Crow Wing County Democrats, Republicans seek to make a difference

Democrats have "contactless" caucuses; Republicans meet at four locations across Crow Wing County

Crow Wing Republican caucus Gazelka Lehman Stegner
From left, Josh Gazelka, Brian Lehman, Carrie Stegner and Dave Trees participate in the Pelican Lake Republican precinct caucus Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2022, at Pequot Lakes High School.
Nancy Vogt / Echo Journal

PEQUOT LAKES — Democrats and Republicans caucused in different ways Tuesday, Feb. 1, in Crow Wing County. But they believe in the grassroots political event for the same reasons.

“That’s the beginning. You can’t really complain about who the candidates are if you don’t participate in the caucus,” Forest Hyatt, Crow Wing County Republican Party chair, said Monday, Feb. 7, by phone.

A caucus is the starting place to determine what candidates people will vote for in the November general election, Hyatt said. Caucus participants elect delegates to the county conventions and discuss resolutions to bring forward for the party platform.

You can’t really complain about who the candidates are if you don’t participate in the caucus.
Forest Hyatt, Crow Wing County Republican Party chair

While Republicans attended caucuses in person at four different sites in Crow Wing County, Democrats opted for a contactless caucus because of COVID-19 concerns.

“Every time we have a caucus, everyone who is a Democrat has the alternative of submitting a nonattendee form, which gives them an opportunity to declare that they are a Democrat and to submit their request to be considered as a delegate to the county convention or to be considered for election as a precinct chair or to submit resolutions,” Tom Besnett, Crow Wing County DFL Party vice chair, said Monday by phone.


“This year we simply said everybody's going to use that,” he said.

Democratic “turnout” stood at about 54 in Crow Wing County while about 400 Republicans attended their precinct caucuses at sites in Pequot Lakes, Crosslake, Crosby and Baxter.

Both the county DFL Party vice chair and Republican Party chair were happy with the respective turnouts while also wishing more people would participate in caucuses.

Besnett said DFL turnout for caucuses is usually around 200 in Crow Wing County, and was as high as 1,000 when former President Obama first ran for office.

Crow Wing Republican caucus Simon Stricker pej.JPG
First-time precinct caucus participant Simon Stricker was the only person representing Gail Lake Township Republicans on Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2022, at Pequot Lakes High School, but he was happy to be involved.
Nancy Vogt / Echo Journal

I wanted to participate rather than react and complain.
Simon Stricker

At Pequot Lakes High School, Gail Lake Township resident Simon Stricker, 42, attended his caucus for the first time and was the sole participant from his precinct.

“I wanted to participate rather than react and complain,” Stricker said. “I want to be part of a solution.”

Another participant, from Pelican Township, is only 28 but has been attending caucuses since around age 11.


“”I’ve been coming to these events for a long time,” said Josh Gazelka, son of longtime state Sen. Paul Gazelka, who is running for governor this year.

“I don’t want to be speaking about something negatively if I’m not involved,” the younger Gazelka said of his reason to participate in his precinct caucus. “Coming to caucus is the No. 1 way to get candidates you support elected.”

Crow Wing Republican caucus Allen Jenkins
Allen Jenkins hands out governor straw poll ballots to fellow Republican caucus participants from the Nisswa precinct Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2022, at Pequot Lakes High School.
Nancy Vogt / Echo Journal

Others attended because they don’t like the state of the state right now.

“I just want to see some change, more conservative voices,” first-time caucus participant Carrie Stegner, from Pelican Township, said, admitting she had no idea what a caucus entailed.

Nicole Jones, of Breezy Point, said: “We want to take our state back.”

Republicans conducted straw polls for governor, with candidate Scott Jensen coming out on top in Crow Wing County with 137 votes. Gazelka came in second in the county with 101 votes, followed by Mike Murphy, 29 votes; Kendall Qualls, 30 votes; Neil Shah, 34 votes; Michelle Benson, 23 votes; and 31 undecided votes.

Crow Wing Republican caucus David Kennedy
David Kennedy talks to fellow Pequot Lakes Republican precinct caucus participants Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2022, at Pequot Lakes High School.
Nancy Vogt / Echo Journal

The Crow Wing County Republican Convention will start at 9 a.m. Saturday, March 5, at Brainerd High School to elect delegates to the Congressional District 8 gathering and the state convention.

Besnett said a date is not yet set for the Crow Wing County DFL Convention, but hopes are to have it in person. The party is waiting to hear the results of redistricting after the 2020 census.


Nancy Vogt, editor, may be reached at 218-855-5877 or Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter at

Nancy Vogt is editor of the Pineandlakes Echo Journal, a weekly newspaper that covers eight communities in the Pequot Lakes-Pine River areas - from Nisswa to Hackensack and Pequot Lakes to Crosslake.

She started as editor of the Lake Country Echo in July 2006, and continued in that role when the Lake Country Echo and the Pine River Journal combined in September 2013 to become the Pineandlakes Echo Journal. She worked for the Brainerd Dispatch from 1992-2006 in various roles.

She covers Nisswa, Pequot Lakes, Lake Shore and Crosslake city councils, as well as writes feature stories, news stories and personal columns (Vogt's Notes). She also takes photos at community events.

Contact her at or 218-855-5877 with story ideas or questions. Be sure to leave a voicemail message!
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