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Voters face friendly choice

In what could easily be dubbed the friendliest race for county board, incumbent James "J.J." O'Brien is facing a challenge from Jim Paine, who created the position he held on the board from 2005 to 2006.

In what could easily be dubbed the friendliest race for county board, incumbent James "J.J." O'Brien is facing a challenge from Jim Paine, who created the position he held on the board from 2005 to 2006.

Paine worked with Douglas County Board Chairman Doug Finn to develop a youth representative position for a student from the University of Wisconsin-Superior, similar to the honorary posts created for high school students.

"The kid is a great kid," O'Brien said of his opponent. "He was a student supervisor ... he was a nice kid."

But Paine is a serious contender at 26. He spent four years in the U.S. Marine Corps, then returned to Superior and earned a history degree at UWS. He works at Duluth Regional Care Center caring for teens having mental and physical disabilities. In addition to serving on the county board as a youth representative, he served on the UWS student council. He also started the UWS delegation for Superior Days because the college has its own issues, he said.

"I learned the ins and outs of the county board, got to know some of the supervisors," Paine said. "... What I can do most is try to bring new people into community activism. Superior Days is much more effective when it's bigger."

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O'Brien, who retired from Soo Line Railroad in 1988, said he doesn't remember how long he's served on the board. He said he considered not running again until he was asked to run one more time. After all, he was a strong advocate when the Veterans Administration threatened to close the Twin Ports Outpatient Veterans Clinic in his district. With the clinic's lease expiring next year, and ongoing efforts to bring a nursing home for veterans to Superior, O'Brien decided he would run one more time.

"I want to help the veterans, do my job on forestry and aging resource," O'Brien said. "My main concern is the VA."

Paine said he is proud of O'Brien's efforts on behalf of veterans in the area for so many years.

However, he said, one of his concerns is that the county doesn't reach out enough to ensure veterans know what benefits are available to them and how to access them.

"There's not a lot of ways or a lot of methods to get the veterans that are coming home right now," Paine said. In his own experience, he said he wouldn't have known what was available or how to access it if he had not learned about them in a tavern or in pamphlets he found.

"It's more important than it has been for a generation," he said. "We need to expand the services we provide to veterans, if for nothing else to make sure they get the benefits they have coming to them."

But Paine has other concerns he hopes to address if elected to the board.

"I'm really concerned the county board doesn't have a next generation ready to move in and take over," Paine said. "A lot of people my age tend to either move out or get careers and settle down. ... I think the next generation has to step up to help the veterans, that and defend the Douglas County forests." He said it's not a given that people will just let the forests remain forests for generations and "I think they should. They are a resource for us on several levels -- industrial, recreational and intrinsic."

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O'Brien has served on the county's forestry committee for years. The committee is responsible for managing the largest county forest in the state. In recent years, efforts have resulted in record timber sales and a recently adopted 15-year plan to guide how the forests are managed.

O'Brien also serves on the Aging Resource Center of Douglas County board and helps plan the annual senior picnic at the Head of the Lakes fairgrounds.

Paine said the number of county residents living in poverty and earning below average wages also warrants vigilance on the county's part to hold the line on property taxes so people who step up to home ownership can afford their taxes, and property owners are encouraged to maintain their rental properties.

"It matters more in Douglas County than perhaps anywhere else in Wisconsin," he said.

Contact Shelley Nelson at (715) 395-5022 or snelson@superiortelegram.com

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