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Crow Wing County Board District 3: Ness envisions a resilient, inclusive community

The 31-year-old is one of five candidates on the Aug. 9 primary election ballot seeking to represent District 3 on the Crow Wing County Board.

Jazz Ness talks about Crow Wing County Board candidacy while seated at a table
Jazz Ness discusses her Crow Wing County Board candidacy during a June 27, 2022 interview at the Brainerd Dispatch.
Chelsey Perkins / Brainerd Dispatch
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BRAINERD — Dabbling in local government might be new for Jazz Ness, but the concept of community is something about which she is passionate.

“Community, county is where we start,” Ness said during an interview in late June. “We can protect ourselves from the rest of the world, as long as our community is strong and together. The world is an uncertain place and it’s very scary for a lot of people. So I want to be a voice for the people who are scared, for the people who are marginalized, for the people who don’t know what the next day is going to bring.”

The 31-year-old is one of five candidates on the Aug. 9 primary election ballot seeking to represent District 3 on the Crow Wing County Board.

Originally from Austin, Texas, Ness moved to Brainerd at 14 years old and graduated from Brainerd High School. After heading to Portland, Oregon, for college, Ness returned to Brainerd and reunited with a high school classmate who would become her wife in 2016. Together, the two live in southeast Brainerd, a neighborhood Ness said she loves for the strong sense of community and its walking distance proximity to downtown.

Map of Crow Wing County Commissioner District 3
A map shows the areas of Crow Wing County included in Commissioner District 3.
Contributed / Crow Wing County

Ness, who is currently a homemaker, said her previous experience as an executive casino host helped to hone her communication skills — something she considers a strength as a potential member of a governmental body. She said she’s introduced herself to neighbors with fresh-baked cookies and is genuinely interested in what matters to them, no matter how different their views or life experiences may be.

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“I’m really hoping I'm going to come across as real and ‘me’ as possible. And I'm going to hope that the people I'm reaching out to will do the same,” Ness said. “And you know, I do believe there is a ‘meet in the middle.’ What I want isn't crazy. What they want isn't crazy. We want people to live happy, healthy lives. And as long as we meet in the middle for everyone to live that sort of life, I do believe we can work together and create something better and bigger than either side.”

Jazz Ness headshot
Jazz Ness is a candidate for Crow Wing County Board District 3.
Chelsey Perkins / Brainerd Dispatch

Community building comes naturally to Ness, who said since her own youth she’s worked to find her niche. As a nonbinary transgender person, she was able to find a sense of belonging with other LGBTQ individuals in the area.

“There is a small community here of people who are LGBTQ. … We have always been a strong community,” Ness said. “ … And that's really where I start, you know: build a small community and keep inviting people and inviting people until everyone knows they have a place they belong.”

Sometimes, it feels like governments are more concerned with things like where gravel driveways are allowed than the needs of the people they serve, Ness said. While volunteering at TheShop-Brainerd/Baxter Youth Center, Ness started the Feminist Achievement and Empowerment group with a friend. She said working in that environment opened her eyes to the needs of young people.

It became clear, she said, that the area does not have enough support in place for youths in general, but especially those experiencing homelessness. She would also like to see the schools include classes covering online safety for students.

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“We have nothing for kids alone who have been abandoned by their families other than TheShop,” Ness said. “I really want Brainerd to be a place that takes care of their own. So that's what I'm hoping to affect. I'm hoping to make people able to be comfortable living here, even if they're restarting.”

Ness said while the Louise Seliski Shelter (formerly Mid-Minnesota Women’s Center) provides shelter to victims of domestic abuse and their children, she’d like to see better emergency shelter options available for single men. The warming center opened in Brainerd last winter is a good start, but Ness said the community should do more to help its most vulnerable. This includes her desire to see the city of Brainerd become one of the first cities to offer a universal basic income.

“I’m hoping to expand outreach and, you know, I’m hoping to bring the vision of the people who are not seen in Brainerd,” she said.

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While she acknowledged some of these policy desires fall outside the scope of county government, pushing for change in any capacity opens doors, Ness said.

“I do have a voice starting there, and it’s the networking and the talking to people and the getting ideas out there,” she said. “ … A foot in the door, if nothing else.”

Ness said she’s learned a ton of information about local government since deciding to pursue a seat at the table. As one of the youngest County Board candidates in the race and even across the state, she hopes she can serve as an energizing force to get more people her age and younger engaged in the process.

“I’m learning all the minutiae that builds up to a functioning community, and it's beautiful,” Ness said. “You never realize how much is involved in the day-to-day just to make the world run. And I'm just fascinated in possibly being a part of it.”

Ness first took part in politics by volunteering with Quinn Nystrom’s 2020 campaign for the 8th Congressional District. Nystrom inspired her through her patience in helping Ness navigate the political world, despite the demands of running for a federal office. That experience shaped Ness, she said, in a way that no matter what happens with this County Board campaign, she will continue to seek ways to be part of solutions.

“I’m going to keep volunteering. I’m going to keep fighting the good fight,” she said. “Everything starts at the grassroots level. If I’m going to protect what and who I love, I have to keep going, you know?”

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

Related Topics: ELECTION 2022CROW WING COUNTYCROW WING COUNTY BOARDGOVERNMENT AND POLITICS
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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