WILLMAR -- By 7 a.m. Thursday, Harlan Madsen had already milked 100 cows and was in Willmar for a meeting. That came on top of harvesting until midnight. The third-generation farmer typically puts in 18- to 20-hour days that include as many as 10 county meetings each week.
He said genetics, a strong work ethic and a "calling" to serve people compels him to put in the long days. He said it's a vital ability to have as a county commissioner, especially with the unprecedented challenges looming ahead for county governments.
"These are exciting times and I have energy, the excitement and commitment to do the job," he said.
First elected to the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners in 1995, Madsen, of Lake Lillian, is seeking re-election from District 5, which 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.
Madsen is being challenged by John Cunningham, of Atwater.
Madsen said he feels "driven" to meet people's needs, to look for solutions and to "be an advocate" for people.
"This is one of the gifts and challenges I've been given and I want to use that in service to a community, to the county," he said.
Besides local engagement, Madsen has been appointed to several statewide groups that studied broad issues, like options for streamlining government and water drainage issues.
"I like being able to work with people to create solutions that result in good policy decisions," he said.
Responding to the question of what Kandiyohi County is doing well, Madsen said, "Adjusting to the changing landscape of our society and being innovative with the programs."
Despite the challenging economy, Madsen said the county is still putting public safety first by looking out for people who need mental health care or child protection, and the county continues to maintain a high level of law enforcement and upkeep of roads and bridges.
When asked to identify something the county could be doing better, Madsen said he would like to see more emphasis on the county sharing information and discussing public policy with other entities, like civic groups, faith communities and schools.
In response to a question on how to streamline county government, Madsen said it will require the state to be a "willing partner" to remove mandates and implement flexibility.
Doing so would allow counties to create commonsense partnerships within their own county and across county lines without cumbersome roadblocks that currently discourage cost-saving options, Madsen said.
He said, for example, requiring counties to establish complicated joint powers agreements in order to share services needs to be relaxed so that efficiencies can be implemented quickly and easily.
"We need the state to be able to not tie the hands of local elected officials," Madsen said.
If he's re-elected, Madsen said his priorities would be reducing unfunded mandates, improving broadband Internet service in rural areas to allow distance learning and government efficiencies and addressing the changing demographics that includes an aging population and decreasing work force.
When asked why people should vote for him instead of his opponent, Madsen said, "I bring the most experience. I bring an incredible knowledge base. I hit the ground running and I'm still running with it."
He said now is a crucial time in history to have "stability and consistency" and that his knowledge, relationships and experience will help redesign how the county operates.
"I don't have to learn that from ground zero," he said.