Rep. Rob Ecklund claimed a victory over challenger Thomas Manninen for the Minnesota House District 3A seat just before 1 a.m. Wednesday.
In a tight race throughout the night, Ecklund, of International Falls, received 12,540 votes or 52.41 percent. Manninen, of Littlefork, finished the race with 11,367 votes or 47.51 percent.
In another local race, incumbent Tom Bakk, DFL, defeated Republican challenger Christopher Hogan for the state senator District 3 seat.
Bakk clinched 26,641 votes or 55.23 percent, and Hogan received 21,532 votes or 44.64 percent.
Ecklund said it was a tough night, watching returns come in after midnight to find out if he would return to office.
While he said he was happy voters reelected him, he said he will work to figure out why so many local voters did not favor him against the challenger.
“When my colleagues have lost races before, it was maybe because the don’t look like their district anymore,” Ecklund said early Wednesday. “I need to find out why some people don’t feel like I look like my district anymore.
Ecklund said he feels the hate and division in the nation has bled into local and state politics.
“It will be all elected officials’ jobs to end the division for the betterment of the state and country,” he said.
His rule of thumb in votes is simple: District first, state second, caucus third, and party fourth, he said.
He said he’s been recognized by MinnPost news service as the fifth or sixth most conservative representative in the caucus. “And I think that is a good place for me to be at,” he said.
Meanwhile, Ecklund said he has clear goals for the state, noting he believes Manninen voiced no goals, but only make attacks
“Life goes on and like (Vice President Joe) Biden has said about voters, I will represent all of District 3, not just the people who voted for me. I need to figure out how to make things work for people, even the people who didn’t vote for me.”
Congressman Pete Stauber will serve another term representing Minnesota’s 8th District.
Shortly after the race was called by the AP News Service around 1 a.m. Wednesday morning, D-FL challenger Quinn Nystrom called Stauber, a Republican from Hermantown, to concede the race.
Stauber received 215,115 votes or 56.69 percent to Nystrom’s 142,708 votes or 37.61 percent.
Judith Schwartzbacker, Grassroots — Legalize Cannabis, received 21,434 votes or 5.65 percent.
Emergency preparedness was underway Monday at Backus Community Center, as several response agencies came together to coordinate for a potential disaster on Rainy River.
“Operation Walleye” is a training event that for several years has been in the works to help local first responders and key stakeholders prepare for a potential hazardous materials incident in the Koochiching County and Rainy River region. The training is designed to target improvements in local first response organization including the fire department, law enforcement, EMS services along with city and county government.
In addition, officials from state and national agencies are included, as well as those from Canada.
“Operation Walleye will arm local response personnel with additional knowledge and skills to assist in protecting lives and property in the event of an emergency,” said county Emergency Management Coordinator Willi Kostiuk.
Representatives of multiple agencies met Monday – both in person and virtually – for a walk-through exercise of what Kostiuk said would be the first six hours of an incident.
“We’re practicing a rail disaster,” Kostiuk said. “For the first several hours, (local agencies) are going to be on our own until additional resources are brought in... We have to contain the incident, set up incident command and I have to make sure everyone has the resources they need.”
Blain Johnson, of Paramount Planning, said bringing multiple groups together is key for successful incident response.
“We all plan and train individually, but then everyone comes together as a group and talks about their roles and how we can work together,” he said. “Communication is key in these types of incidents.”
Robert Berg, State Fire Marshals office, agreed.
“There is a diverse group of people who will be affected in something like this,” he said. “They need to understand all the things that have to be done and how to work together in an organized fashion to get this under control.”
Being organized from the beginning will be key to incident control, Berg said, and Monday’s training helps everyone to better understand what to expect of their agencies and others. Group members need to be mindful of their job in an incident and feel confident they know others are doing what they’re supposed to be doing, too.
“We have a chain with all these links and we’re only as good as the weakest link,” Berg said. “We’re building a chain where everyone knows their responsibility and they know how to hang on... We need to have all aspects prepared.”
Hazardous materials are transported across the rail bridge in Ranier at an “unprecedented rate,” according to information provided about Operation Walleye. Should an emergency event occur, effective and efficient response will be required to save lives, property and the environment.
Knowing this, Kostiuk sought a grant from the Department of Public Safety’s Hazardous Railroad and Pipeline Account. The grant was awarded in 2019 to Koochiching County to provide training like what occurred Monday, as well as any in the future.
“In every exercise, we locate the gaps and build off of that,” he said.
Kostiuk said Monday’s training event was designed to be a win-win for everyone involved.
“When we go in the field, everyone will understand what everyone else is able to do,” he said. “This event helps build confidence.”
The group will come back together in February for another table exercise and in June, there will be a mock event.
“The full scale exercise is planned for June 2021,” Kostiuk said. “That’s where all this training comes together for one day. We’ll actually respond to a rail incident set up in Ranier... The whole community needs to come together to have a good understanding of they’re supposed to be doing.”
Littlefork-Big Falls High School students will begin distance learning Wednesday until Nov. 18, due to several active cases of COVID-19 in the district, along with “a large number of pending tests.”
The decision, which Superintendent Jamie Wendt said is in the best interests of students, staff, families, and the entire community, affects students in grades 7-12. Wendt said the goal of the precautionary action is to minimize potential spreading of the virus.
“Because we are taking this step as a precautionary measure, athletic programs will continue as normal,” Wendt said in an announcement Tuesday, adding practices will run as normal. “The International Falls and Big Falls activity buses will be provided for pick-up before practices and games at the same locations as normal drop-offs after practice.”
Following the Tuesday morning announcement, two additional positive cases of COVID-19 were reported later that day, bringing the district’s total number of cases to five.
“This news provides us with some affirmation that we did make the right choice this morning in moving to distance learning for our high school students,” Wendt said Tuesday evening. “It was not an easy choice, but we felt it was the right step in order to do our part to help prevent a large outbreak in our school and in all of Koochiching County.”
The decision to only have high school students take on a two-week distance learning model was two-fold.
First, ased on the current county case rate of 18.98 in the last 14 days, the state model suggests in-person learning for elementary and hybrid for secondary. Wendt said L-BF has been operating hybrid for all students, as outlined in the school’s restart blueprint. Due to the rise of cases in the building and the number of pending COVID-19 tests, Wendt said she and others decided to move to hybrid for elementary students and distance learning for secondary students.
In addition, the current COVID activity is condensed in the high school end of the building.
“At this time, we feel it is safe to keep our elementary students in class based on the information we have at hand, and with all our current precautions in place,” Wendt said. “Please know that we are monitoring the situation closely.”
High school students should tentatively plan to return to in-person instruction beginning Nov. 18.
If a student is experiencing symptoms when it is time to return to the building, they should stay home and contact school nurse, Laura Zika, to discuss the symptoms and determine when it will be safe to return to school. Zika can be reached at 218-278-6614 ext. 233 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We will continue to do our best to keep everyone updated,” Wendt said. “Please do your part to social distance, wash your hands, and stay safe.”
Tuesday's election decided the make up of several local governments, and voters in International Falls voted no to keeping chickens.
International Falls City Council
Harley Droba will serve another term as International Falls mayor, by winning 1,620 votes, or 54.25 percent, with candidates Kerry Meyers receiving 1,215 votes or 40.69 percent, followed by Mike Bahr with 81 votes and Andrew Piekarski with 55 votes.
Mike Holden will serve as councilor at large, with 1,581 votes or 54.9 percent, Candidate Pete Kalar received 1,288 votes or 44.75 percent.
Droba said Tuesday night he's happy the election is over and the council can get back to the business of the city. In fact, he said he'd already picked up his campaign signs Tuesday afternoon.
"Life just got a little bit easier," he said.
The campaign was one of the weirdest he's ever been a part of, because of the pandemic and other issues, he said.
"You can't go door to door, or do anything traditional," he said. "And the nature of the election itself was bizarre. It was the first election after a past mayor passed away. And the candidates, you couldn't have asked for a more colorful group of people running for mayoral office."
Droba said he would the very next day again consider how to move the city's budget into 2021.
"I will start looking at how we organize our committee meetings, looking at having Mike Holden on the council in replacement of Brian Briggs, figuring out what committees look like and how we move forward as a city to continue the progress we've made in the last year," Droba said.
Holden said he was relieved with the results shortly after they came in Tuesday night.
“It was a long campaign,” he said.
Holden is no stranger to serving the city. For 39 years, he served as the city's electrician, and said he looks forward to taking a seat on the council.
“I love International Falls and I want to make it better,' he said. “I'm anxious to get to work.”
City voters decided not to allow chickens in the city, in a ballot question based on a petition.
The question received 1,557 or 52.27 percent, "no" votes, to 1,422 or 47.73 percent "yes" votes.
Ranier City Council
Ranier voters elected two members to the council.
Todd Coulombe will return to the council with 209 votes, or 35.42 percent, and he will be joined by Jennifer Lahmayer, who received 172 votes, or 29.15 percent. Candidates Jeff McHarg received 112 votes and June Fulton 91.
"I am deeply humbled to be chosen by the voters and given the opportunity to serve the residents of Ranier as their future City Councilor," Jennifer Lahmayer told The Journal. "I am hoping to bring positive energy, teamwork mentality and a strong backbone when it comes to doing what is needed for our great little community. Thanks to everyone for their words of encouragement and support during this election"
Ranier Mayor Dennis Wagner ran uncontested.
Terry Murray will serve a term as Koochiching County commissioner, representing District 3 after receiving 610 votes, or 55.10 percent, to incumbent Brian McBride's 494 votes.
Koochiching County Commissioner District 5, uncontested, Wayne Skoe, incumbent.
Koochiching Soil and Water Supervisor District 2, uncontested George Aitchison, incumbent; Supervisor District, uncontested, Eldon Voigt Jr., incumbent.
Littlefork-Big Falls School Board
Three board members were selected: Kimberly Wimmer, 557 votes; Monte Nelson, 463 votes; and Jonathon Blake, 391 votes.
Big Falls City Council
Two council - Angela Boes, 70; LouAnn Abendroth, 58.
Littlefork City Council candidates for mayor and two council ran uncontested: Mayor Mike Fort; council; Loren Lehman, Quen Kennedy
Fourth International Falls School Board candidates ran uncontested: Emily McGonigle, Roxanne Skogstad-Ditsch, Bruce A. Raboin, and JoAnn Smith.