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Editorial: Thank our elected officials

Having given of their time and talents, several area elected officials will leave public office come Jan. 1. There is no better time than Christmas to give them the simple gift of thanks.

Federal

U.S. Rep. John Kline nearly didn't run in 2002 after challenging Bill Luther twice. Fortunately for Minnesota's new 2nd Congressional District that involved shifting Red Wing out of the 1st District, Kline tried one more time and won.

The 25-year career Marine, who had carried the President Ronald Reagan's nuclear "football," took his steady, dependable, even-keeled temperament back to Washington, D.C. There he raised a thoughtful voice for conservative issues and advocated for his constituency.

You didn't find him grandstanding. When legislation failed, he tried again. When it passed, he gave a nod of approval and moved on to the next challenge.

When considering Kline's legacy, Beyond the Yellow Ribbon immediately comes to mind. An example of his work to help veterans and their families, the program transformed symbolic support into meaningful programs.

Kline played a major role resolving two of Goodhue County's deadly intersections — the first Highway 61 at Frontenac Station and then Highway 52/County Road 9. He worked with two state DFL lawmakers to pull the funding together.

He also paid close attention to the nuclear waste storage problem.

As the Republican chairman of the House Education Committee, Kline ranks among the top 10 most powerful people in the House. He wielded that influence — as opposed to that power — as he helped revamp No Child Left Behind.

While it's impossible to summarize this lawmaker's 14-year tenure, his successes outweigh his disappointments. Suffice to say, Kline departs at the top of his political game.

State

Fiscally conservative, Tim Kelly leans left on social issues. He fits Minnesota House District 21A unbelievably well.

Kelly always represented his constituents. That meant not towing the party line — a stance that perhaps hurt his leadership opportunities within the hard-line GOP caucus members but endeared him to voters. He also gained the respect of most government professionals, Democrats and Republicans alike.

Goodhue County residents can thank him that the former Bench Street dump is now part of the state's Closed Landfill Program, mitigating local risk if costly cleanup becomes necessary. If he weren't respected on both sides of the aisle, Iron Range lawmakers wouldn't have provided the necessary votes.

The Red Wing Republican steps away from public office after eight years in the House after successfully serving on the School Board. While it's a shame the House Transportation Committee chair's long-term bill died in the final hours of his last session, it's fitting that this year at last saw construction begin on his signature legislation that created St. Crispin Living Community here in Red Wing.

District 21 also bids farewell to Matt Schmit. Although the Red Wing Democrat served just one four-year term, he has a big piece of legislation to his credit: rural broadband. He took the knowledge gained in school and his private consultancy business and parlayed it into legislation that has the potential to help every rural Minnesota community compete.

Schmit is 36 years old. His loss caught many people by surprise. We'll be surprised if he steps away from the public-policy life after a single setback.

County

Ted Seifert's mantra from Day 1 was straight forward: Watch the taxpayers' dollars. The Red Wing man helped rein in double-digit budget and levy increases when he came on the Goodhue County Board 14 years ago.

District 1 residents decided this fall they're ready for change, which in no way takes away from Seifert's accomplishments. Two come to mind involving health care. He was a driving force in privatizing the county's mental health services so today more people are being seen and seen more quickly than before. He also was instrumental in negotiating Goodhue County's stake in the South Country Health Alliance, a cutting-edge multi-county organization that reduced the county's Medical Assistance bill while maintaining services.

Dan Rechtzigel, District 3, was the counter to Seifert's conservative voice every step of the way. Rechtzigel never hesitated to endorse an expenditure — provided the department heads could convince him of the wisdom in using those dollars. A gentleman in the debate, Rechtzigel also could launch the occasional zinger to make his point known.

He also wouldn't relent when he found a cause, project or proposal worthwhile. That didn't change once he decided not to seek re-election. His voice on such rural issues as high speed rail, wind, solar and mining issues will be missed.

City

Red Wing loses three civic leaders come Jan. 1.

Mayor Dan Bender is leaving for a second time. He called it quits on the City Council several years ago and ever-so-briefly enjoyed retirement from political life. Then the mayoral office unexpectedly opened, and he gladly became the city's ambassador. As titular head, he exuded the warmth and style that makes Red Wing a great place to call home. He also appointed some good people to boards and commissions.

Now he and wife Dee have agreed (really) to find time for their other endeavors — Habitat for Humanity, church, family and a host of volunteer opportunities.

Lisa Bayley stepped down from the City Council in hopes of representing the community at the Minnesota Capitol. That didn't happen, but she clearly contributed to the election debate just as she has to numerous council discussions.

The reopening of Mississippi National Golf Links is among her self-described accomplishments. We agree. Negotiating a new lease with a new group has brought new life to the course, the clubhouse and Red Wing's draw as a golfing destination.

Bayley also was a leader in the Highway 61 reconstruction. In addition to official support, she served on the Main Event, the committee that helped so many local businesses survive two years of upheaval.

Methodical and disciplined, Ralph Rauterkus honed his skills at the Red Wing Planning Commission, including a term as chair, before winning a City Council seat. He had an agenda and a plan. His fingerprints are on the city's revised Comprehensive Plan and Harbor Master Plan, which will guide the community's growth for years to come.

He didn't seek controversy but didn't shy away from it. He fought for historic preservation. He acquitted himself well during the frac sand mine fight that proved to be an uncomfortable time for all.

His and Bayley's skills complemented the other's. Rauterkus was the City Council master of detail. Bayley so often provided the summary or concluding statement before the vote.

The departure of these two individuals — each of whom served a two-year term as council president — is an argument for rotating the top leadership spot just as the Goodhue County Board does. Limit everyone to two years as president, then someone else gets a turn. In this way, no one council member can control the agenda and no single city ward has a lock on power.

School Board

School Board, that often thankless job that so few people have wanted in recent years, says goodbye to Mark Ryan. Ironically, the champion of the underrepresented student lost the first contested election in years as the district emerges from the shadow of inequity.

"Mark has been instrumental in reaching out to students and families in our district to make the district more inclusive and welcoming," is how Live Healthy Red Wing Director Michelle Leise put it at Ryan's final meeting Monday night.

The good news is that Ryan, a retired educator, promises to keep putting his passion and knowledge to work for fellow residents. He joins the Red Wing Human Rights Commission next month.

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