Local political candidates for the office of Minnesota Senate District 21 and Minnesota House District 21A and 21B met for a political forum at the Cannon Falls High School last Thursday evening.
The event was sponsored by Toastmasters, Minnesota Farm Bureau, Citizens Concerned About Rail Line and Minnesota Farmers Union.
State senate candidates were current Senator Matt Schmit and Mike Goggin. State house candidates were: Elise Diesslin, Barb Haley, Lisa Bayley and current Representative Steve Drazkowski.
Following a period of introductions, the moderator asked questions from the sponsors and the audience, giving each candidate time to respond in turn.
Bayley likened broadband to rural electrification - necessary to level the playing field and keep outlying areas of the state competitive. Schmit, who has focused considerable energy into broadband development in the state, said it is an important issue in day-to-day life. He cited distance learning, precision farming, tele-health and business development as being dependent upon broadband.
Drazkowski, Haley and Goggin downplayed the need for state intervention in broadband development, favoring private enterprise and federal funding. Drazkowski said the government keeps raising the bar for what is acceptable broadband service. Haley questioned the need for everyone to have high performing internet access, including schools.
Candidates showed some agreement about MNsure. Goggin, Drazkowski and Haley want to kill the program and look to the federal exchange. Drazkowski said the state has wasted $400 million to build a system that has failed over and over again.
Haley said it will take a year for the state to transition to another program, so the government needs to make changes now. Goggin suggested allowing co-ops into the exchange, and said it needs many companies that people can choose from.
Bayley, Schmit and Diesslin admitted that MNsure has had failures, but pointed out that the federal exchange would take control from Minnesotans. Schmit said MNsure needs to reform or repeal, but that the federal exchange is a one-size-fits-all system. He advocated for letting people buy into MinnesotaCare where there are options.
Diesslin pointed out that at 4.3 percent, Minnesota has one of the lowest uninsured rates in the nation.
Blaming MNsure for health care is like blaming Travelocity for high airline ticket prices, said Bayley. She said the system can be improved a lot without starting over.
High Speed Rail
On the issue of a potential high speed rail line between the Twin Cities and Rochester, all six candidates said they would not support such a project. Goggin said it would make Goodhue County a fly-over county. He proposed a three-point threshold: no eminent domain, setup a decommissioning fund and no government money used to build it.
Diesslin said infrastructure funding should be used to support the existing roads and bridges, not a new project that would affect too many landowners. Bayley said to watch the eminent domain question, because she watched it play out on CapX2020 and eminent domain laws are very strong.
Schmit and Drazkowski both urged residents to fight for transparency in the process as zip rail is being studied, so that citizens know what is going on and can represent their concerns. Haley added that people need to consider the cost of loss in productive farm land and loss of income for property owners.
Minnesotans will decide on a legislatively referred constitutional amendment this election. Ballotpedia defines the amendment as such:
A "yes" vote supports creating an independent, citizen-run board to set the salaries of state legislators, thereby taking away legislators' power to set their own salaries. A "no" vote opposes the same and continues to allow the legislators to determine their own salaries.
Voters should keep in mind that constitutional amendments in Minnesota require majority approval from all votes cast in the election. Therefore, if you fill out a ballot but do not vote at all on Amendment 1, the effect will be the same as voting "no."
Schmit favored the ballot, citing an inherent conflict of interest when legislators are forced to vote on their own pay.
Drazkowski reminded the audience that the legislature is set up to be a part-time position. He said there has been a citizens commission for a number of years, and that commission has recommended $10,000 increase for legislative salaries.
Haley commented that she thinks transparency is needed for the referendum, as few voters have brought up this issue in conversation with her, and people may need time to research and form an opinion. She also recognized that Minnesota wants and needs quality people and experienced people in public servant roles.
Goggin added that the governor and Supreme Court would appoint the commission if the referendum is approved, and that means that the commission would be totally political and not independent.
Diesslin pointed out that the legislative salary hasn't been raised since the late 90's and it may be difficult financially for qualified people to serve.
Bayley said she is really hesitant to amend it unless it is absolutely necessary. Quality people are needed in office and it is a lot of work, she said, and voters need to be careful not to punish legislators if they do choose to raise salaries.
Other topics discussed at the forum included buffer strip mandates, solar energy and tax reform. Look for the continuation of this story in next week's Leader.