State Senator - District 12 Candidate: Torrey Westrom, RRunning for State Senator - District 12
Q: Please list your background and specific qualifications for this position.
A: I am married with three children: twin daughters and a son. We live in and own a home in Elbow Lake. I grew up on a dairy farm near Elbow Lake and graduated from West Central High School. I worked my way through college, earning degrees from Bemidji State University and later the William Mitchell College of Law.
With experience in livestock agri-business, and as a small business owner, I represent our rural values and way of life in St. Paul.
I lost my eyesight in a farm-related accident in 1987, but I have tried to never let this challenge stop me in life. Like everyone who faces adversity from time to time, I work hard to find a way to get things done.
In 2011, I was named one of four speaker pro tempore by the Minnesota Speaker of the House and served in this role the past two years. In 2012, with great humility, I was nominated and inducted into the high school national Wrestling Hall of Fame as the recipient of the Medal of Courage award.
Q: The public is tired of the partisan politics that often bog down the work of the Legislature. Specifically, how will you work with legislators from the other political party to get things done?
A: I would promote committee chairs and vice-chairs to be a mix of Republicans and Democrats; have more of a pro-rata percentage of the legislative make-up of each party on the committees; change legislative rules so every legislator could be assured of having two to five bills with an up or down vote on the House floor every session, so one party cannot lock them out.
I will vigorously fight against any “gag rules” that would try to be imposed to limit debate of the minority party. This was implemented for the first time in 2008 by the DFL leadership, who was in control then. In 2012, I joined forces with Democrat and Republican legislators to repeal this rule. I believe it should stay that way so all elected legislators have the ability to raise their constituent issues on the Senate or House floors.
Q: Many people saw significant increases in property taxes this year. If elected, what will you do to lower the property taxes for average/middle class home owners?
A: I would again support levy limits to allow property taxpayers to be protected from increases beyond the rate of inflation, unless the local unit of government (LUG) passes a referendum. This is the same way our school districts operate and cannot just raise property taxes if they want. This is the purest form of local control when each property taxpayer has a final vote.
I also support giving all LUGs the right to opt out of any unfunded mandate with a three-fifths vote. This would dramatically allow LUGs to reduce costs that either the state or federal government impose on them.
Q: Is the state taking the right approach to battling aquatic invasive species, such as zebra mussels? What more can be done?
A: Not completely. Last year, I introduced HF 1439, which would have established a DNR pilot project to test the effectiveness of Zequanox in Douglas County lakes. This proposal came from a group of local constituents and initially from a conversation at a local tire shop, where they brought Zequanox to my attention.
Zequanox is a naturally occuring organism that is lethal to zebra and quagga mussels but harmless to other aquatic species. It is primarily used to remove zebra mussels from industrial plants that draw water from rivers and lakes, but researchers continue to study its efficacy in areas of open water that are infested with zebra mussels.
Initially, in 2011, the DNR was uninterested in testing Zequanox. Their approach was to just make more criminals out of average Minnesotans through extreme penalties and fines. Many think this borders on going too far, yet protecting our lakes is important. By only adding more criminal penalties, it just focuses on punishment instead of eradication research.
In recent years, the DNR has relied on heavier fines and penalties, including criminal charges, for people who do not leave their boat plug out when moving the boat on a trailer, for example.
Fortunately, this past summer, the DNR changed its stance toward Zequanox a bit and announced that they will test it at Lake Carlos. The test will be done by injecting Zequanox into controlled tanks filled with lake water that is infested with zebra mussels.
I think the DNR should embrace more avenues to combat AIS. They maybe should be more focused on all the lakes that have known AIS and make sure no boats leave those lakes without being clean. AIS can even be spread by birds, so eradication is ultimately a more-sure goal to stop more AIS infestation.
Recently, I met with local constituents who made me aware of the DNR making the new criminal rules so tough that they cannot comply and have recently applied for a permit to exempt themselves. This permit would allow them to transport their equipment with potential AIS on it. Hence, it has maybe gone too far when the DNR cannot even comply with their own rules.
Q: What priority will you give to energy efficiency and renewable energies? What energy future do you envision for upcoming generations in Minnesota?
A: Just like natural gas, clean coal and nuclear power, renewable energies need to remain a part of Minnesota’s energy supply. All of the above is a balanced and reasonable approach. This allows the state to help promote homegrown renewable energies, but that needs to be balanced with the cost of such renewable energies.
The competitive energies like wind have grown significantly in our state over the past 20 years. More expensive sources should continue to be tested and research done through our universities and electric companies. This will help keep bringing those costs down as they become more commercially viable.
I will continue to seek this balanced approach, being cognizant that we cannot drive up the cost of electricity more for consumers, but there is a legitimate place for homegrown renewable energies where they make sense.