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Newcomer Hakola challenges Eilola for Baraga’s first ward

Gale Eilola

Gale Eilola, the 28-year veteran of Baraga County’s board of commissioners, is being challenged this election by Liz Hakola, a new candidate with experience in management.

Liz Hakola – D

Liz Hakola is not trying to sell voters on her long experience as a politician.

“This is the first time I’ve ever run for elective office,” she said.

She said the spark to run for office was planted in 2016. Someone pointed out that voting was the baseline level of participation in the democratic process. The next step is to run for office. 

Liz Hakola

She said she’d like to open participation in government up to as many people and ideas as possible.

Hakola has lived in Michigan her whole life, though not always in Baraga County. She moved to Baraga County when she retired 14 years ago, and now lives on her family’s farm.

“This is where my mom was born and raised, in Pelkie,” she said.

She grew up downstate, but spent her childhood summers in Pelkie.

“So I have all my best memories right here on this farm,” Hakola said. “I’m very, very happy to be carrying on that legacy of living here on the farm.”

Hakola spent her 31-year career downstate with Michigan Consolidated Gas Company working as a manager; planning, solving problems and making decisions.

“I enjoyed my job very much,” she said.

Since retiring, she’s turned the skills she honed on the job to getting things done in the community. She started the group that worked to preserve the Pelkie School, which eventually got the building into the hands of the Keweenaw Bay Ojibwe Community College. She’s the president of the Kinnunen-Sutinen VFW Auxiliary, and coordinates the food donation to the local St. Vincent DePaul food pantry.

She also serves as president and treasurer of the Sturgeon Valley Historical Society, which with the help of the township has kept Pelkie’s one-room schoolhouse open as a museum. She said it is a way to take pride in the community and honor the legacy of the people who founded it.

She said her opponent has experience, and has  been helpful with projects including the Pelkie School project, but voting for her is a way to shake up the status quo.

“I’d be more of an activist, I think,” Hakola said.

Two things she thinks are important to Baraga County’s future are universal broadband access and improved cell phone service. Having both would narrow the divide between the rural Baraga County and more developed areas when it comes to attracting businesses and young professionals. The COVID-19 pandemic, she says, has highlighted the need for these services to enable remote learning, working from home, and even services like virtual medicine.

“If we want to attract people that want to live and work in a place like Baraga County, we have to create a space where talent wants to live, so that we can create an economy that’s more sustainable,” Hakola said.

She also wants to do what she can to make sure everyone’s voting rights are protected against all kinds of suppression.

Gale Eilola – R

Gale Eilola was appointed to his first term on the board of commissioners in March of 1992, and has been re-elected every term since.

Eilola said he started in community involvement when he was young.

“Both of my parents were 4-H leaders,” he said.

He enjoys the community service, and says that if he doesn’t know the answer to people’s questions, he usually knows somebody who does. He draws on that background of service and network of local people he’s built over his life to seek answers for questions and issues.

“If I don’t know an answer, I’ll get an answer some way,” Eilola said.

In the past, he’s been several years as chief of the Pelkie Volunteer Fire Department, a deputy for the county sheriff, a member of the search and rescue team, and a committee member for the county-wide radio system and emergency preparedness. He also served in leadership roles on the Mission United Lutheran Church council and the BHK Child Development board, and was a member of the Upper Peninsula Commission on Area Progress Board of Directors, the Baraga County Kiwanis, and the group Hakola started to save the Pelkie school building. He said he approached KBOCC as a potential buyer, and as it turned out, they took the opportunity.

“They’ve done a lot of improvements in the building,” Eilola said.

Currently, other than serving as vice-chair of the board of county commissioners, Eilola is also on the board for the UP Michigan Works, Baragaland Senior Center, the Baraga County Fair, Baraga Area Schools, Copper Country Intermediate School District, the Regional Education Media Center and the Baraga County Community Foundation. He also serves as a representative to the UP Association of County Commissioners, the Copper Country Association of School Boards, and is chairperson of the Holy Cross Lutheran Church Council.

Eilola is a lifelong resident of Pelkie, and he hopes people see being a “total Yooper” as a positive in the election.

The small tax base and tight budget in Baraga County are the chief problems, as Eilola sees it.

“Without money, you can’t do a lot,” he said.

With much of the county’s land area being publicly owned or enrolled in the commercial forest program, and the state not making up for enough of it, Eilola said Baraga County stretches their budget just to keep up with what already exists.

“We’re maintaining, so to speak, right now,” Eilola said.

Addressing any other issues, Eilola said, requires money first.

His main goal for the future is building the tax base by attracting well-paying jobs that keep young people from being forced to move away to look for other work.

Eilola is married with four children and seven grandchildren. In his spare time, he likes to work with computers, gadgets and home carpentry.

“I don’t sit around too much,” Eilola said.

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