As COVID-19, racial unrest and persistent political polarization continue wreaking havoc on state politics, three candidates running for two state House of Representatives seats outlined their approaches to public service.
The comments came Saturday during a virtual debate sponsored by the League of Women of Voters of Northfield and Cannon Falls.
In District 20B, first-term incumbent Todd Lippert, DFL-Northfield, participated. His challenger for the position, Joe Moravchik, R-Northfield, declined the invitation. District 20B features northern Rice County and northeast Le Sueur County. In District 58B, an area that includes southern Dakota and Goodhue counties, eight-term District 58B House incumbent Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, and his challenger, Sara Wolf, DFL-Farmington, participated.
Wolf said health care is “very complex,” noting her belief that the service needs to be accessible, of a high quality and affordable. She spoke of the 30% of health care dollars that go to administrative costs. However, she said one of the best ways to lower health care costs is having a healthier population.
Garofalo said though there is a movement to get more people currently on private care plans to public providers, the downfall to that approach is low reimbursement rates offered by popular public programs like Medicare and Medicaid. To him, cutting public sector involvement in the health care sector is not enough and needs a corresponding growing economy and other beneficial factors.
Lippert disagreed, stating the only way to hold pharmaceutical costs down is by expanding government programs. He offered anecdotes from people who have benefited from MinnesotaCare, a program he supports expanding.
To Garofalo, COVID-19 and civil unrest that could trickle to other communities are the two top concerns his district faces. As far as COVID-19, he spoke highly of the initial work Minnesota leaders undertook to prevent the spread, build surge capacity and prepare the public to learn how the virus spreads. Since then, he said Gov. Tim Walz has used static models that overstate death toll projections. To him, the governor needs to return to his initial collaborative approach.
Garofalo also said that public safety needs to be addressed in Minneapolis, noting the disproportionate number of murders within the city so far this year as racial unrest continues following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis Police Department custody.
To Lippert, the No. 1 priority is COVID-19 and the more than 200,000 U.S. deaths and more than 2,000 deaths statewide. To him, Republicans and Democrats have failed to adequately share the need to wear masks, social distance and undergo other measures to prevent the spread of the virus. He predicted the economy will not recover until COVID-19 is adequately brought under control.
Budget and taxes
Lippert acknowledged the serious spending conversations ahead for the Legislature. He believes a balanced approach will be needed, and he called for the extraordinarily wealthy to pay a relatively high share of taxes. He derided the tax cuts passed earlier in the Trump administration for what he said were disproportionate benefits for the wealthy.
Garofalo noted the state’s responsibility in having a balanced budget and criticized the Legislature for the initial surplus’ projected elimination. To him, the government is systemically growing faster than the private sector, something he said needs to be addressed.
Wolf agreed that tackling the budget will require a multi-faceted approach, adding the state needs to ensure it is being efficient and effective in delivering services.
Lippert said he supports “red flag” laws and spoke of support for the measure in states that have adopted the plan. He said red flag laws, which allow family members and law enforcement to ask a judge to temporarily remove weapons from someone who’s a danger to themselves or others, are needed.
Garofalo doesn’t support red flag laws, saying they take away an individual’s due process. He also opposes any legislation that would require the government to access medical records to deem the qualifications of any potential gun owner. To him, safeguards are already in place to determine who should have guns and any loopholes should be addressed within the existing framework.
Wolf said some of Garofalo’s statements were “valid points,” adding she believes any gun control measures should ensure needed emotional structures are in place. She also supports educating the public on safe gun storage and ensuring due process is followed.
Lippert, who sits on the House Climate Action Caucus, said it’s focused on meeting emission standards. To him, an economy-wide focus on reducing emissions is needed to achieve the state’s goal of providing all its electricity from carbon-free sources by 2050.
Lippert has authored a bill to install more EV charging stations. To him, an energy efficiency program to ensure energy bills are reduced, along with a commitment to have forests serve as massive carbon sinks are needed to ensure climate goals are needed.
Garofalo said the state currently spends a lot of money on keeping the water supply clean, has a related constitutionally dedicated fund, lottery and general fund resources. He prefers the state could do a better job of providing those dollars to communities so they could upgrade wastewater treatment plants to meet costly state standards.
Improving the state’s environment, Wolf said, provides a good chance to work with large companies with substantial carbon footprints to reduce carbon emissions. She has noticed a lot of movement toward renewable energy, along with a willingness to have solar-powered homes.
Lippert, former pastor at Northfield’s First United Church of Christ, said he is running for reelection based on his affinity for small communities, understanding of small-town businesses and belief that increasing racial diversity across the state is a strength. He spoke of his work to pause farm foreclosures once the ag economy cratered following the onset of COVID-19 and collaboration with Republican Karin Housley to tackle elder abuse in care facilities.
Wolf, a Minnesota native, has lived in Farmington since 2001, and is impressed with the local education system and community as a whole. She said she has a history of bringing together diverse perspectives.
“I believe that we have a duty to serve our communities in the ways that we can,” she said.
To Garofalo, the worst possibility is to have the Legislature dominated by one political party because of the corresponding decrease in collaboration, noting Minnesota is currently the only divided Legislature in the country.