ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Jeff Johnson wins GOP caucuses in Cass and Crow Wing counties

BAXTER--Crow Wing County is overwhelmingly Jeff Johnson country, if Republican caucusgoers had the final word. Out of 102 votes, the 2014 Republican nominee for governor and current Hennepin County commissioner led with a dominant 71 ballots, whi...

Crow Wing County Republican Chair Forest Hyatt talks to caucus members Tuesday at the Republican caucus at Forestview Middle School in Baxter. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch Video
Crow Wing County Republican Chair Forest Hyatt talks to caucus members Tuesday at the Republican caucus at Forestview Middle School in Baxter. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch Video

BAXTER-Crow Wing County is overwhelmingly Jeff Johnson country, if Republican caucusgoers had the final word.

Out of 102 votes, the 2014 Republican nominee for governor and current Hennepin County commissioner led with a dominant 71 ballots, while his opponents couldn't muster half his support combined.

This year's caucuses bear special significance-setting the stage for an open governor's seat race, the election of two U.S. Senate seats (a rarity in the annals of American democracy), as well as five congressional races garnering national attention as midterms approach in the President Donald Trump era. Along with national implications, local voters will be deciding the Minnesota House of Representatives, as every seat of the house is up for election this year.

Tuesday evening, Forestview Middle School in Baxter served as one of the caucus sites for Crow Wing County. The governor's race loomed as the focal point of the event-though multiple caucusgoers noted the open U.S. Senate seats lend this year a gravity it wouldn't typically display. Common topics of discussion revolved around Republican staples, such as repealing Roe v. Wade, deregulating small businesses, creating a free-market, competition-based health care system and scaling back the influence of government in local affairs.

But, front and center, many attendees touched upon the issue of immigration, particularly Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA-a charged discussion in the national consciousness, disputed by Congress and weighed in on by Trump on multiple occasions.

ADVERTISEMENT

During Tuesday's caucus, John and Cindy Carnahan of Unorganized Territory between Brainerd and Nisswa, expounded on the necessity of border protection and vetting immigrants, but emphasized the United States should be a "country with a conscience" and create an expedient path to citizenship with "dignity."

"They need to fix that, that's just ridiculous. I mean that's just silly," said Cindy Carnahan, the mother of state Republican Chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan. "I know what working with all the rules and regulations of government programs can be like. You can get so bogged down that you forget where you are in them. I'm sure that it happens to people applying for a green card, so they don't know exactly where they are. If it takes 10 years, for Pete's sake!"

In contrast, Forest Hyatt, chair of the Crow Wing County Republicans, said federal Republicans aren't doing enough to enforce immigration law and added Trump is being "too liberal" on the matter.

Barb Lapka, a Brainerd resident and member of Partners in Christ, said beyond hot topics and flashy candidates, people need to understand party platforms and hash out their own positions on a range of issues before they vote. They need to be informed. She noted she's seen surprised reactions from people across the political spectrum when she's presented, item for item, the articulated positions of both parties.

Dave and Jean Schaeffer, residents of Brainerd, came to their first caucus this year. While both consider themselves conservative, the husband-wife duo "argue across the fence" on a number of issues. Even while they sifted through the caucus paperwork for their precinct, the two hashed out the finer points on the issue of legalized abortion and their positions regarding it.

"Now, Jeff Johnson is the most broadcasted of the candidates," Dave Schaeffer said, slipping the comment into a break during the ongoing discussion with his wife. He shrugged. "That doesn't mean he's the best one, but he's the most well-known."

In 2016, caucusgoers packed Forestview's cafetorium to the tune of roughly 1,500 people. This year, about 40 showed up to the grassroots event-roughly half the number expected to attend. Similarly, Cass County Republican Chairman Fred Hage reported 59 people attended this year, compared to roughly 750 in 2016.

Low numbers at caucasus aren't necessarily indicative of a trend, Hyatt said. Despite the importance attached to this election, he said, it's an off-year, non-presidential in scope and while people may not feel compelled to sit down and have a communal discussion at a caucus, they're likely to speak with their votes.

ADVERTISEMENT

"Nothing's touching their pocketbook, there isn't somebody out there making statements everyday, getting them excited," Hyatt added, smiling. "There's no concern at all. As you talk to people, they will show up to vote. They will. And I think they're going to show up to vote in a lot larger numbers than most off-years."

Instead of concern with the low turnout, Hyatt expressed confidence with how he feels conservative voters will do at the ballot box.

"People are tired of the gridlock in St. Paul. We've got a governor who won't work with anyone," he said. "But, he's done, and we're getting a new governor and it will be a Republican. It will be a conservative Republican, there's no question about it. I don't think the state will be ready to go backward."

During Tuesday's caucuses, Crow Wing County tallied 102 votes:

• 71 for Jeff Johnson, Hennepin County commissioner.

• 10 for Mary Giuliani Stephens, mayor of Woodbury.

• 3 for Keith Downey, former state representative for District 41A.

• 1 for Lance Johnson, attorney.

ADVERTISEMENT

• 1 for Phillip Parrish, intelligence officer and educator.

• 27 undecided.

During Tuesday's caucuses, Cass County tallied 59 votes:

• 17 for Jeff Johnson, Hennepin County commissioner.

• 10 for Mary Giuliani Stephens, mayor of Woodbury.

• 3 for Keith Downey, former state representative for District 41A.

• 1 for Phillip Parrish, intelligence officer and educator.

• 11 undecided.

What To Read Next
Inmates in-custody in the Todd County jail in Long Prairie, Minnesota
Inmates in-custody in the Wadena County jail in Wadena, Minnesota
Inmates in-custody in the Aitkin County jail in Aitkin, Minnesota
Inmates in-custody in the Beltrami County jail in Bemidji, Minnesota