With all the votes tallied from Tuesday’s election, three Winona County Board candidates stood triumphant.
Incumbents Marcia Ward and Marie Kovecsi will return to the Winona County board, where they will be joined by political newcomer Chris Meyer this winter.
Despite concerns about name recognition, Meyer bested challenger Paul Double, a former City Councilman by a ratio of 2 to 1 in Tuesday’s midterm election.
Meanwhile, voters in the 5th District, which stretches from the southeast corner of the county to Lewiston, Utica and Fremont to the west, handily re-elected Ward for a fifth term in office.
Unofficial tallies showed the county board chair with nearly 68 percent of the vote.
Voters told a similar story in the county’s 2nd District where Kovecsi held onto her seat on the board with 2,239 votes to challenger Mike Charron’s 1,665.
Meyer expressed a mix of enthusiasm, excitement and anxiety at the results of Tuesday’s election.
“I’m very excited. I’ve never been in elected office before,” she said, adding that she’s happy the campaign is over and she can now get down to business.
Ward said it was an honor to represent the people of District 5 and thanked them for once again placing their faith in her for a fifth term.
“When I started this, I never imagined doing this long,” she said. “I fight for the property taxpayers, I guess that resonates with them.”
Kovecsi said she was pleased to win a second term on the county board.
“I feel good,” she said. “I appreciate all the hard work everyone did.”
Now with the campaign behind them, the three have to turn their attention back to the issues facing the county, and this is no shortage of challenges.
In the next year alone, the county will grapple with big and potentially costly issues including a closing jail, a massive feedlot expansion, a massive deficit and rising foster care costs.
These are just a handful of issues that will define the county board’s agenda for years to come.
The question however remains: Will Ward and Kovecsi’s return to the board hold it steadfast on its course, or will Meyer, who has never held public office, change the board’s dynamic and set a new tone for years to come?
Meyer said she ran to continue her predecessor Jim Pomeroy’s tradition of fact-based decision making.
“I have watched Pomeroy bring people together,” she said, adding that it’s her hope to build bridges on the sometimes contentious board.
While Meyer admits she is new to public office she is no stranger to local governance. She has served on the planning commission, citizens’ environmental quality committee and parks and environment committees.
Despite some anxiety, Meyer says she’s ready and up to the challenge.
“As a person, I’m more of an introvert. ... The things about being a commissioner, really paying attention to the issues, that’s more my comfort zone,” she said.
In her first term, Meyer hopes to address the jail, which is scheduled to be shuttered in 2021, balance the budget, drive economic development in the region while keeping property taxes flat.
In addition to the jail, Ward has her sights set on addressing the number of children entering Winona’s foster system.
According to county administrator Ken Fritz, the foster system costs the county nearly $2 million a year and is responsible for a significant portion of the deficit.
Ward said the root of the issue comes down to the lack of funding for the state-mandated safety net.
Ward has called on the county to work with state legislators to increase funding, reduce inefficiencies and explore options to provide these protective services, without placing the burden on Winona’s taxpayers.
Kovecsi, who campaigned on a platform on informed decision making, now plans to continue supporting environmental protections, the criminal justice system, prevention programs and economic development.