If elected, what is your top priority for the 2021 Legislature? Why are you running for office?

Matt Little: I’m running for office because there’s more work to do. I’m proud of the bipartisan work I’ve done to increase special education funding, bring Metro Mobility to Lakeville, get infrastructure funding for Dennison and the Byllesby Dam, pass an emergency insulin bill, support farmers with some property tax relief, and obtain a larger Social Security tax subtraction for seniors.

But there’s more left to do. We need to allow people to buy into a MinnesotaCare health plan. Taxpayers are already funding these plans so they should be able to buy-in and the premiums are about 28% lower than the private market. Moreover, we need some form of paid family and medical leave. My wife Coco and I were able to spend time with our daughter Poppy when she was born, and we want that for every Minnesotan out there.

Zach Duckworth: 2020 has been a trying year thus far for all of us. Our health care system and front line workers faced unprecedented challenges, schools were interrupted, jobs were lost, businesses closed, and many have lost loved ones.

I’m running for State Senate because as a veteran in the National Guard, volunteer firefighter, and school board member, the only thing I know to do during times of crisis is raise my hand and step forward to serve. My top priority is offering calm and reasoned leadership that fosters collaboration, focuses on solutions, and remembers that the people of our district and state come before party politics — we can’t afford to be divided.

Through the actions and determination of past generations, we have emerged stronger after tragedy many times in our nation’s history and we will do it again. It’s in our nature to unite when faced with a challenge.

The Legislature will be tasked with adopting a two-year budget in 2021 with a looming shortfall due to the financial impact of COVID-19. What will be your approach to balancing the budget in terms of reducing spending and/or raising taxes and fees?

ML: The projected budget deficit is real and structural. It will, unfortunately, necessitate cuts. While we are making these tough choices, we have to prioritize the most vulnerable. That means protecting day programs, special education, healthcare and public safety.

We also need to do our best to reduce the projected deficit by providing a safe, metrics-based horizon for when closures of businesses are ended, pass a bonding bill that will provide over 20,000 jobs across the state, and look at additional revenue sources like legalizing sports gambling.

ZD: We need to address the state’s deficit without overtaxing Minnesotans. Just like managing your household, when funds are running low we have two options. One – cut wasteful spending, and two – reduce expenses. A major deficit requires both. Now is not the time to raise taxes on Minnesota families, our seniors, farmers, or small businesses. Raising taxes is not the answer during tough economic times when some folks are laid off, businesses are closing, farms are struggling, and savings are running out.

If afforded freedom and flexibility, the remarkable resilience and ingenuity of our communities would allow businesses to put their employees back to work and serve their customers safely. There would be less interruption to the flow of goods and the livelihood of our farmers. This is the fastest and most effective way to help boost our local economies and positively impact the state’s financial outlook.

COVID-19 resulted in dramatic changes to the delivery of education. What weaknesses in the system were highlighted by distance learning? Did we identify any best practices that should be incorporated in the post-pandemic era?

ML: The existing weaknesses and disparities in education have been made even more obvious since the start of distance learning. The disparity in resources has made distance learning a struggle for families and districts who didn’t immediately have the resources for laptops and iPads and internet at home. In rural areas, lack of high speed internet has also presented a challenge. It’s an even greater imperative that we expand and improve rural broadband to make sure that rural Minnesotans can still live productive lives and children in those areas do not struggle to learn because of their internet connection.

Finally, and most striking, distance learning has been even harder on students with individualized education programs (IEPs). Families have routinely reached out to me with the extra support they need. That’s why we must protect and modify the funding and support for these services in any upcoming budget decisions.

ZD: Working as a school board member it’s been an unprecedented year with some students excitedly returning to classrooms, others embracing online learning, teachers and staff welcoming them back, and parents doing their best to stay positive and flexible. It’s been humbling to see our communities across the state exercise a great deal of patience, grace, and understanding for the sake of our kids. It hasn’t been easy, it’s far from perfect, and many challenges lay ahead – but I’m confident that we’ll find our way through it together.

Distance learning shined a light on just how much we depend upon our schools – from education, to socialization, to even ensuring that our kids get a meal. Access to internet and digital learning devices was identified as a challenge for many students. A best practice moving forward is ensuring all students have access to the tools they need in order to be successful.

Affordable health care remains a concern to many Minnesotans. Do you support expansion of government-run health insurance plans? If not, what options do you support to stabilize health insurance premiums?

ML: I think we should allow anyone to buy into a MinnesotaCare health plan. Taxpayers are already paying for this program so they should be able to buy into it. Plus, the premiums are about 28% cheaper than similar private insurance plans. And, the increased options would create additional competition in the market that would drive down actual healthcare costs, not just insurance costs.

But, we must start tackling one of the root causes of the increases in health care costs: the rising costs of prescription drugs. I support creating a pharmaceutical drug price review board that can review increases in prices, and would have the power to reduce those increases if they are not made on a rational basis.

I also have a bill that would require insurance companies to provide coverage for hearing aids. It is absurd that hearing aids aren’t considered an essential piece of coverage.

ZD: Health care can be confusing, complicated, expensive, and even scary for families and seniors. I’ve heard so many stories from folks who have to make impossible decisions regarding their prescription drugs or other basic necessities. I hear you – and yes, we must do better.

The plan has to be fighting for flexibility and individual choice – we need to protect direct primary care so that you can choose your doctor. More government programs come at a cost and are not viable long term solutions.

We can reduce the cost of prescription drugs by keeping the cost of rebates down and by continually working to get as close to the true cost as possible. We need to bring transparency and affordability to the price of insulin by shifting rebates to patients. Helping the market find creative and new solutions is less costly and more efficient than government bureaucracy.

Police reform has become center stage since the George Floyd death and prompted passage of legislation during the special session. Did the laws go far enough or too far? Should the Legislature take additional measures?

ML: As part of a bipartisan coalition, I helped pass the recent historic criminal justice legislation. That law represents a good start by banning choke holds, warrior-style training, improving the arbitration process, and requiring officers to intervene if they see another officer using excessive force.

In the long term, we must stop thinking community safety is only about policing. In our district, the safety of our community doesn’t depend on constant police patrols or shot detectors. Our goal should be to build communities where the police are rarely needed and never feared by the people they’re meant to protect.

While we work to reduce society’s inequities, we must also reform how our state confronts emergencies. Options should be tailored to the emergency: mental health experts, chemical dependencies intervention specialists and social workers to resolve family conflicts, etc.

ZD: George’s death was unnecessary, preventable and inspired remarkable awareness. I’m glad both parties were able to agree on legislation regarding police reform. Like any issue – we can’t allow ourselves to become so politically divided that we fail to move forward toward progress. Lasting and meaningful change will only be achieved through collaboration, partnership, and a genuine desire to see everyone succeed.

We must lead by example and create an environment in which racism isn’t tolerated. We must set the expectation as a society that combating racism is a priority and continually seek solutions to address it. Having been endorsed by the Minnesota Police and Peace Officer Association, I understand that our law enforcement officers and first responders are folks who simply desire to serve their community — they’re our friends, neighbors, and family members. The answer is not defunding police departments, it’s focusing on reform in partnership with the community.

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