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Our View: Voters rightly chose stability in this election

Our current leaders weathered the storms of recent years and – we hope – learned from these experiences. If disaster strikes again, Rochester and Olmsted County will be well-served by leaders who can say, “This ain't our first rodeo.”

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Our View
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We can sum up the message sent Tuesday by Olmsted County voters in just two words: Experience matters.

If you prefer more words, then here's four: Steady as she goes.

In races for Rochester mayor, Olmsted County Attorney, the Rochester School Board, the Rochester City Council and the Olmsted County Board, voters opted to “rehire” all incumbents who desired to keep their positions. In those races, the incumbents' average margin of victory was 20%, and the closest such race had a 15% gap.

And it wasn't just by electing incumbents that voters showed their preference for experienced leaders. In three races for open seats on the Olmsted County board, voters chose: a former Minnesota Senate majority leader; an 18-year veteran of the Rochester Township Board; and a woman who, in addition to her own experiences in public service, was raised by two parents who served as Olmsted County commissioners.

Granted, incumbency is a big advantage. The trappings of office include greater name recognition and fundraising ability, so it's harder to win office for the first time than it is to retain it.

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But this was no ordinary election. Incumbents have had to make hard choices in the past three years, and not all of them proved to be right.

The pandemic, inflation and deep political divides over immigration, abortion, the environment and education gave challengers plenty of ammunition in local and state races. Some candidates in Rochester-area contests painted grim pictures of Rochester's recent past, as well as the present and future, then offered vague promises of the new courses they would steer when they took office.

Voters utterly rejected those promises, opting instead to support stability and consistency.

So, while the past three years have been tumultuous and at times downright depressing and even frightening, Tuesday's results leave no doubt that a strong majority of Olmsted County residents remain confident in the people who are charting the course for our city, our county and our schools.

The voters got it right. This was no time to put the reins of local government into inexperienced hands.

While our city and county have emerged from the pandemic in relatively good economic shape, we didn't escape unscathed. There are lessons to be learned from what happened when businesses were shuttered, students were sent home and every social gathering was a potential super-spreader event.

Our current leaders weathered those storms and – we hope – learned from these experiences. If disaster strikes again, Rochester and Olmsted County will be well-served by leaders who can say, “This ain't our first rodeo.”

Furthermore, we like the direction our city, county and public schools are going.

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While Mayo Clinic and Destination Medical Center will always have local detractors, we'd argue that there isn't a city in the nation that wouldn't put up with some construction headaches and traffic problems in exchange for the infrastructure improvements and tens of thousands of jobs that DMC is bringing to our region. Rochester and Olmsted County are growing, so there will be growing pains, but the alternative is stagnation and decay. We prefer the growing pains, and we need leaders who keep their eyes on the horizon, rather than changing course every time the waters get choppy.

As for Rochester's public schools, we are glad voters gave Superintendent Kent Pekel, his staff and the school board the opportunity to implement their ambitious long-term plan for the district. It's a forward-looking plan that values every student, with the goal of helping them overcome whatever obstacles life has placed before them as they strive to achieve their full potential.

Speaking of the school board races – and to a lesser extent the Rochester mayoral race – we hope that this year's results ultimately become a cautionary tale to those who would politicize non-partisan races and/or run as part of a “bloc” or “slate” of candidates who unite behind a common set of beliefs.

The “4 Your Children” bloc gave voters an all-or-nothing ultimatum on the direction of Rochester Public Schools. While we'd argue that some members of the “bloc” had good qualifications to run as individuals and, if elected, to work within the system to advocate for change, they instead chose to stand up and be counted with candidates who had no such qualifications and whose platform could best be described as a desire to return to the “good old days.”

Rochester voters recognized that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and rightly rejected the bloc.

Lesson learned? Only time will tell. That's the great thing about the grand experiment that is American democracy. Two years from now, we'll do it all over again.

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