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Houge poised to return as Crow Wing County commissioner

Headed into another term, Houge said he expects COVID-19 to remain a budgetary and public health challenge for the county for at least the next two years. He said he wants to see the county continue to support area businesses and nonprofits as much as it’s able to do so. But he noted there are other challenges for the county as well, including the need to boost fund balances and continue to make headway on social problems such as out-of-home placements of children and substance abuse.

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Doug Houge

Commissioner Doug Houge appears to have held on to retain his seat on the Crow Wing County Board.

Facing a challenger in first-time candidate Michael Starry and a write-in push from Deerwood Township resident Tom Nixon, Houge led with 49.87% of the vote late Tuesday night, Nov. 3. The results see-sawed a bit as more District 5 precincts reported. Starry led by about 60 votes at one point after leading in the city of Emily by a huge margin — 344 to 164 for Houge. But with the cities of Crosby and Ironton as well as Deerwood Township showing up big for Houge, the incumbent ended the night with a 533-vote margin. There were 550 write-in votes counted, although it was not yet available late Tuesday night how many were for Nixon.

District 5 covers the northeastern portion of the county, which includes the cities of Crosby, Cuyuna, Deerwood, Emily, Fifty Lakes, Ironton, Manhattan Beach, Riverton and Trommald.

“I’m not going to do too much celebrating … but I’m feeling pretty comfortable,” Houge said.

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Michael Starry

Houge, 57, grew up on the Cuyuna range after moving to the area in the second grade. He graduated from Crosby-Ironton High School and went on to study construction management at Alexandria Technical and Community College. He raised three children in the area and worked in the lumber industry for a number of years. From 2011 until earlier this year, he owned the Crosby Bar on Main Street in Crosby.

Houge served on the county’s planning commission for five years prior to becoming a commissioner. He was first elected to the county board in a special election following the death of John “Jinx” Ferrari while in office in 2007. This November’s election was the fifth in which Houge’s name was on the ballot for District 5.

Headed into another term, Houge said he expects COVID-19 to remain a budgetary and public health challenge for the county for at least the next two years. He said he wants to see the county continue to support area businesses and nonprofits as much as it’s able to do so. But he noted there are other challenges for the county as well, including the need to boost fund balances and continue to make headway on social problems such as out-of-home placements of children and substance abuse.

“I want to make sure that we’re focused on some of the out-of-home placements and the programs that we’ve implemented and I think we’re starting to see some results,” Houge said. “I think a lot of those programs we’re going to keep seeing some very positive results.”

Houge said despite some recent tension on the county board due to Commissioner Paul Koering’s vocal support for his election opponent Starry, he’s hopeful they can put the election behind them and continue to work together.

“I’m not going to hold personal grudges and I’m hoping that’s a two-way street,” Houge said. “ … We’ve got a job to do and that job isn’t to go over and act like 3-year-olds. I’m going to continue to work with them and do what’s right for the people, and I just hope I get the same respect back from them, and we can get back to doing some good work we’ve been known to do in the past. I’m hopeful that we’ll move on.”

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Reached by phone Tuesday, Starry kept his comments brief.

“The people have spoken,” he said.

Asked if he had any plans to continue engaging in county politics, Starry repeated the refrain.

“No. Really all I have is the people have spoken,” Starry said. “They chose who they wanted.”

Most recently taking a leadership role in the effort to designate Crow Wing County as Second Amendment-dedicated, the Ironton husband and father of six said his liberty-minded stances have taken him to lobby in St. Paul, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere. While primarily focused on gun rights, the 49-year-old former punk rocker and current field service engineer said his disdain for governmental interference goes back to at least the 1980s, when the Parents Music Resource Center sought to warn consumers of music they found objectionable with parental advisory labels.

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Tom Nixon

At 38 years old, Nixon was the youngest candidate seeking to represent District 5 on the Crow Wing County Board. He previously served as a Deerwood City Council member, a member of the Crosby-Ironton School Board and a four-year stint on the Rural Health Advisory Committee.

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He’s run for other offices, too — in 2012, he sought but didn’t receive the Republican nomination for Minnesota House District 10B, and later that year, he unsuccessfully challenged Houge in a primary election for the same county board seat. Nixon also lost in the primary election this August, but segued his campaign into a write-in candidacy.

A lifelong Cuyuna Range resident, Nixon’s a 19-year veteran of the Deerwood Fire Department and provides emergency response with both Cuyuna Regional Medical Center and North Memorial Health ambulances. He’s the regional program director for Minnesota Toward Zero Deaths and a project manager for the Minnesota Department of Transportation. And he and his wife are the parents to seven children.

CHELSEY PERKINS may be reached at 218-855-5874 or chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com . Follow on Twitter at twitter.com/DispatchChelsey .

Chelsey Perkins is the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch. A lakes area native, Perkins joined the Dispatch staff in 2014. She is the Crow Wing County government beat reporter and the producer and primary host of the "Brainerd Dispatch Minute" podcast.
Reach her at chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com or at 218-855-5874 and find @DispatchChelsey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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