By Lesley Toth
The Mille Lacs County Board of Commissioners will consist of three new members come January, and two incumbents.
One of those returning will be District 3 Commissioner Phil Peterson, who won the election against challenger Laurie Gahm by just 41 votes.
“I’m pleased that people have trusted me to be their commissioner,” Peterson said a few days after the results were tallied. “One thing that’s a little intimidating is that now I’m the senior member.”
The newfound role will more than likely involve having to give advice and guidance to the three incoming commissioners.
“I hope I’m up to the task,” he said. “I think it’ll be just fine. These are good people. I look forward to it. It’s always a challenge when you’re affecting people’s lives.”
He said the tight race was a little surprising, but not so much considering who he was up against.
“Laurie [Gahm] would have been good,” Peterson said. “She just ended up on the other side.”
He said he was happy someone stepped up to the plate to become involved in local government.
“There’s a lot of people who sit in the front row shouting,” he said. “That’s OK, that’s America.”
With the election over and the harvesting completed on the farm Peterson and his brother own and operate, he said the “glamour work” was over, now it’s time for the real work to begin.
“God is good,” he said.
For incumbent District 4 Commissioner Roger Tellinghuisen, a few aspects of the election were a bit surprising.
“I was very pleased with the turnout of voters,” he said. “I didn’t expect the margin to be as great as it was. Anybody can run for that job and anyone can win.”
He said two things were working in his favor in terms of retaining his seat – popularity and population. Tellinghuisen said he was also surprised at the replacement of three commissioners.
“That kind of took me for a loop,” he said.
He’s curious as to what the newcomers to the board have in mind as far as goals and agendas are concerned.
“New blood means new ideas and sometimes it works really well and sometimes it doesn’t,” he said. “I look forward to some positive changes.”
As one of only two returning board members, Tellinghuisen said he can offer a bit of advice to the fresh faces.
“Stay in good contact with your constituents,” he said. “That’s important. When they call, they want you to listen. If they have a problem – whether big or small – it’s important to them.”
One of those “new blood” commissioners will be the only female voice on the board. Genny Reynolds, who beat incumbent Jack Edmonds for District 1 by just 80 ballots.
“I am honored to represent the voters as a county commissioner,” Reynolds said. “Getting to know the department heads and any concerns they may have would be what I may look at first. I will also be researching what other counties are doing to resolve similar issues.”
Reynolds said she was surprised at beating incumbent Edmonds.
“We both worked really hard on our campaigns,” she said. “It was a close race.”
She credits her win to good old-fashioned, grass-roots campaigning.
“Going door to door and talking with the residents – I listened to their concerns and let them know I was committed to addressing the issues at the county level,” Reynolds said.
Edmonds saddened by the results
“I was very disappointed,” he said. “I was surprised. I campaigned very hard and I received a lot of positive feedback. I poured my heart and soul into that job. I thoroughly enjoyed it.”
He said, while his own loss was shocking, he was not surprised at Wilhelm’s win in District 2. Edmonds said he and Wilhelm are “lifelong friends.”
“He’s very popular in that district,” Edmonds said.
As for future possibilities in the public service realm, Edmonds said he doesn’t have any immediate plans.
“Not right now. I’m going to digest this and see what happens,” he said. “I’d never rule it out, I guess.”
Newly-elected Commissioner for District 5 David Oslin said he’s up to the task voters have intrusted him to undertake.
“I was pleased with the results,” he said. “I had kind of anticipated a larger turnout in my district, though. With three new commissioners and two seated commissioners, we’ll at least have some continuity there.”
Oslin said he plans on taking advantage of classes available to new county commissioners to better understand how government works at that level. He said his experience of the past year, serving on the Mille Lacs County Steering Commission, has also helped prepare him to serve on the board.
“That experience will definitely help,” he said.
Oslin credits his win to friends and family, who helped pass out flyers and talk with constituents. Current Commissioner Frank Courteau lent Oslin his support in the form of an endorsement as well.
“The working relationships and committee assignments – I look forward to those,” he said, adding that his past government positions in engineering and zoning are of particular interest. “And emergency services is kind of in my blood.”
In District 2, County Commissioner Dan Whitcomb will be leaving his seat to Timothy Wilhelm come January.
“You’re always surprised by the results, whether you win or lose,” Whitcomb said of his loss by just 221 votes.
“People were just voting for change, I guess,” he said. “I think Tim will do an excellent job and I wish him all the best.”
Whitcomb said he was impressed by the large voter turnout, as well as the number of challengers who sought a seat on the board.
“Public service is a thankless job. It’s gratifying when you can help people, but it’s kind of a relief when you’re out,” he said laughing. “It’s good to see so many people stepping up.”
As for his future in politics, Whitcomb said he isn’t eyeing anything at the moment and doesn’t have plans to run for election in the near future.
“Not right now, I don’t,” he said. “I’m just going to focus on the farm here.”
Laurie Gahm, Tim Wilhelm and Greg McQuay were unable to be reached for comment as of publication Tuesday.