WILLMAR -- As the middle child in a farm family of 13 kids, John Cunningham said he knows how to be a mediator.
With 15 years under his belt as a member of the Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City School Board, and as a full-time farmer who still finds time to coach school sports and play basketball three mornings a week for fun, Cunningham said he has a powerful work ethic and desire to produce "quality work."
He said he wants to bring that experience and work ethic to the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners.
Cunningham, of Atwater, is challenging Commissioner Harlan Madsen, of Lake Lillian, for the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioner's seat from District 5.
The district includes the cities of Kandiyohi, Atwater, Lake Lillian, Blomkest and the southern townships of East Lake Lillian, Lake Elizabeth, Fahlun, Gennesse, Edwards, Lake Lillian, Roseland, Holland, Whitefield, Harrison and Kandiyohi.
Until February of 2009, Cunningham milked cows on the family farm. Having sold the cows and focusing now just on growing corn and soybeans, Cunningham gives a good-natured laugh when recalling grain farmers complaining about their "tough work." Compared to milking cows, grain farming is a cinch, he said.
With a much easier work schedule, Cunningham said he has the time now to dedicate to serving on the County Board.
His background on the farm and experience with the ACGC School Board -- which he has helped guide through challenging times that included construction of a new high school, statutory operating debt and moving to a four-day school week -- "has given me the work ethic" needed to be a commissioner, he said.
While the county's budget is considerably more than the school district's, Cunningham said he would use many of the same skills as a school board member and a county commissioner -- being "accessible to the public" and finding answers to questions so that people can have "factual information."
While acknowledging he would have things to learn as a new county commissioner, he would bring his school board experience to the table.
Cunningham said he would also bring a financial conservatism to the County Board. He said he doesn't believe in "throwing money" at a problem "just because it's there."
Because the state "isn't going to help us out here," Cunningham said the county needs to be financially prudent.
When asked what Kandiyohi County is successful at, Cunningham said the county puts a lot of time into its county assistance program and is "trying to always take care of everybody."
The county does that very well, he said. "Almost to excess," he added.
He expressed concern that some road projects, like a proposal to move County Road 9 near Eagle Lake, was being pursued when residents may not want it. Cunningham said there are other roads in the county that need to be widened and tarred for safety and commerce.
When it comes to streamlining government, he said all the great ideas in the world won't do any good if state rules prevent it from happening. He said governments need to stop protecting their "little nest eggs" and share and cooperate with each other.
If elected, Cunningham said his top three issues would be to listen, be accessible to the people and make good decisions based on sound information.
When asked why people should vote for him instead of his opponent, Cunningham said he had "nothing bad to say" about Madsen, who he credited for working hard.
But he said "everybody's talking change," and after 16 years with the same commissioner, he believes the time has come for change in District 5.
"We need a new way of looking at things," said Cunningham.