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Helping others drives Crow Wing County Board campaign, Lubke says

Lubke is one of two candidates to represent District 2 on the County Board. The other candidate is Robin Sylvester. District 2 covers northwestern Crow Wing County, including the cities of Crosslake, Breezy Point, Pequot Lakes, Jenkins and Nisswa.

Jon Lubke sitting at a table
Crow Wing County Board District 2 candidate Jon Lubke discusses his priorities during an Oct. 5, 2022, interview at Stonehouse Coffee & Roastery in Nisswa.
Chelsey Perkins / Brainerd Dispatch
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NISSWA — Jon Lubke said he’s loved helping his neighbors by serving as mayor of Jenkins, but transitioning to the Crow Wing County Board would mean the opportunity to impact more lives.

“It’s different problems and different problems to solve, and I always like a challenge, so I always like that,” Lubke said during an Oct. 5 interview at Stonehouse Coffee & Roastery in Nisswa. “I think it’s about bringing different people together.”

Lubke is one of two candidates hoping to represent District 2 on the County Board. The other candidate is Robin Sylvester. District 2 covers northwestern Crow Wing County, including the cities of Crosslake, Breezy Point, Pequot Lakes, Jenkins and Nisswa. The winner will replace Commissioner Bill Brekken, who is not seeking reelection.

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Lubke said he’s lived in Crow Wing County for 49 years, three decades of which he operated a group of automotive parts stores before retiring in 2003 and being elected mayor of Jenkins in 2007. He’s since become involved in a number of nonprofit and governmental organizations, including Habitat for Humanity, the Region Five Development Commission, League of Minnesota Cities and One Watershed One Plan.

Before becoming part of the Jenkins City Council, Lubke served on the planning commission in Jenkins as a way to learn more about the community, he said. Taking part in city government helped him shift from the boss mindset of a small business owner to a more collaborative approach, he noted.

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“That was a great education for me because it helped me to learn how to look at other people's point of view and other people's opinions, even though they're different than mine, and have an open dialogue,” he said. “And usually by the time we got done with it, whatever we had come to consensus on would have been better than what either one of us could have done on our own.”

Lubke said gathering all possible facts about an issue before forming a judgment — and a willingness to change one’s mind when more facts emerge — are keys to success in local government.

The victor between the two will succeed Commissioner Bill Brekken, who chose not to run for reelection, to represent District 2.

“I do not want to come in there and start pointing fingers. I want to come in there and get all the facts together. Even though those facts are maybe some I don't know yet. Maybe there's some I disagree with,” Lubke said. “But we need to get all facts together. Get smart people together. Work together and accomplish things for the county and where we’re at.”

Issues of particular interest to Lubke as he contemplates a future on the board include water quality, cooperation with smaller jurisdictions and social services.

Serving as part of the One Watershed One Plan process — which seeks to base planning efforts on a watershed level, rather than arbitrary political boundaries — enlightened him about the potential impact of development on water quality, even if it’s taking place well away from shore. Given the importance of lakes to the county’s tourism industry, Lubke said decisions affecting water quality could have a notable impact in the future.

“I think that’s something that this county really has to keep in front all the time, because why are people coming? You know, if it was just a prairie, they wouldn’t be here,” Lubke said. “ … This decision isn’t just made for today, or for that noise, or this noise, or whoever wants it done. We’ve got to look at long range down the road, because we can’t bring it back. We could maintain lakes by doing some of the things we’re doing and and decreasing some of the things, but if we let the lake get to a point where it needs crisis repair, there’s not enough money in the world to fix it.”

Part of sensible decision-making is relying on a comprehensive plan, and Lubke said he’d like to take a look at the county’s version to find out if it could use some updates. He noted Jenkins went through an extensive process to set up its own plan, gaining input from as many people as possible to ensure it reflected what residents desired.

“If those rules are old, they need to be refocused on, and you need to get that comp plan and re-look at the rules and put them in place. And I think sooner rather than later, because we are seeing this area grow faster,” Lubke said.

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The self-described packrat would bring his frugality to the board, he said, in hopes of ensuring the county budget is tightened up in all ways possible — without losing sight of what residents expect of their government.

Lubke said he wants to assure social services programming in Crow Wing County is robust and providing assistance to those who need it. He said he knows what it’s like to go through difficult times and need a hand, particularly in the wake of losing his first wife to cancer and raising their children on his own as a single father for years.

“Those kinds of things are pretty important,” Lubke said. “And so many people marginalize that.”

Serving as mayor of a small city offers Lubke insight into what it’s like to work with Crow Wing County on joint projects or to seek officials’ help on a given issue. Sometimes it’s a positive experience, such as the recent collaborative effort to bring broadband internet to hundreds of customers in District 2. Other times, Lubke said, smaller cities are left to fend for themselves without access to resources for which larger cities qualify. On the outside looking in, Lubke said he believes cooperation with local jurisdictions can be improved.

“I’ve looked at this sometimes as, when I’ve gone to the county, that they’re the sovereign and the cities and some of the townships are the minions, the smaller ones,” Lubke said. “There’s only two cities in this county that actually can both kind of go around the county to the state for certain dollars for roads and stuff, and that’s Brainerd and Baxter. All the rest of us … it pretty much has to be funneled through the county.”

Lubke said while he’s acted as a salesman in his previous work life and lobbied for donations on behalf of nonprofit organizations, pitching himself is a new and awkward task as a candidate. So what sets him apart from his opponent? Different experiences, different talents, different ways of doing things — they’re just different people, he said, and he can only speak to what he believes are his strengths.

“I think I'm a great listener. I can deal with people with different views and not put them in a box,” Lubke said. “ … No, we’re all in this together. I can hear them out. And I can agree to disagree with them hopefully in a pleasant enough way where we may still leave disagreeing, but they'll know they were heard.

“I have the experience because I've served as an elected official. I’ve owned a business. I have a lot of tools in my toolbox. I've been a single parent. Dealt with some stuff in life that hasn’t been real fun. And I came out of it. I’ve come out of it a better person.”

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CHELSEY PERKINS, community editor, 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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