Meet the District Four county commissioner candidates
Aloysia Power

Listen to recorded interviews with the three candidates at the bottom of the page.

Christina Hujanen

Raised in Babbitt and Tower, Hujanen now lives with her husband and sons in Vermilion Lake Township. Her leadership experience comes from her time as Regional Governor of the Soroptimists International, as president of the Lake Country Power Trust Board, and as a disaster volunteer with the American Red Cross. As Soroptimists governor, Hujanen represented the organization around the world and served as a delegate at the United Nations Conference on Women.

Why do you think you’d be a good county commissioner?

“With all of the different things that I do (in the local communities), I see so many people so frustrated because there’s no one that actually listens and speaks up for us and there’s no one to go to. We always find out about things after the fact. So, I’m like, ‘You know what, I’m going to run because I know that I can do this.’
“Being involved (in the local communities) so many years, I feel like I have the experience. I know what’s going on in all the communities and I have been able to network outside the area to help get the solutions (to local problems). I want to be that person that someone can actually go to and say, ‘Help.’ And I will actually go and help and do something without worrying about what everyone thinks.”

The county board has developed a reputation for fighting among themselves and the occasional public bickering. Is that concerning, and, if so, how would you propose to handle this situation?

“I’m not intimidated to go in on a board with all men. I’m not afraid at all. I’m going to go in there and listen and give my opinion when it’s needed. I’m not going in there – as some may – to change the way people are thinking on the board. I think we need to go in there thinking that we can all work together to get something accomplished.
“I know there’s differences in different personalities, and you’re always going to find those differences. What you need to do is figure a way to get past that and move on to what the actual issues are and not dwell on those (differences).”

How do you view the county’s current spending priorities? Do you see a need for readjustment?

“There’s always room for adjustments. We have families that are looking for help. We have the veterans that are looking for help. You have young children. We have teens. We have the retired … We just have to take a look at what the needs are in our communities and try to figure out a way that we can get the things done that are needed. But, I know the county board has been doing a good job (with spending) as far as our ratings have been doing.”

Over the past 20 years, the county has trimmed its workforce by about 20 percent, placing a greater workload on remaining county employees. Do you favor continuing that trend or do you think this reduction has gone far enough?

“I see that we really need to open up our communication better with the county employees and such because these people have worked within the county for so many years … And these people know their job; they know the areas they’ve been working in. And I think we really need to bring these county workers in and actually get their opinions on the ways that we can cut money or do a better job on this or that.”

Copper-nickel mining is an important and controversial local issue. While the county has no direct decision-making power over the mining, where do you stand on the issue? Under what circumstances would you support copper-nickel mining?

“Copper nickel mining – just like everyone – we want the growth. We need the jobs and we see the communities dying throughout the area. And it doesn’t matter if I talk to people who are all for copper nickel mining or the ones who are against copper nickel mining because, as you can see, there’s a division up in our area which is really sad because we really need to get everyone working together on (the copper nickel mining issue). We have a lot of concerns over our water, our land, and everyone is concerned to make sure (the mining is) done correctly.
“I think it’s sad that … everything is all copper nickel mining – everything is PolyMet – because there are so many other issues that are happening up here on the Range besides PolyMet. We have a logging industry which is dying out right now … We have the tourism which is really struggling. We have the small businesses who are really trying their best to make a living up here. Of course I want the jobs and economic development up here – everyone does. But I think we really need to start focusing on all of the problems in all of the areas.”

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Tom Rukavina

Originally from Virginia, Rukavina lives with his wife in Pike Township. He has one young grandchild and is currently expecting another. His political career started in the ‘70s on the Virginia School Board and Pike Township Board. He then went on to serve as a state representative for 26 years, run for governor without success in 2010, and was recently working as a part-time aide to U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan.

Why do you think you’d be a good county commissioner?

“I was taught at an early age by my parents to be a good citizen and participate and (that) being a public servant was a good thing, and so I’ve run for office … When this seat opened up, people urged me (to run), and I said, ‘Why not?’ The people up here have been kind to me, and I want to give back to them and I’ve got something to contribute. I know the mechanics of government and how it works, so I want to help make life better for the citizens of St. Louis County.”

The county board has developed a reputation for fighting among themselves and the occasional public bickering. Is that concerning, and, if so, how would you propose to handle this situation?

“There’s always going to be disagreements in politics … But, I think we have to be civil and respect other people’s opinions and not take things personally when people don’t agree with you. And I’ve got a track record of working with Republicans down at the legislature. I often passed a lot of bills while I was in the minority because I had friends on the other side of the aisle that I treated with respect when I was in the majority and they did the same to me when I was in the minority.”

How do you view the county’s current spending priorities? Do you see a need for readjustment?

“I was surprised when I looked at the county budget and saw that 32 percent of the budget was going to public safety and the next largest amount was for human services at 28 percent and then I believe public roads and public works was third at 18 percent. I’ve got to look into that if I get elected and understand how those numbers got to where they are and where they’ve been in the past to see if there’s anything we can do to streamline government to provide better services for citizens of St. Louis County.”

Over the past 20 years, the county has trimmed its workforce by about 20 percent, placing a greater workload on remaining county employees. Do you favor continuing that trend or do you think this reduction has gone far enough?

“I’m not one to beat up on public employees. They do a good job, and I think they have a very important job to do, whether it’s keeping our roads plowed in the winter and safe for us folks to get to work or taking care of little kids that might need help from social services. I’m not one to say that we’ve got to keep trimming and trimming because I think we’ve cut all the fat off and now we’re into the meat and headed towards the bone.”

Copper-nickel mining is an important and controversial local issue. While the county has no direct decision-making power over the mining, where do you stand on the issue? Under what circumstances would you support copper-nickel mining?

“I have a record of being supportive of mining in general. St. Louis County is a county that was built on mining. Copper nickel mining, I think, can be done properly. We’re still a part of the state that everyone thinks is wilderness, but we’ve been mining up here and, I think, mining pretty much properly for over 130 years. And, eventually, we’re going to start mining copper nickel. As a county board member, I’m certainly going to be in support of our mining culture because that’s the reason I’m here – that’s why my grandparents came to the Iron Range.”

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Kirsten Reichel

After growing up in Hoyt Lakes, Reichel moved to Cook with her husband and sons. She owned Montana Cafe and Comet Theater in Cook for several years before giving them up to raise her family and help her husband run his electrical business. In the meantime, she served as a Cook city councilor and is in her thirteenth year on the Greenwood Township Board of Supervisors.

Why do you think you’d be a good county commissioner?

“I’ve been attending county board meetings over the last year just to get an idea how the board actually functions as far as its day-to-day process... The way they function is different (from the Greenwood Town Board), and so that’s something I’ve become more accustomed to by attending some of the meetings.”

“My communication skills are such that I talk well with people, I try to answer questions and get back to people when I can. 

“And I believe that I work well with the decision-making process that works towards local government... I don’t ever want to feel pushed into a decision. If I need to have more time to research it, then I’ll request that time or take that time.

“I am fully supportive of anything that is progressive for small towns to keep viable – hospitals, small businesses, schools. The things that attract people living in our communities are important to keep viable.”

The county board has developed a reputation for fighting among themselves and the occasional public bickering. Is that concerning, and, if so, how would you propose to handle this situation?

“I think if (the arguing is about) functional (matters) – that maybe there’s been an error in judgment by (a board member) or an error in protocol for meeting whatever the function is – that’s something that should be discussed. But, I think respect is upmost with any kind of meeting body that you have. You have to be respectful of your fellow commissioners, fellow supervisors – whatever particular group that you’re with.”

How do you view the county’s current spending priorities? Do you see a need for readjustment?

“I guess readjustment is difficult because (the budget is) between the property taxes and the different governmental agencies that contribute to the county coffers. Some things are mandated. I think it’s important to use common sense in any decision-making process, and that particularly comes to light with money and especially when it affects us as tax- payers on a daily basis.”

Over the past 20 years, the county has trimmed its workforce by about 20 percent, placing a greater workload on remaining county employees. Do you favor continuing that trend or do you think this reduction has gone far enough?

“I think, being a small business owner for many years, managing a home, managing a budget, everybody’s faced with the decision of what’s the best practical way to spend the money and still stay afloat … The county is a large, large business and if that’s what makes it viable, then I guess some of those decisions need to be addressed.

“There are specialty (county) positions that can’t be stacked, so to speak – if you have an IT person and that’s specifically what they do, you can’t combine that with a 911 coordinator or something like that. So, you have to be practical about how those jobs are consolidated.”

Copper-nickel mining is an important and controversial local issue. While the county has no direct decision-making power over the mining, where do you stand on the issue? Under what circumstances would you support copper-nickel mining?

“I support copper nickel mining… I grew up in a copper nickel family – that’s what my dad did for a living. We moved all over the world for him studying copper nickel mine feasibility. So, I understand it. He was a metallurgical engineer …  I use his education and his background to answer some questions that I may have, too, as far as the sulfide and practicality of the mining. I believe it could be done safely and in an environmentally conscious way.

“I would never say I would weaken any (copper nickel mining) standards. I think that if they’ve proven to be adequate and effective for what we have in place now, the answer is already there. If the (environmental impact statement) requirement by a governmental body is showing that (the current regulations are) effective, I think that is what should be acceptable.”

 

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1 comment on this item

I read the JCI/Bob Larson Public Relations newsletter (aka Cook News-Herald) and noticed that the public relations consultant Gary Albertson did not even mention Christina Hujanen's name in his column. Just referred to her as someone from Tower. Now there's award winning news reporting for you.

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