Marisa Agha, Pioneer Press
March 25, 2003

Roseville is considering whether to break with 30 years of tradition by eliminating its city primary.

Although some argue that dropping primaries would save candidates and taxpayers money and mean fewer campaign signs, primary supporters contend that the election precursor ensures that the winner is chosen by a majority of voters and allows for more informed decisions.

Citizens have packed the City Council's chambers in recent weeks to debate the pros and cons of the move. In an unusual move, the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce, which also represents Roseville, announced it opposed the primary's abolition.

Like last year's debate over whether to switch from odd- to even-year elections, the issue prompts heated discussion in this suburban political hotbed, where the seats of longtime Council Member Dean Maschka and controversial Mayor John Kysylyczyn, who often clash, are up for election this fall. Neither has announced whether he plans to run again.

In an e-mail response to questions, Kysylyczyn, who raised the primary issue in January, said that he does not yet have a position on the matter. He said he still has to research many materials, including conflicting information about the history and cost of the primary in Roseville.

"I plan on making an educated and informed decision on the issue, rather than a hasty off-the-cuff decision," Kysylyczyn said in the e-mail.

Primaries, which began in U.S. elections about 1900, serve to reduce the field of candidates and enhance the voter's role in choosing elected officials, said Steven Schier, professor of political science at Carleton College in Northfield.

"Primaries were originally designed to open up the political process," Schier said.

One danger in eliminating the primary is that elected officials can win with a much smaller percentage of the vote, Schier said.

"The risk is (that) you end up electing people to City Council who have the support of less than half of the people who vote," Schier said. "That can create legitimacy problems for the council."

Roseville officials believe that the city began holding a municipal primary in 1973. Since then, primaries have typically whittled each race down to two candidates. The top vote-getters move on to the November general election. In the 2001 election, the primary narrowed a pool of 14 candidates to six, who vied for three council seats.

Resident Bruce Kennedy, an attorney and self-described Roseville political outsider, said he wants to keep the primary.

"It's only by reducing the candidates down to two that you can really discover the candidate who is supported by the majority of people," Kennedy said.

As with many divisive issues in Roseville, the decision likely lies with Council Member Tom Kough, typically the council's swing vote. Though initially undecided, Kough said he now plans to vote in favor of keeping the city's primary.

"If they want it, I'm their representative -- I'm going to give it to them," Kough said. "I represent the people of Roseville and the majority told me they want it."

The St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce, at the urging of its members, voiced opposition to eliminating the primary at a recent council meeting, said Sandra Westerman, the chamber's vice president of public affairs.

"There is nothing really broken here," Westerman said. "It has been a system that has worked in the past."

If Roseville chooses to eliminate the September primary, the City Council must do so with an ordinance by June to alter this year's election.

The issue is expected to come up for discussion at the March 31 council meeting.

Marisa Agha can be reached at magha@pioneerpress.com or (651) 228-2109.

2003 St. Paul Pioneer Press and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.