About Me

Twenty years ago I asked a Tarot card reader what would I be doing when I was 50. She replied, “I see you doing something so wildly creative, it defies a job title.” Only recently did I realize that was a slick way of saying, “I have no idea of what you’ll be doing.” But that prediction kept me charging ahead to the fifties with zeal and anticipation. Now that the future is today, I’m ready for anything!

An “Attaboy, Girl” for the Pine County Auditor

There hasn’t always been love between the northern and southern halves of Pine County. The northern half is less affluent and considered by some to be unsavory. The county seat of Pine City is in the southern half of the county. There was a contentious election in 2000 to officially divide the county in two, a motion that failed. More recently there was a battle over where to build the new courthouse: keep it in Pine City, or build it further north in Hinckley, geographically closer to the center of the county. The courthouse was built in northern Pine City.

Even within the northern half of Pine County, communities are balkanized by school districts, newspaper coverage, and plain old geography. So it’s challenging to get everyone on the same page. But north and south unite to close ranks around our own when attacked by someone from the outside.

As first reported by the Star Tribune, Pine County was one of two counties named in a lawsuit by the Republican Party of Minnesota and the Tom Emmer for Governor campaign. Their charges: “unacceptable foot dragging” in responding to data practice requests. The story has also appeared in the Duluth News Tribune and MinnPost, and  snarked on in blogs.

According to those news sources the atmosphere is "calming down," in the words of Republican attorney Tony Trimble. Pine County Auditor Cathy Clemmer's words were pitch-perfect Minnesota understatement, "I don't think they handled it as well as they could have. It would have been much simpler to pick up the phone and say, 'Gee whiz, we haven't heard from you. Did you get our e-mail?' Instead of going directly to a lawsuit."

What struck me about the threatened lawsuit was the economic inequity of it. The suit on behalf of the Minnesota Republican Party and the Emmer for Governor campaign was filed in Hennepin County. Tom Emmer is from Wright County. The counties named in the suit were St. Louis County and Pine County. According to Wikipedia, the median household incomes for each county are as follows:

Hennepin County   $51,711
Wright County       $53,945
St. Louis County    $36,306
Pine County           $37,379

I point this out to show that not all counties have the resources to respond immediately. Expecting counties to ask “How high?” when wealthier counties tell them to jump is unrealistic, and to my way of thinking, a form of municipal bullying. (Power imbalance is a key component of bullying as defined by Dan Olweus, an internationally renowned researcher on the subject of bullying prevention.)

My first experience with Pine County election officials was during the U.S. Senate recount in 2008. Many smaller communities in northern Pine County vote by mail-in ballot (which is different from absentee) to save money. I was afraid my husband Mike’s ballot was one of the contested ballots in the Franken-Coleman recount. As the witness, I had signed on the wrong line on the outer envelope. After months of fretting I called the Pine County Courthouse and spoke with a woman named Terri. She looked up the information quickly and let us know that Mike’s vote was indeed counted. Failing to sign would have discounted the vote, she explained. Signing on the wrong line did not. I was amazed at how cheerful she was, considering she had probably fielded calls from numerous anxious voters.

I spoke briefly with Terri last week. She declined to speak about the lawsuit and explained she was on deadline, making copies of the materials requested in the suit. "Can you hear me?," she asked, cheerful as ever, referring to the background beeps. “I’m scanning as we speak.”

Too far north to be metro and too far south to be Iron Range, Pine County doesn’t make statewide news unless it’s bad news: vacation cabins torched, bears poached, lawsuits threatened. It took a government employee to put us in the headlines for a good reason. Despite our history of secessionistic threats and long-standing resentments, northern and southern Pine County residents unite behind County Auditor Cathy Clemmer with a big “Attaboy, Girl.”

These opinions are mine and do not represent The UpTake, for whom I am a contributing writer.

Related Posts:
Government Employees Deserve Love, Too
The Few. The Proud. The Transcribers.


  1. Good post Susan! I like your "Too far north to be metro and too far south to be Iron Range" description. We still do in-person voting here in Fleming Township, at the Lutheran church in Bruno, and I can't imagine corruption happening when the judge:voter ratio at any given time on Election Day is 3:1. Perhaps the Emmer campaign just didn't understand small town integrity.

  2. Thanks Deb! I'm envious that you still get to vote in person. I want to write about exactly how much is saved by mail-in voting. And I discovered that mail-in votes can't be tracked by the absentee voter tracker. (URL here: https://mnvotes.sos.state.mn.us/AbsenteeBallotStatus.aspx)
    Good luck with your dress rehearsal. I hope to make it to your performance! http://whitepines.blogspot.com/2010/11/winter-is-here.html

  3. That's my mom!!! I am so proud of you Cathy Clemmer!!


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