County Commissioner active in the local Republican Party and involved in the endorsements, said the three candidates "sought out the endorsement."

"They're basically looking for help, some assistance on the campaign," Pulkrabek said. "That's the main benefit of being endorsed."

The political backing though, isn't sitting well with some.

Tracy Brunette, seeking her third term on the District 833 School Board, said she would decline any offer to be endorsed by a political party.

"Personally, I do not believe the school board should be a partisan position," Brunnette said. "We have to work with all of our legislators to advocate for education, and I think it is best to remain non-partisan."

Statewide, the Republican Party of Minnesota is endorsing candidates in just three school board races, according to the state GOP's Web site.

Candidate Marsha Adou questioned the timing of the endorsement of Johnson, Kemper and Nowak. Adou, too, said she is opposed to political endorsements in a school board election.

"It's not a partisan race -- and they waited until the very end of the election," she said. "I don't even belong to a political party. It pits Woodbury against Cottage Grove; we are one school district."

Michael Brodkorb, deputy chairman of the state Republican Party, said on Monday the decision to endorse school board candidates -- in races he said are typically non-partisan -- is made entirely at the local level by party activists.

Brodkorb said the locally driven endorsements are an opportunity for the state party to get involved on a more local level, and to provide resources for the endorsed candidates.

Alberder Gillespie, a school board candidate and also associate chair for the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Senate District 56 committee, said she fears political party support -- and the financial assistance that can come with it -- could limit who is able to successfully campaign for the school board.

Check or for more coverage of Tuesday's District 833 School Board election.

Reporters Amber Kispert and Judy Spooner contributed to this report.