Candidates get candid: Minnesota House hopefuls address concerns in Douglas CountyCandidates vying for a spot in the Minnesota House of Representatives met for a forum at Alexandria Technical and Community College (ATCC) Monday evening to discuss what they have to offer Douglas County.
By: Crystal Dey, Alexandria Echo Press
Candidates vying for a spot in the Minnesota House of Representatives met for a forum at Alexandria Technical and Community College (ATCC) Monday evening to discuss what they have to offer Douglas County.
The legislative candidate question and answer session was co-hosted by the Alexandria Area Economic Development Commission and the Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce. The nonpartisan event was designed to educate local voters and allow candidates the opportunity to connect with constituents.
Representative Mary Franson, R, and Bob Cunniff, DFL, are competing for a seat in District 8B; Representative Paul Anderson, R, and Rick Rosenfield, DFL, are after the District 12B position.
Candidates in District 12A, Dave Holman, Independence, Scott Dutcher, R, and Jay McNamar, DFL, were invited but did not attend the forum.
Franson, Cunniff, Anderson and Rosenfield answered seven prepared questions and were afforded the opportunity to respond to two audience submitted queries. Approximately 75 residents comprised the audience at ATCC.
BUSINESS AND JOB GROWTH
What are the different solutions that you will offer, if elected, to grow jobs in our communities?
Anderson said that worker training is needed and that there are jobs out there that need to be filled.
Cunniff believes we need to stay competitive with the metro area.
“A lot of this is rural versus metro,” Cunniff said.
Franson indicated that extending the 2010 jobs bill as it relates to tax-increment financing would be one strategy.
“More people working means more people paying taxes,” Franson said.
Rosenfield said companies want to stay in west central Minnesota and that returning consumer spending would benefit the area.
How will you work with all elected officials in a nonpartisan way to bring forward solutions to sustainable action?
Cunniff said that compromise has to happen and that evidence and statistics should be used to make decisions. Franson stated that she has a record of bipartisan work over the last two years.
“Sitting and doing nothing is not an option,” Rosenfield said.
He believes action is needed and that legislation can be created and changed at a later date.
Anderson cited his work on the Viking stadium bill as proof of bipartisanship.
“I’m always willing to work with both sides of the aisle,” Anderson said.
What will you do in these two areas: 1) Cost cutting and 2) Revenue generation or investment to resolve this issue once and for all?
Rosenfield said waste redundancy needs to be looked at now that we are in the 21st century and that we need to start with an honest budget instead of borrowing money from the tobacco lawsuit settlement.
Anderson said he believes things are on the right track.
Cunniff said senior care needs to be addressed. He said the budget has grown 12 percent and 41 percent of the state government workforce is looking at retiring. Cunniff sees this as a time to restructure and start doing things differently.
What programs that support job growth in Minnesota do you support the most?
Rosenfield said manufacturing job education needs to be instituted all the way down into elementary grades.
“[Manufacturing] is really a high tech job nowadays,” Rosenfield said. He added that most manufacturing jobs bring in money from outside the state.
Anderson said more technical elective classes in high school qualifying as sciences would help. Cunniff agreed that education really is key and he sees a real need in the machine tool die area. Cunniff said that better recruitment and parent education are also needed.
Franson said research and development tax credits create tax incentives.
What is your position regarding the adoption of additional mandates and regulations placed on the electric utility industry?
Anderson said he would like to see an end on coal and nuclear bans and noted that the CapX2020 wind power project doesn’t do anything for Minnesota jobs.
“Most of those jobs are not going to stay in the Minnesota area,” Anderson said.
Cunniff commended Ottertail Power, Runestone Electric Association and Alexandria Light and Power for their service to the area and said there are enough regulations and mandates. He said the mandates in place are intended to work toward renewable energies that can be evaluated at a later time.
“We don’t want to drive costs so high people can’t pay their electric bills,” Cunniff said.
Franson noted that nine people were hired at the state level to change out fluorescent light bulbs and that citizens should be encouraged to make better decisions without the need for mandates.
Rosenfield said the mandates are made to aid the industry, not to stifle it. He noted that a lot of people are scared of nuclear energy because of the risks but it is statistically one of the safest.
“We need all sources of energy to solve our problems,” Rosenfield said.
What is your solution to ensuring that [nursing homes and healthcare] organizations receive necessary reimbursement to attract and compensate direct care givers with a fair wage and take care of our most vulnerable population?
Cunniff emphasized that healthcare has to be a top priority in state Legislature. He said two of his “heroes” make up much of the population in these facilities – veterans and the “greatest generation” (World War II veterans). Cunniff said people working in nursing homes need to make more money.
“These are not glory jobs,” he said. “But very important jobs.”
Franson noted that much of the baby boomer generation is entering nursing homes and that the mandates that make it necessary for things like silverware counting in the facilities need to be looked at and evaluated.
Rosenfield agreed with Cunniff’s point. He said workers in nursing homes can’t raise a family on their current wages.
“Most of the employees are grossly underpaid,” Rosenfield said of people who work in child and senior care. He said it should be treated as a career, not a job. “I have so much respect for people who work in nursing home facilities.”
Anderson said the problem is bigger in rural Minnesota but that he can’t promise a “windfall” of money to be put toward nursing homes.
What is your plan to restore K-12 funding for schools to a stable and predictable system that moves away from reliance on local levies?
Rosenfield said school funding is his number-one priority. He believes the cost of post-secondary, which is funded at 1998 levels, needs to be lowered and he plans to seek a funding mechanism that is more stable.
Anderson said he is proud of Minnesota schools and that they rank up with Connecticut in ACT scores. He said that Minnesota has a fairly high level of state funding compared to other states.
“Local levies are a little unfair to smaller school districts,” Cunniff said. He added that it is tough to plan and that special education departments need to be discussed.
What is your position on the recently passed legislation that requires annual evaluation of all teachers and measures teacher effectiveness on student achievement results? If you oppose that concept, what are your solutions for ensuring the students achieve to their potential?
All candidates tend to agree that the measure of a teacher does not necessarily measure the success of a student. Rosenfield said the totality of the evaluation needs to be considered and effectiveness can’t be judged based on test scores. Anderson said if an agreement can’t be made on a local level it will eventually come from the state.
Cunniff said that people want teachers evaluated and that within the next year a principal evaluation is also planned.
Franson said she is pleased with the school system her children attend and that teachers cannot be held accountable for home issues that affect children’s school performance.
Twelve years ago, higher education was funded two-thirds by the state and one-third by the school. That has now reversed. How would you make higher-ed economically accessible to all?
Anderson said the best approach is to use funding to the best it can be used and that the state has kept up with Pell grants. Cunniff said all colleges and universities need to work on becoming more efficient.
“Education is what drives our economic engine,” Cunniff said.
Franson said that the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities funding cuts affect local schools like ATCC and sees lowering taxes on small businesses as a starting point.
Rosenfield said he agrees with Cunniff that ATCC does a great job at reducing costs. He said ATCC has nationally recognized programs that are funded by companies in the area that have done all they can.
“The state needs to look at the funding formula,” Rosenfield said.
Identify two core values that distinguish you as a candidate.
Cunniff said honesty and caring were among his top values for being a public servant. Franson said as a “no nonsense pocketbook mom,” she values her children. Rosenfield cited integrity and caring about other human beings. Anderson said he values helping people and as a farmer, he has common sense.