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Monday, March 20, 2023

Ramsey County races draw new faces to County Board

Tuesday, voters appointed two new members to the Ramsey County Board of Commissioners, filling the seats of County Commissioners Toni Carter and Jim McDonough, who had served for 17 and 22 years, respectively.

In District 6, which encompasses the Upper East Side of St. Paul, Payne-Phalen, and Conway-Battle Creek, two Hmong women who arrived in Minnesota as child refugees contested the seat held by McDonough, who elected not to seek re-election after more than a decade in office.

Mai Chong Xiong had 50% of the vote with 21 of 21 precincts reporting, while Ying Vang-Pao had 49% of the vote. The two contenders were separated by only 213 votes in a campaign that attracted over 16,000 voters.

Shortly before midnight, Xiong issued a written statement proclaiming herself the victorious candidate, the first Hmong woman elected to the county board, and the youngest person ever elected to the board. Vang-Poa could not be contacted immediately for comment.

Last August, Xiong, the 33-year-old leader in a seven-way Democratic primary, approached election night with a substantial money advantage, supported by the St. Paul DFL, TakeAction Minnesota, and AFSCME Council 5. Prior to McDonough’s announcement of his retirement, Thao’s longtime assistant had announced her candidacy.

McDonough gave his support to Vang-Pao, 56, the daughter of the renowned Hmong war commander Vang Pao, who also got the backing of state Senator Foung Hawj, state Senator Karla Bigham, and state Representative Leon Lillie, among others.

However, it was not the only county position that was up for election. Four of the seven-county board seats were up for election on Tuesday, despite the fact that the majority of battles were decided long before the August primary.

The seven-member board picks the county manager, who controls roughly 4,000 workers and establishes the budgets for different county agencies, such as the county attorney’s office and the county sheriff’s office. A county board seat is a rather low-profile elected post, despite the fact that it pays around $100,000 per year and confers power over St. Paul-Ramsey County Public Health, social services, county road development, and other high-touch public services.

Carter’s decision not to run for re-election in District 4 after 17 years drew four candidates to the primary ballot this summer. Rena Moran, a veteran state lawmaker who received 78 percent of the primary vote, beat Rev. Darryl Spence, an ordained pastor, and community outreach worker, on Tuesday. The area in St. Paul extends from Summit Hill to Highland Park.

With 23 of 23 precincts reporting, Moran led Spence with 81 percent of the vote to 18 percent.

In District 3, the incumbent chair of the Ramsey County Board, Trista Matas Castillo, faced opposition from police reserve officer David Singleton. Tuesday, with 22 of 22 precincts reporting, MatasCastillo had 75 percent of the vote, while Singleton had 24 percent.

In District 5, County Commissioner Rafael Ortega, who was elected to the county board in 1994, faced a challenge from door-knocker Bill Hosko, who questioned the lack of progress surrounding the proposed RiversEdge development on Kellogg Boulevard, which would replace the now-demolished West Publishing building.

With 22 of 22 precincts reporting, Ortega led Hosko with 71 percent of the vote to 29 percent.

Both County Attorney John Choi and County Sheriff Bob Fletcher ran unopposed for reelection.

Absentee voting in the days preceding the election and Tuesday’s countywide participation seemed to be strong, boosting the likelihood that the county’s midterm election turnout record may be broken. In 2018, 247,000 valid votes were cast, establishing a new record.

Cedric Blackwater
Cedric Blackwater
Cedric is a journalist with over a decade of experience reporting on local US news, and touching on many global topics. He is currently the lead writer for Bulletin News.

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