Meet the Grandstrands
It's been two weeks since Tyrone and Becca Grandstrand bought their new house just off North Washington Street, but it still looks like they're in the middle of a move with the dinette still empty and new furniture lying haphazardly in the living...
It's been two weeks since Tyrone and Becca Grandstrand bought their new house just off North Washington Street, but it still looks like they're in the middle of a move with the dinette still empty and new furniture lying haphazardly in the living room.
Grand Forks' newest and youngest power couple has been a little busy, what with Tyrone running for a seat on the City Council and Becca running for a spot on the School Board.
They won their races handily on Tuesday, which means they'll both have a direct say in two local governmental bodies that command a total of 62 percent of the property taxes in Grand Forks.
But there wasn't much time for celebrating the successful campaigns to their first publicly elected offices.
"We moved for three hours last night," Tyrone said Wednesday.
Becca said it's "kind of been a process," but Tyrone is confident in the skills of his "queen of organization."
"Come back to our house in maybe a week and you'll see everything perfect," he said.
Dinner table conversations are going to be a little different for the couple who will celebrate their one-year anniversary in August. They predicted their discussions will be as much about public policy as about more prosaic matters, like that new Pembroke Welsh corgi puppy they just brought home.
Just how much will Tyrone talk about his work on the council?
"As much as she'll let me," he said with a sheepish grin.
"Ty loves it," Becca chipped in. "I will enjoy talking about what's going on and how it affects both of us, and we can kind of bounce ideas off of each other."
What's unusual about the couple isn't just that both husband and wife will hold public office, but that they're both younger than 25, that final threshold of adulthood when a person begins to be trusted by auto rental companies.
And it shows in some of the issues they focused on when they campaigned, including the retention of young people in Grand Forks after they graduate from college. Becca said she's watched one friend from UND move to Oregon and another prepare for a move to the Twin Cities.
"It's hard when you see your friends move away, and they're looking for opportunities elsewhere when we're making our home here," she said.
Tyrone said it's an issue that affects the whole community in many ways, not just the economic impact that the loss of residents and young professionals has on Grand Forks.
"It affects what's going on in the town, how vibrant it is," he said. "But it also affects the schools because if we
didn't stay here, our kids wouldn't go to the schools here and those numbers would keep dropping."
Grand Forks' student numbers have dropped by 28 percent since the 1993-94 school year, and the state Department of Public Instruction projects another 16.7 percent drop in enrollment by 2014.
Deciding to run
This isn't the first rodeo for either of the Grandstrands. Becca served on UND's Student Senate and Tyrone was student body president for two years, though their terms didn't overlap.
After both decided to stay in Grand Forks after graduation -- Becca's now pursuing a master's degree in educational leadership and Tyrone is headed for his last year as an undergrad -- they began looking on the list of open public offices to run for.
Tyrone said the City Council seemed to be a good fit for him, but he needed to make sure that plan would work for Becca.
"I guess I kind of asked if that was OK," he said, glancing at his wife.
Becca approved, "and so we went for it."
Becca heard about five School Board positions up for election this year and thought that would be a good fit with her educational interests. But she also has a personal stake in making sure Grand Forks' schools keep doing well.
"I want to continue that and get our schools to an even better place so when we do have kids, we'll kind of know we've helped to make the schools what they are," Becca said.
They see their roles in city government as opening the door to collaboration, something that can help the board and council work more closely together on issues such as taxation and retaining young people.
"We're a city; we shouldn't be disjointed," Becca said. "We should all be working toward something similar."
Tyrone said Ward 2 includes Wilder and West elementary schools, both of which were recently recommended for closure in a consultant's report to the School Board.
But conflicts could arise because Becca will represent everyone in the city, while Tyrone represents the people of his ward.
"So, we might disagree just because we have to more or less," he said.
Tyrone said he and Becca look to UND President Robert Kelley and his wife, Marcia, as an example of a couple who have lived their life in the limelight.
Becca added that she grew up in the small town of Warroad, Minn., where everybody knows your business anyway.
"As long as I've known Ty, he's always wanted to make things better," said state Sen. Mac Schneider, D-Grand Forks, who endorsed the Grandstrands during the campaign.
He recalled the first time he met Tyrone about 2½ years ago when Tyrone told him about how, as a new student, he found out the bowls in the cafeteria cost $8 a piece and thought they could be had for $4.
"He pursued it and pursued it until ultimately he got involved in student government," Schneider said.
But there's a difference between running for student government and running for local office, where their youth made them stand out -- but not necessarily the way residents might think, given the sometimes dark mutterings about UND students and their wild ways.
Tyrone's ward has seen its fair share because of the conflict between student renters and homeowners. At the behest of homeowners, the city down-zoned the area so a single-family home could only be used as one living unit instead of two, as some landlords had done using basements.
During the campaign, Tyrone's opponent, Tim Behm, suggested the city help increase homeownership there to decrease the number of renters.
But Tyrone, 24, said he got a relatively favorable response while campaigning and some people were even excited to see someone young run.
One middle-aged man, he said, ran out to sign his petition. Tyrone recalled the man saying, "Are you under 40? Great!"
"Aren't you a little young?" Becca, 23, said she was asked many times. Then, "Are you married?"
Nevertheless, voters put their confidence in the young couple.
Tyrone won 55.2 percent of the vote, beating Behm in all four precincts in the ward, though his victory margin was narrow in three precincts -- between 50.4 percent and 52.6 percent. In the precinct closest to UND, he won 76.3 percent of the vote.
Becca won 12.5 percent of the vote, the third-most of the nine candidates competing for five spots on the School Board. She was anywhere from first to third in two-thirds of the school district's precincts, and the strongest support was from precincts closest to UND.
Schneider, who ran for the state senate when he was 29, said the city is actually very welcoming to young candidates.
He cited other politicians who got their start here when they were younger, including Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and former Insurance Commissioner Jim Poolman.
"Voters here will give you a chance regardless of your age," he said.
Asked if he thought their victories might embolden more young people in Grand Forks to run, Tyrone said it'll take more than that.
"I think if they realize they can make a difference, they would be more involved," he said. "So, hopefully we're examples of that."
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