Koering survives write-in challenge to return to county board

With 86.47% of the vote reporting as of 11:20 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 3, Koering led Arlene Jones to represent District 1 on the board.

Paul Koering.JPG
Paul Koering

Despite an unexpected challenge from a write-in candidate who entered the race just two months ago, Crow Wing County Commissioner Paul Koering appears to be headed back to the boardroom for his third term.

With 86.47% of the vote reporting as of 11:20 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 3, Koering led Arlene Jones to represent District 1 on the board. District 1 covers the southern portion of Crow Wing County, from Fort Ripley east to Roosevelt Township and north to Oak Lawn Township. The extreme northeast portion of the city of Brainerd also falls within District 1. Koering has represented the district for eight years and until Jones’ announcement, he was running unopposed for reelection this year.

The District 1 commissioner did not respond to a request for comment late Tuesday night. Koering, 55, spent most of his life in St. Mathias Township on a dairy farm and now lives on Lower South Long Lake. His first foray into public service was as a representative on the Minnesota Farm Bureau board of directors, which interested him in local politics.

Before entering county government, he served from 2003-11 as a state senator, making headlines in 2005 when his public acknowledgment of his sexual orientation made him the only openly gay Republican legislator. He lost to current Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka in a 2010 primary election and again when he ran as an independent write-in candidate in the general election. Although he said he did not expect to return to politics, he agreed to seek election in 2012 as a county commissioner after neighbors upset with the incumbent convinced him to run.

That victory propelled him to eight years serving as a county commissioner.


Arlene Jones poses near a field of sunflowers at her farm, The Farm on St. Mathias, in mid-September. Chelsey Perkins / Brainerd Dispatch

Jones said Tuesday night she was disappointed by the results, but felt it would’ve been a much different race had her name been on the ballot and if it were a normal campaigning season, rather than one hampered by the coronavirus pandemic. There were 717 votes for a write-in candidate, according to unofficial election results posted by the Minnesota Secretary of State. How many of those were for Jones was not yet available late Tuesday.

In a written statement, Jones thanked the voters, her family and those who championed her campaign.

“As a write in, the numbers speak for themselves. My hope is that Commissioner Koering reminds himself everyday that there are many constituents that are dissatisfied,” Jones wrote. “He has the responsibility to honor all of District #1, and to be reminded that his votes impact all of the constituents of Crow Wing County. It is imperative that a Commissioner lead with authentic character and with honest leadership, be reminded that words and actions are meaningful, and to lead with a lens that impacts all. I will continue to lead. And, I will be leaning on Commissioner Koering to represent not only myself, but those who are not.”

Jones said only time will tell if she will run again for county commissioner in four years, but one thing she knows for sure is she’d like to see more young people engage in the electoral process.

“I’m hoping that more younger people get engaged and more of the next generation understands how important it is to be civically engaged, and there is structure and resources out there to run a campaign,” she said by phone. “ … I think more younger people would run if they had resources.”


Jones, 56, and husband Bob raised their six children in the Pequot Lakes and Brainerd school districts. A resident of Crow Wing County for 35 years, Jones has lived in Pequot Lakes, Nisswa, and most recently in Crow Wing Township on her 80-acre farmstead.

After 23 years working for the state of Minnesota, her last appointment as a management analyst, the Joneses purchased what became The Farm on St. Mathias in 2006. In 2013, Jones was awarded a Bush Fellowship to advance the development of the local foods systems underway in central Minnesota. From that intensive experience, Jones co-founded Sprout MN, the region’s first food hub. Sprout’s stated mission is to connect and strengthen the local food system as a regional asset to grow and contribute to the collective story of a vibrant and resilient central Minnesota.

As the mother and mother-in-law of decorated veterans and current active duty military, Jones said she is a strong supporter of the U.S. armed forces. When she’s not plowing and prepping fields, planting and digging in the dirt, or working as a champion of small farms and local foods, she’s spending time with her six grandchildren, fishing, canning and preserving food, and reading.

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 or at 218-855-5874 and find @DispatchChelsey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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