Local Elections 2020

Women in Office,
Part 1: Primary Candidates
By Brittney Marschall

Despite generations of strides, barriers persist for female candidates and officeholders. According to the Association of Minnesota Counties, a mere 15% of county commissioners identify as women. Approximately 30% of those who hold city council seats are women, and women make up roughly 40% of school board members.
Nor does leadership on a federal level mirror the population it represents. In the U.S. Congress, about 20% are people of color, and 20% are female. While people of color are expected to represent a majority of the U.S. population by 2040, government representation has a long way to go to reflect this change.

Just as having a diverse workforce can lead to better results for a company, diverse representation within government will lead to better public policies that include all the voices within a community. Dee Sabol, executive director of the Diversity Council, says, “It’s important for people to realize that it is not just about representation and weaving population groups into greater participation. It’s also about diversifying perspectives, increasing the knowledge among elected officials of how society functions and how government serves.” 

Diverse representation brings new perspectives, skills, experiences and ideas to the table. Ultimately, it creates a more efficient, inclusive and innovative elective leadership. 

Local government plays a big role in decisions that are made that affect our everyday life—from education and health care to infrastructure and housing. A full list of candidates can be found on the Minnesota Secretary of State website at candidates.sos.state.mn.us. 

The following female candidates have a primary election for Rochester City Council and the Olmsted County Board of Commissioners. Female candidates for city, county and school board races without a primary will be featured in our next issue.

Rochester City Council, Council Member At-Large

Brooke Carlson
Why are you running? As a small business owner, a public health professional and a mother,
I share the worries and the heartache felt by so many in this community, and I support the critical need to both protect people and our economy. I am uniquely situated to help lead this community toward a promising future as we determine how to achieve our aspirations for growth and support the organizations and people who currently live and work here.
What are you hoping to achieve?
I am ready to support our community through bold, steady leadership. I will do that by staying grounded in my core values of engaging our community to support further diversification of our economy to create opportunities for all, invest in safe and welcoming neighborhoods and drive efficient and effective delivery of services to provide greater value for all residents.

Vangie Castro
Why are you running? After the atrocious killing of George Floyd, I felt compelled to act and do something for my community. I want to affect authentic and bold changes at a governmental level. I want to be part of safely leading our community back into life by addressing COVID-19 and racism head on, together.
What are you hoping to achieve?
I want to make sure that everyone has their basic needs met: food, clothing and shelter. I want to be part of the movement to create a more equitable and inclusive community. I identify as a person who has been pushed to the margins because I’m an immigrant, a person of color and queer. I think it’s important to have a voice like mine at the table.

Kathleen Harrington

Why are you running? I am running in the spirit of public service to help lead our city through these extraordinary times from the unprecedented recession to understanding the impact of systemic racism in our community. I have a record of strong proven leadership, an understanding of this community’s economy and have volunteered for a number of organizations that strengthen the fabric of our community. I bring experience working at and with all levels of government, building new programs, strengthening organizations and developing strong collaborative and innovative teams. 

What do you want to accomplish? I will work to promote a strong economic recovery for all, to ensure that Rochester is the most inclusive city we can be and to champion a high and sustainable quality of life for all residents of Rochester. I will work in partnership with the other City Council members and the Mayor to create a strategic agenda for our collective work, develop a new brand of outreach by the Council to the entire community and create a safe environment within the City Council which supports respectful and robust debate where the voices of all the people of Rochester are heard, respected and included in Council deliberations and decisions.


Rochester City Council, Ward 2

Denise Welte
Why are you running? My past organizational and collaborative experience will be an asset to help me voice and meet the needs of my constituents. My zeal to assist those in need of a voice will provide me with the experience needed to be successful in this role.
What are you hoping to achieve? My goal is to be a strong voice for those who do not feel they have been adequately represented. I vow to reach out to all on the issues which impact them directly. 


Rochester City Council, Ward 4

Kelly Rae Kirkpatrick
Why are you running? I care deeply for my hometown. As a community leader, I advocate creating thriving neighborhoods and resources for everyone in them.
What are you hoping to achieve? I will work tirelessly to help make Ward 4 a thriving section of our growing city. Long neglected and seen as the ugly stepchild of Rochester, the southeast side is in for some big changes as Rochester increases its population significantly. With my constituents, we can bring sustainable projects forward to support equitable housing, fresh-food access, thoughtful and effective infrastructure and river cleanup. 


Katrina Pulham
Why are you running? I want to help create and develop innovative ideas that will not only help us today, but help leave our children with a better Rochester. As we look ahead, we need someone with fresh ideas, an open mind, a willingness to listen to our communities needs and ideas and a strong desire to succeed. I hope I can earn your trust and be that person!
What are you hoping to achieve? I hope to be a voice for the small business community and help create innovative ways to offer support and aid through this difficult time. I hope to change the way we look at our homeless populations and offer better solutions to help with the serious mental health issues in our community. I hope to look at ways to help improve our spending and offer programs and incentives to help create a first-time home buyer program and programs to help make affordable housing a reality.

Rochester City Council, Ward 6 

Molly Dennis
Why are you running? The recent unveiling of systematic racism showcased inequalities accessing basic resources: health care, safety and livable wages. As an educator, I understand how trauma impacts mental health for generations. I’m running to support a multi-faceted approach that is vitally needed to reimagine and unify Rochester.
What are you hoping to achieve? There’s no simple fix. Our future demands that education, economic growth, mental health, transportation, infrastructure and environment be addressed together. I will use service leadership to collaborate across branches of government and include marginalized individuals within policy making. I am curious, have innovative ideas and am dedicated (City Council will be my only employment) to listen, empower diverse voices and research solutions.

Olmsted County Board, Ward 5

Regina Mustafa
Why are you running? As a mom, I want my children to be surrounded by elected officials who truly care about their well-being. I am running not only to unite our neighbors from Byron to Rochester, but also to bring our local governing bodies together to enjoin endeavors for the benefit of every resident.
What are you hoping to achieve? One of the main responsibilities of the County is to ensure efficient and equitable delivery of social and human services. If elected, I want to ensure the full integration of services so our families are not burdened beyond the everyday challenges we face. As a person with a visual disability, I want to ensure that funding is available for safe and efficient transportation and roadways throughout Olmsted County. And with every action I take as Commissioner, I want to ensure all decisions are being made through a multicultural lens to best serve the needs of all residents of our county.