As a social studies teacher at Cloquet High School, elections are a common topic of conversation in Chris Swanson's classroom.
After years of highlighting the importance of voter participation and the need for community involvement in local government, Swanson threw his hat into the ring to become Ward 3’s next representative on the Cloquet City Council.
Swanson said he pondered running and joked with his class about it, but the thoughts became more serious when then-Ward 3 Councilor Dakota Koski resigned.
Koski was elected in November 2018, but was forced to resign when he purchased a home outside Ward 3 last year.
Swanson called Koski to learn a little bit more about the position, the time commitments a city council seat required and decided to apply for an appointment.
“It thought, 'Why not me? Why not now?'” Swanson said.
The City Council selected Swanson to fill Koski’s seat in July and he received the most votes of three candidates on the ballot in a Nov. 5 primary.
Swanson joined the council after several years of strife and conflict — particularly around the Cloquet Police Department. He said he’s worked to keep things light and friendly in his first few months representing Ward 3, particularly when there is disagreement on the council.
“I’ve been on the losing side of a few votes, but it’s not the end of the world,” Swanson said. “I’m not bitter, it was the will of the council.”
Swanson believes the city has been "smart” with taxpayer money over the past couple of years, with a slight decrease in taxes in 2019 and a small tax increase for 2020. He was happy with the work Assistant City Administrator James Barclay and Public Works Director Caleb Peterson did working on the budget for 2020 and working to make projects — like the ongoing expansion of the Cloquet Public Library— work within the city’s means.
“Good governance requires budgeting and living within that budget,” Swanson said.
Another focus for Swanson is continuing to improve Pine Valley Park and continuing to follow the city’s capital improvement plan to repair and maintain the roads and infrastructure around town.
“It’s not super exciting stuff, but it’s important,” Swanson said. “I believe in taking care of people and I want to keep doing that ... You only get one life, and I want to live it well, and serving the public is a way to do that.”
Swanson, 42, thinks it’s a good thing that he and Uriah Wilkinson — his opponent in the Feb. 11 special election — will be among the younger members of the City Council. Both bring a different perspective to the council and it’s a positive change for younger people to get involved in local government.
Wilkinson, 39, finished second to Swanson in the primary.
Where to vote
Early voting is underway for the Ward 3 special election from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday in the Carlton County Auditor’s Office on the second floor the Carlton County Courthouse, 301 Walnut Ave., Carlton. Additional early voting hours will be held Saturday, Feb. 8, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Monday, Feb. 10, until 5 p.m.
Voters may apply for an absentee ballot to vote by mail by going to mnvotes.org.
The election is Feb. 11 from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Cloquet City Hall, 101 14th Street.