St. Louis County is the largest county in Minnesota and covers an area of over 6,000 square miles. Running along the coast of Lake Superior, the county reaches all the way up to Canada. County commissioners are in charge of this vast area of land. The current 2nd District County Commissioner is Steve O’Neil, and his opponent in this year's election is Becky Hall. Both candidates are stressing the importance of benefiting college students in the area.
“I want to make sure the city and county do the best job they can to have housing up to the code and make sure college students can rent a decent place to live,” O’Neil said. “I have been an advocate for affordable housing for the past 25 years.”
Hall said that there is a need for leaders who support the creation of jobs in the area.
“I want leaders on these boards that will work hard to support businesses," Hall said. "College students are our future, and they won’t stay here if we don’t have jobs for them."
The candidates for this year's spot may have different political views, but both are running under the non-partisan party, which is common in county and city politics.
O’Neil has been a county commissioner for two terms in the 2nd District. During that time, he created a 10-year plan for homelessness in 2006 and has made great leaps in the community with the help of other supporters of the plan.
“We are working to provide housing for homeless people as well as prevent people from going homeless,” O’Neil said. “Two years ago, we developed the Duluth Veterans' Place in West Duluth, which has transitional as well as permanent housing.”
The Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans is still working on this plan to provide housing for chronically homeless families who are primarily struggling with chemical, mental and domestic abuse. They are currently raising money and plan to start building next year.
O’Neil has a few different plans if he is elected for another term. The county government is not well-known, and he would like to change that, he said.
“A lot of people are not aware of what the county government does,” O’Neil said. “I would like to stream all our meetings live so people are aware of what we are doing, and they can participate more in their local government.”
O'Neil said he knows that college is expensive because his two children went to college. He is an advocate for students getting lower loan interest rates and is working with Minnesota Legislature on this issue.
O’Neil has plans for the next four years, but so does his opponent Hall.
Hall was a community development representative with the Minnesota Department of Trade and Economic Development and believes that her experience will help her as a county commissioner.
“I traveled around Minnesota, working with communities to support businesses,” Hall said. “I have seen what it takes to make a community thrive.”
Hall decided to run for the position of county commission because she wanted to create more jobs in the Northland. She said that the Iron Range is full of natural resources that can be mined as long as mining companies are up to the code.
A resolution, which stated that mining companies would be able to mine the natural resources if they passed the safety regulations, did not pass last December.
“Mining is a third of our region's GDP,” Hall said. “Mr. O’Neil voted no for the resolution, stating that he didn't think the technology was there. This scares me because the resolution stated that they wouldn't mine until the necessary safety and technology was there."
Hall said that St. Louis County needs to support development, and the average mining job pays about $100,000 a year with benefits.
Mining might be Hall's biggest concern, but she is also interested in the creation of jobs in the Northland. Hall is worried about unemployment for college students. One of her five children is currently a college student, and she would love for them to stay in the Northland but knows that it might not be an option.
Although both candidates have different positions about the issues in the Northland, the race between them for the county commissioner spot is very tight.