Two Polk County Commission races contested

Newcomer Travis Johnson challenges incumbent Gerald "Jerry" Jacobson in District 1, while former East Grand Forks political fixtures Mark Holy and Tim Finseth vie for Don Diedrich's vacated seat in District 5. In District 3, incumbent Gary Willhite runs unopposed.

Election 2020 logo

Three Polk County Commission races are up for election this November. Of those, two seats are contested, and one incumbent is running unopposed.

District 1

Twelve-year commissioner Gerald "Jerry" Jacobson of Fertile, Minn., will face challenger Travis Johnson, a semi-retired farmer who hopes to bring new blood to county government.

Johnson, a retired Army veteran who lives in Beltrami, Minn., said his decision to run for County Commission is the result of a chain of events set off when he learned he couldn't build a shed on his property, since zoning laws prohibit construction of any building within 150 feet of a roadway.

Confused about the law, he decided to attend a commission meeting in July to ask the commissioners what its purpose was.


"I didn't feel the board was responsive, I didn't feel they were accountable. I asked questions, (but) they couldn't really come up with the answers, and they didn't seem to want the answers," he said. "At that point now I mean, being in the military, I'm a strong believer in responsibility and accountability. I believe you can delegate authority but you can't delegate responsibility."

After moving to Beltrami in 2018 to be closer to family, he said he had already been looking for a way to serve his relatively new community. He said he hopes to bring libertarian values to the commission, as well as a fresh outlook.

But Jacobson argues that when it comes to county government, slow and steady is the way to win the race. If re-elected, he plans to stay the course.

Jacobson spent a career in printing and publishing before turning to community involvement in his retirement. He said that after 12 years on the commission – which he described as "more than a half-time job" – he's built up the relationships and the trust that make a successful commissioner.

"We have a very good board," he said. "We work very well together. ... And as an experienced commissioner, you're not only working with your own board, but with many other boards, and some of those are joint county boards. So over a period of time you develop friendships and trust with commissioners from other counties, and that's something that you don't get right away."

District 3

Former Crookston Mayor Gary Willhite is running unopposed in his race for re-election. Willhite was elected to the commission in 2016.

District 5


After incumbent Don Diedrich decided not to run for re-election, former Minnesota state Rep. Tim Finseth and former East Grand Forks Councilman Mark Holy stepped up to run for his vacated seat.

Residents of East Grand Forks will remember each from their tenures in the years following the Flood of 1997, and both say they are proud of the work they accomplished during that time.

But Holy, a farmer and retired businessman, said he's not quite the same candidate he was 20 years ago.

"I've gotten older, I've matured, but I'm still willing to ask the hard and tough questions a lot of people don't ask," he said, adding that he would bring to the commission "a willingness to learn, a willingness to ask the tough questions, and a willingness to listen to both sides of an issue. There's always two sides to any issue, and we need to respect each other's opinions, but we can still have a good formal debate about it."

He said that after years away from local government, he felt a need for a return to help serve his community. He also cited several issues in the county right now that are near and dear to him: highway maintenance, ditch maintenance, and overall function and operation of the county.

Finseth, who owns Hank's Hardware in Warren, Minn., said he used to be heavily involved in local politics but took a step back to watch his kids grow up. With his youngest child now graduating from high school, he also felt the time is right for a return to local government.

He said he'd like to see taxes and spending kept in check, and said he believes in supporting law enforcement and bridge and highway maintenance.

"I've always been pretty conservative and grounded in the community," he said. "I've always had a strong faith, and that hasn't wavered, so I've always just been a people person, and I believe in supporting local causes and local people and their efforts to try and make this a better country and a better state. I just like seeing people being successful no matter what they're doing in life, and anything that government can do to help assist people in becoming successful, that's a victory."

What To Read Next
Get Local