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Crimson tide washes out local Democrats, non-partisan candidates

Don Dearstyne, at left and campaign volunteer Ray Ball went around the county after the election removing billboards. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

The crimson tsunami of discontent that washed over the country Tuesday claimed local Democrats and even non-partisan incumbents, including Hubbard County Sheriff Frank Homer.

Rep. Brita Sailer (DFL-Park Rapids) and Sen. Mary Olson (DFL - Bemidji) were among the casualties, as was Dist. 1 Commissioner Don Carlson, who were all swept out of office along with 8th Dist. Rep. Jim Oberstar, who served 35 years in Congress.

Whether it was general dissatisfaction with the state of the nation, the sour economy, unemployment or the increasing polarization of the electorate, voters were cranky when they got to the polls and showed it.

"Throw the bums out" was the collective philosophy and voters wiped the slate clean regardless of how good the candidates were, what they had done for us in the past and how effective they'd be in the future.

"You know, I think that looking across the state and what happened in the Senate, there was a huge swing in the number of seats we lost," Olson said. "Obviously I don't know if that reflects a statewide phenomena. Something similar happened at the national level. It seemed as though the Republicans campaigned pretty much across the state and tied their message to the message that was happening at the national level and it seemed to have been a successful message."

Welcome, newcomers. There are high expectations riding on all of you.

Turnout and write-ins

Hubbard County Auditor Pam Heeren said 77.29 percent of registered Hubbard County voters (9,724 of 12,710) went to the polls. That's a good turnout, but not a record.

"I think we were in the eighties (percent voting) for 2008 but it was a presidential election and that makes a big difference," she said.

Many voters reported not voting in certain races because they didn't like the choices.

Others voiced their protest by filling in the oval for a write-in candidate without writing in a name. That was time-consuming for precinct workers, who must pull every ballot with a write-in candidate on it for hand counting.

"It is a total headache and write-ins don't do anybody any good," Heeren said. "Even so much as, using Cal (Johannsen) for example, there was an oval for Cal and an oval for a write-in" in the Hubbard County Dist. 5 commission race.

Johannsen ran unopposed, yet there were 44 write-in votes in his district.

The popular commissioner joked Wednesday at the county board meeting that he found it tough to "compete with Mickey Mouse."

"A lot of times they'll just circle in the oval for the write-in and not put a name in," Heeren said. "There are a lot of Bugs Bunnies and Donald Ducks and Mickey Mouses. Some people just go through and write the same name in every single write-in line if the person is unopposed.

"I consider it, I guess, a waste of your vote unless there's a legitimate write-in campaign going on and that's what you're doing. A lot of times they don't necessarily write a name in, they just color in the oval."

But most of the candidates - and voters - admitted to some relief that the hard fought, expensive campaign was over.

"It will be nice to get rid of all these campaign signs," said a Park Rapids store clerk.

"He lost but I won," said Lucy Carlson, wife of Don Carlson. "I got my husband back. He deserves some time to go fishing."

Sheriff-elect Cory Aukes said he would take a few days off, too, as a much needed break.

On election night, there were no raucous parties or even celebrations. Candidates and their supporters were just too tired.

"We're going home," said Hubbard County Attorney Don Dearstyne shortly before midnight.

"We've had enough."

Hubbard County's election returns were not reported on the Minnesota Secretary of State's website until Wednesday morning due to technical problems at the state's end.

"They called us about quarter to twelve and said, 'Gee we're sorry,'" Heeren told the board Wednesday of her conversations with the state.

She said something about the way the returns were either uploaded to the state or downloaded by the state malfunctioned. Hubbard, Beltrami, Itasca and other counties were affected, she said.

But there were no other snafus, she said, including the counting of absentee ballots, which, in the wake of the contentious 2008 election and recount, is now done at the auditor's office to ensure consistency.

Hubbard County Sheriff

The race for Hubbard County Sheriff garnered the most local attention.

Hard work, an enthusiastic group of volunteers and family and spending propelled Sgt. Cory Aukes to the sheriff's job.

Aukes was well organized and relentless, telling each public forum it was his lifelong dream to be a sheriff in his hometown.

His yellow campaign signs dotted the countryside in early spring, two months earlier than his opponent Homer's.

The race, one of the most expensive in recent recollection, topped the $40,000 spending mark before the election and both candidates spent heavily in the 10 days leading up to the vote.

"I'm very happy with the outcome obviously," Aukes said Wednesday morning.

He said he hadn't given much thought to his immediate future plans.

"You know it's going to be two months of, 'I don't know,'" he said.

"And I'm hoping to be able to talk with Frank about some things and learn a little bit before Jan. 4. I'm just very overwhelmed right now and not thinking that far ahead. I'm just going to take a little break."

Homer could not be reached for comment.

Hubbard County Attorney

Wednesday Don Dearstyne was in court bright and early, having won a second term in office. Thursday he and a campaign volunteer were dismantling billboards throughout the county, a tedious and unglamorous task.

His opponent Nathaniel Welte went back to work at his law office that has branches in Perham, New York Mills and Park Rapids.

One voter who declined to give his name said he thought Welte "was a sharp young kid" and that he would make a good county prosecutor with a bit more experience under his belt.

County commissioners

Don Carlson and Park Rapids businesswoman Kathy Grell had the most contentious, yet gracious, race for the seat Carlson has occupied for the past four years.

Both candidates went to great lengths to praise the other's accomplishments, and Carlson was stoic in his loss, even accepting good-natured ribbing from his fellow commissioners Wednesday morning.

Thursday he was in Alexandria on county business.

He was first to congratulate fellow commissioner Greg Larson on his win.

Larson looked sheepish because he did very little campaigning or advertising, joking that he had a "tough time on the campaign trail."

He defeated challenger Floyd Frank 55 percent to 44 percent.

Grell, who won with 54 percent of the vote, said she couldn't wait to get to work.

"I'm very thrilled," she said Wednesday. "I'm very excited about the opportunities that are there for working with the existing commissioners on Hubbard County, making it a better place."

Johannsen was also in good spirits Wednesday, more excited about a recent elk hunting trip than his re-election.

State races

Olson said she planned to spend more time with her grandchildren and riding her horses.

"I congratulate John Carlson," she said of her opponent. "I know he worked really hard, had a very aggressive campaign. I thank everyone for giving me the opportunity to work as a senator the last four years. It's been at times very frustrating but also, much more so, personally rewarding."

Olson gave up her law practice to run for public office and said she will take a breather to determine what's best for her and her family in the future.

Carlson was out of town, his wife said, and unable to return a call by the time the Enterprise went to print.

In Dist. 2B, Bemidji businessman Dave Hancock discusased his upset win over three-term Rep. Brita Sailer.

He said he couldn't take credit for coining the message that seemed to resonate with voters at the polls.

"I don't know if it was just my message," he said. "I think it was the message people wanted to send to their leaders. They wanted a little more control of their lives, they wanted government to be responsible, to balance their budget, to live within their means. They're looking for jobs."

Hancock said as a small business owner he has real life experience balancing budgets and controlling the cost of operations that voters could identify with.

"It's an honor, it's a privilege, a very humbling experience," he said. "Certainly I can appreciate the task that Brita served for six years. It will be quite a challenge."

Sailer also could not be reached for comment by press time.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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