Local Elections 2020

Women in Office, Part 2: General Election Candidates
By Brittney Marschall

Women have tackled milestones in politics, from the first women’s rights convention in 1848 to Minnie Buckingham Harper, the first Black woman in the state legislature in 1928 to Nancy Pelosi, who in 2007 became the first woman to serve as Speaker of the House. And now the Democratic nominee for vice president is Kamala Harris, the first Black and Asian American woman to be in the race.

In Minnesota, women serve in various positions across the state. In fact, 2018 was called the “Year of the Woman” with many historic firsts. Maria Regan Gonzalez became the first Latina Mayor in Minnesota; Peggy Flanagan became the first indigenous woman to hold office as Lieutenant Governor, and Angie Craig became the first LGBTQ member of Congress to represent Minnesota.

More gains need to be made to see truly diverse representation at all levels of government, but the good news is that in this 2020 election, we have numerous women candidates running at the city and county level.


Barbara Jordan, officer with the Rochester branch of NAACP, says she is thrilled to see the increased number of women running. 

“The time is right,” says Jordan. “I think that our communities and our country cannot deny that women have more than demonstrated their competence and power as elected leaders. Additionally, I think recent incidents have demonstrated the strength of women leaders as women serving on city councils, county boards and school boards, and as mayors, governors, state and federal legislators. They have been at the forefront of responding to and leading during the COVID-19 pandemic and on policing reform matters. I am encouraged and hopeful for Rochester and the nation.”


In our August issue, we ran a feature on women running for Rochester city and county offices who were facing an August primary. Of those candidates, Brooke Carlson and Kathleen Harrington will move on to the general election for City Council Member-at-Large, Kelly Rae Kirkpatrick and Katrina Pulham will appear on the ballot for Rochester City Council, Ward 4, Molly Dennis will move on for Rochester City Council, Ward 6, and Regina Mustafa will move on for Olmsted County Board, District 5.

In this issue, we feature the other women who will be on the ballot for local offices in November. For further research, a full list of candidates can be found on the Minnesota Secretary of State website at candidates.sos.state.mn.us. 

Olmsted County Board, District 1

Stephanie Podulke
Why are you running? Almost every job in my long working career prepared me to make policy at the county level. I have seen enough courage, love, pain, disappointment, despair and resilience to understand our community and what is important. I have always believed in the possibilities of human potential and social change and trust that my decisions in the past 10 years as county commissioner have helped make Olmsted County a better place to live. The seven board members and our dedicated staff lead, encourage, innovate and support all members of our community to lead lives of dignity and respect.
What are you hoping to achieve? Our county initiated several innovative social services programs just before COVID-19 hit us. I want to stay on the board to get those programs back on track after the crisis is over. By making difficult decisions on spending ever diminishing funds, we can maximize equity in health care, housing, employment and education while providing even more services. The board needs experienced commissioners working on these challenging decisions.

Rochester School Board, Position 3

Deborah Seelinger
Why are you running? I am seeking a third term on the Rochester School Board because I believe that my skills, experience and perspective are important. The global pandemic and increased awareness of racial, health and economic inequities land on the doorsteps our school buildings and need to be addressed with compassion and systems thinking.
What are you hoping to achieve? I am looking forward to working with my colleagues on reviewing and designing our policies with an equity lens. We have worked hard over the last year to put systems and protocols in place to strengthen our board work and make it more efficient. I would like to see the board have a stronger role in advocacy and continue to hone our skills in engaging our stakeholders.
Facebook: Deborah Seelinger for School Board

Karen MacLaughlin
Why are you running? I am running for Rochester School Board because I will bring a fresh perspective to board decisions. This pandemic is impacting families, teachers, staff and our community. The district faces tough issues requiring thoughtful and creative solutions, broad community input, collaboration, and clear communication. I’ll listen, do my homework and ask tough questions.
What are you hoping to achieve? Our growing community means changing facility and community needs. The district creates a welcoming environment, but there is still work to do related to education equity, opportunity gaps and discipline disparities. I served as an attorney in the local juvenile court system for 15 years and will bring a different perspective to these important and difficult issues. I believe it is important for the district to engage students and families and acknowledge their current realities. Students deserve engaging learning environments where the lives and circumstances of all students are reflected in the curriculum and classroom conversations.

Rochester School Board, Position 7 

Jessica Garcia
Why are you running? I have worked so long at the confinement end of the school-to-prison pipeline. I realized at some point, perhaps I’m working at the wrong end. So many of my patients could have used help much earlier in life. I was also one of those kids who could have been headed for confinement or incarceration just given my history. I was fortunate enough to have school be my safe haven. I want to ensure that is possible for others.
What are you hoping to achieve? I am hoping to leave the district better than I found it—more culturally competent and secure in its multicultural climate. I want to make sure policies and budgets we create are equitable across the board.