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DFL state Senate candidates respond to issues at Le Center forum

A week before precinct caucuses, three candidates vying for the Democratic-Farmer Labor Party’s (DFL) endorsement for the District 20 seat in the Minnesota Senate laid their policy positions bare for local voters.

Candidates Suzie Nakasian, Jon Olson and Davin Sokup sat down in front of voters at Le Center City Hall Feb. 17 for the first DFL primary forum and took questions on issues impacting Minnesotans, including health care, agriculture, taxes and gun control.

Sen. Rich Draheim, R-Madison Lake, currently holds the seat in District 20 at the Legislature, and he will run for re-election in November. District 20 includes most of Le Sueur County, part of Rice County, including Northfield and Lonsdale, and part of Scott County.

Meet the candidates: Suzie Nakasian

Suzie Nakasian is a third-term Northfield city councilor serving since 2010 and has had a long career working in the political sphere. In the 1980s, the New York native considered herself a moderate Republican and served as a special assistant for Elizabeth Dole. She left politics in the 1990s when she felt the GOP was no longer reflecting her values and pursued an education in theology. She moved to Northfield to complete her training and taught as an adjunct Carleton College professor on psychology and religion.

As a city councilor, Nakasian has touted her work on Northfield’s Environmental Quality Commission on water and land management issues and helped revise the city’s comprehensive plan. Beyond her work as a councilor, Nakasian has headed several grass roots initiatives, including a campaign to restore Minnesota’s regional passenger rail service connecting communities like Northfield, Faribault and Owatonna to the Twin Cities using an existing rail line through Northfield. If elected, Nakasian said establishing the regional passenger rail system would be one of her top priorities, along with combating climate change.

“The reason I’m running for office is out of a concern for climate change,” said Nakasian. “I think that the state has to move a lot faster than we’re moving, and that’s the reason I got involved at the local level. The particular way I hope to make a challenge and contribution … is with an area of regional passenger rail and regional public transportation that is green and around the state right away with the infrastructure we have to switch over. Transportation is the largest climate contributor for CO2 (carbon dioxide) emissions and we have the infrastructure to reduce that massively within the next five years.”

She continued, “I want to see Minnesota become the first state to retrieve its history of regional passenger rail, which benefits our local economy; it benefits the cities; it’s a social justice issue; its a climate issue, because there is nothing we can do collectively to reduce carbon emissions more quickly than to get cars off the road.”

Nakasian has positioned herself as a moderate who would work to get both parties to agree on legislation.

“Partisan rhetoric is not winning,” said Nakasian. “There are more independent voters in the county than there are registered with a party. I’m not interested in the parties. I’ve been a Republican, I’m now a Democrat with values, but I won’t be spinning on party terms. I am the middle child of a very dynamic family; I am a coalition builder; I’m trained as a pastor theologian. I listen and understand and have a record of 12 years on my City Council for being that middle vote breaker between two extremes and finding the way forward.”

Meet the candidates: Jon Olson

Prior to running for Senate, Jon Olson served 25 years as a United States naval intelligence officer overseas in nations like Iraq, East Timor, Bosnia and Somalia. In 2011, Olson retired with the rank of commander in Cedar Lake Township with his wife, Melissa, and started teaching national security courses at Metropolitan State University and Carleton College. After caring for his father battling Alzheimer’s, Olson said that he views access to health care as a right. If elected, Olson stated that he would work to support a statewide single-payer health care system, a type of universal health care in which costs are covered by a public program.

“What I have heard is the number one issue is health care, the cost of health care, how do we afford it?” said Olson. “We have two people here that don’t have health insurance at all. That is deeply distressing, because they are one critical illness or accident away from bankruptcy. That is not good. That is a bad thing for our society that people are missing out on the opportunity to have affordable, high quality health care. So I will focus like a laser beam on trying to fix this health care issue that we have in Minnesota today so that everyone can afford high-quality health care.”

Olson stated that his leadership experience in the military and his work with people of different backgrounds and cultures would make him a good fit for the Minnesota legislature.

“As I think of the issues we talked about tonight, the American Dream is slipping away,” said Olson. “If you’re a young person, I’m not sure you have a whole lot of confidence in what life is going to look like in 15 or 20 years. That is heartbreaking. So I think this election is going to be a watershed moment for us, as Minnesotans, to decide what path we want to move on and what kind of initiatives we want to focus on. What kind of Minnesota you want to build. I think my lifetime of leadership experience, the broad and deep experience I’ve had around the world and leading people and finding solutions to complex problems, the fact that I’ve served as a diplomat, that I’ve built relationships, that I’ve been a consensus builder all my life finding win-win solutions, I feel like it puts me in a good position to serve as your State Senator should you choose me.”

Meet the candidates: Davin Sokup

Davin Sokup doesn’t consider himself a traditional candidate. The senate hopeful has no history of holding office or military experience, but being from a working class background, Sokup stated that he knows the issues facing Minnesotans. As a carpenter, small business owner, millennial with student loan debt and a transgender man, Sokup said he’s impacted by many of the decisions made in St. Paul and could represent blue collar Minnesotans as a blue collar Minnesotan.

“I think that what is going to win this election for a Democrat is a candidate who is meeting someone where they’re at and can relate to their story,” said Sokup. “My family and myself have dealt with a lot of the issues that people in this district deal with every day. I think a candidate like that can be incredibly inspiring and motivating to get people to show up to vote. It’s a powerful feeling to have when you see someone who represents the life that you lead want to lead for your community. I think it gets people out to vote. I hope to champion issues for the working class and I think that my story represents well with people here. I think it’s really important to see someone at your door asking for your vote who says ‘I understand what you’re struggling with. I’m likely struggling with the same thing and I’m going to fight help for a solution that matters deeply to me and matters deeply to all of us.’”

If elected, Sokup stated that his main mission would be to bring back high paying and green jobs to the district.

“Big picture, what I would love to see in our community is access to the kinds of jobs that I witnessed my family having access to as a kid,” said Sokup. “Even then, those jobs were deteriorating, but I understand why people in my generation have left and why they don’t come back. If I can focus somehow on addressing climate change through the types of jobs that we get into greater Minnesota with focuses on wind and solar, that is what I would be incredibly proud to work on. To be one small part of what helps are community thrive again with jobs that they are incredibly proud of and invested in would be so gratifying. Outside of that being a selfish desire, it’s incredibly necessary. We’re seeing young people leave our communities, because they have no access to jobs. If you get a job that pays $12 an hour, how are you supposed to buy homes when you have to pay a mortgage and student loans? How are we supposed to raise families on that kind of wage?”

Voters will have the opportunity to weigh in at the District 20 Senate race on Tuesday, Feb. 25 at the Minnesota precinct caucuses. There, delegates will be selected to vote for a senate candidate at the DFL Senate District Endorsing Convention on Friday, April 24. Before then, the candidates will meet again for a second forum at Elko New Market Library on Saturday, March 14 at 1:30 p.m.

Historical Society explores refurbishing Elysian Museum

The Le Sueur County Historical Society is looking for a fresh start and new space.

In January, the historical society received cost estimates on a planned project to refurbish the Elysian Museum. Long before the building held items important to the county’s history, the museum had been built as a school in 1895. But in more recent years, the Elysian Museum has been closed to the public due to its decrepit condition.

“Now it’s in dire need of refurbishing,” said LCHS President Bill Stangler. “The windows are in bad shape, the insides are in bad shape. The roof, soffit and fascia are in bad shape and rotted out, so it needs a major facelift if it’s going to be utilized.”

The historical society is exploring bringing back the museum to its old self through a three-phase project. The first part of the project, valued at $500,000 according to estimates, would see the roof, steeple, chimney, flooring and plumbing repaired to return the building to what it originally looked like when it first opened more than a century ago. The second phase, also estimated to cost around $500,000 would focus on woodworks and improvements to electricity, plumbing and ensuring the building is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The third phase, at $180,000, would consist of finishing touches to complete the project.

Altogether, embarking on such a project would cost $1.2 million. It’s a significant chunk of change, especially for the Historical Society, which entered the new year notably low on funds. The society is not only grappling with the poor condition of the museum but a lack of paid staff, programming and the aftermath of a lawsuit over leadership of the organization. Given the financial circumstances, it will likely be years before the project reaches completion and funding would rely heavily on obtaining state grants from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund and the Legislature.

“It’s just a ways away, and we’re still pinched for money,” said Stangler.

Refurbishing the Elysian Museum is just one piece of the Historical Society’s mission to move forward. Among Stangler’s priorities is to find paid workers to support the society’s activities, rather than the all-volunteer group that is currently keeping the organization afloat. That staff would eventually include a full-time director and curator who could manage the exhibits catalog, the many historical items the society has in storage.

Stangler is also aware that the society needs to grow so that it can continue. Driving engagement, primarily with youth, through programming and guest speakers who can educate residents about the county’s history would be a must. To get the public involved this year, the Historical Society has begun talks with the Le Sueur County Fair to see if they would be able to put up a booth.

“We will have to see how that goes,” said Stangler. “It will be a lot of items inside a building, or we will get a lot of bigger items and showcase them to the public. We’ve got quite a bit of machinery that’s closed in and no one really sees it. If we can showcase some of those items at the Le Sueur County Fair it would be a good deal.”

To Stangler, it will all be worth it if the organization can keep Le Sueur County’s history, both past and present, alive for future generations.

“History continues to be made, you know,” Stangler said. “If you drive through the countryside right now, you better start looking at barns, because in 10 years you won’t see farm barns. You see very few right now, and it’s something that’s going to pass and it should be recorded and photographed. History is a continuous thing. It’s moving forward all the time. Every day is history.”

Federal flood insurance now available to Le Center property owners

Residents and business owners in Le Center now have the option to insure their homes and buildings with federally-backed flood insurance after the city became one of 22,000 communities participating in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).

Under the NFIP, residents in Le Center with single family dwellings can purchase flood insurance that can cover up to $250,000 in damages to their homes and $100,000 in coverage for the contents in their property. Coverage for belongings is also available to renters. For owners of commercial properties, coverage for damages to buildings and the contents within are capped at a value of $500,000.

“In the event of property damage caused by floods greater than the base flood, which can occur with devastating results, the purchase of flood insurance can provide substantial financial protection for property owners,” wrote Rachel Sears, the director of the Floodplain Management Division at FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) in a letter to the city of Le Center.

Flood insurance can be purchased from any insurance agent or broker licensed within the state of Minensota. Once bought, the insurance won’t go into effect until after a 30-day waiting period.

There are 10 exceptions, but the following are the two most commonly used. There is no waiting period if the purchase of flood insurance is made in connection with the making, increasing, extension, or renewal of a loan. A one day waiting period is in effect if the purchase in relation to the revision or update of the program’s Flood Hazard Boundary Map or Flood Hazard Insurance Map. Those maps would be subject to revision in the event that FEMA were to locate buildings in Special Flood Hazard Areas. Currently, no buildings in Le Center are located in an SFHA.

While nearby communities in Le Sueur County have been hit hard by high waters, Le Center has had little risk of flooding. The city does not reside in a floodplain, is surrounded by dry land and has no significant bodies of water nearby. Because of this, flood insurance traditionally had not been available to communities like Le Center. But with rule changes to the NFIP and the waters affecting surrounding communities, the city pushed to be a part of the program.

“The federal standards on that have changed over the years and that was what prompted the city to start investigating this,” said Mayor Josh Frederickson. “With the help of Le Sueur County Emergency Services’ Ann Traxler we started to investigate what the process would be to apply and that process took roughly about a year’s time. Now this is another available option if residents want to add this onto their policies.”

“This step was taken as a preventative measure to at least allow the option for homeowners to have this type of coverage under their policy,” added Frederickson. “I would urge all homeowners and businesses to speak with insurance reps to really identify how this would benefit them on a personal level and on a business level.”

Jose Reyes of TCU wins by a pin over Riley Butcher of Glencoe-Silver Lake/Lester Prairie in the semifinals at 195 pounds.

TCU Superintendent Teri Preisler shares information on the district’s building bond referendum at an April 2016 community meeting. After seven years with the district, Preisler is retiring, and the School Board wants residents’ input on what traits they want in a successor. (Leader file photo)