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Steve Barrows wins District 3 commissioner seat

Steve Barrows1 / 2
Keith Johnson2 / 2

Steve Barrows, a Baxter City Council member, faced Keith Johnson, a self-employed resident of Brainerd, for the District 3 seat vacated by County Commissioner Rachel Reabe Nystrom.

Nystrom did not seek a fourth term, citing her recent purchase of a retirement home in Commissioner Paul Thiede’s district as a disqualifier.

Barrows received 2,185 votes while Johnson received 1,828 votes in the Tuesday, Nov. 6, general election. Johnson is a 42-year-old husband and father of four who made an unsuccessful bid for a Brainerd City Council seat in 2016.

"In my efforts to prevail in this race, I think what has gave me the edge is that I got out there early and made a commitment to this race early," Barrows said.

Barrows is a 70-year-old husband and father who worked for the Minnesota Department of Human Services for almost three decades before becoming a senior accounting supervisor for the department's sex offender program before retiring in 2011.

Commissioners Paul Koering of District 1 and Doug Houge of District 5 are not up for election this year. Their terms end in 2021.

Commissioner Rosemary Franzen of Baxter represents District 4 and unopposed for a fourth term while Thiede of Pequot Lakes was defeated in Tuesday's election by Bill Brekken, a real estate agent from Brainerd.

“District 3 is, in essence, the southside of (Highway) 210 -- Baxter, Brainerd and a little sliver of northeast Brainerd. In these areas, we have problems -- mainly drugs,” Johnson said in his opening statement at an Oct. 2 candidate forum.

The timed forum was presented by the Brainerd Lakes, Pequot Lakes and Crosslake chambers of commerce, the Brainerd Dispatch, League of Women Voters and Gordon Rosenmeier Center for State and Local Government.

“One of those big problems with drugs is the Pinnacle methadone clinic located on the south end of South Sixth Street. ... These problems have to be taken care of,” Johnson said at the forum.

Driving the county's 2019 preliminary budget are increasing meth use and rising county employee health insurance costs, according to county officials. Final board approval of the budget is slated for December. Commissioners serve a four-year term and are paid $30,900 a year.

There are five members of the county board and each represents one of five districts. Board members, in partnership with county staff, “work to ensure the delivery of services and programs essential to the continued prosperity of Crow Wing County,” according to the county’s website.

For more about the District 3 commissioner race, and to watch and hear more comments by Barrows about the election, visit