If elected, what is your top priority for the 2021 Legislature? Why are you running for office?
Ralph Kaehler: My top priority is to get the big things done for the people of our district rather than play party politics. This means addressing the deficit through government efficiency, spending adjustments, and targeted taxes.
We will also see an increased demand on government services alongside decreased revenues from the stressed economy caused by the pandemic. These are going to be tough challenges. Our people deserve elected officials who work toward compromise — the current partisan divide is unacceptable.
Like you, I want to leave my kids and grandkids, and all future Minnesotans, a world with the same optimism and opportunity I had.
There are currently no active farmers in the Minnesota Senate or in the DFL caucus — Farmers need a seat at the table!
Our family farm and rural business numbers have been shrinking for years, and more recently they have been rocked by market instability and uncertainty. I want to reverse those trends.
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?
RK: COVID-19 is hopefully a one-time event. It has created a significant budget deficit. If anyone tells you that there is an easy way out of this, they are lying to you. I won’t do that.
Working through this is going to require a combination of dialing back discretionary government spending and raising revenue from the sources that can afford it. This won’t be an either/or approach.
First, tier-one needs will have to be identified and funded. The next step will be to allocate the remaining funds. But we must realize that this will be a time of contracted dollars for the second tier of requests. Everyone will be required to help through contributing more and by receiving less. But we’re Minnesotans; we will get through this together.
COVID-19 resulted in dramatic changes to the delivery of education. What weaknesses in the system were highlighted by distance learning?
RK: The need for rural (and statewide) quality broadband became painfully apparent. Our rural students and teachers simply do not have access to the robust infrastructure needed to make a smooth transition to distance learning. This is a pervasive issue across many industries — not just education — but COVID-19 exposed the shortfall, and it needs to be addressed, as it should have been years ago.
Did we identify any best practices that should be incorporated in the post-pandemic era?
We know that our local schools can adjust and do it quickly. We’ve found that face-to-face interaction with educators is the ideal path for education and well-being. School districts are becoming better at applying hybrid learning models, but there is no replacement for an in-person teacher providing meaningful instruction and feedback in the classroom — something many parents of stay-at-home students have found out during the past year. And in-person schooling is about more than education — it’s an essential component to the wellbeing of our children.
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?
RK: Yes, we need to expand eligibility and access to Medicare, Medicaid, and MN Care and allow individuals to get into “group rate” programs to reduce healthcare costs. Private insurance should be allowed to continue as long as basic minimum standards are met to protect consumers. No different than car insurance.
My wife is a cancer survivor, and I cannot imagine how we would have coped financially without health insurance. Plus, as a business owner, I know just how expensive it is to pay for employee health coverage. We need to find smart, economic ways to help both the people in the insurance market as well as the employers that help pay the bill. One way to do that is to offer government-run programs alongside private companies.
In the near term, expanding group insurance options (i.e., pooling) to reduce premiums can be done quickly. Also expanding assistance for lower-income folks will provide necessary coverage, reduce costly emergency-room visits, and shift the focus to preventative care. Basic care contracts and telehealth care have shown themselves to be cost savings options for more basic needs. Prescription drug pricing remains an issue that needs to be addressed on both a state and federal level.
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?
We need to support our police and law enforcement. Looting and burning is not acceptable. We also need to reform the approach to how the law is implemented and address social inequity to bring some resolution to the underlying issues.
The passed legislation is a good start, but there is more work to be done.
Police accountability reform is a small part of what still needs to be done — there needs to be protection for reporting excessive use of force.
Unfortunately, not everyone has the same access to opportunities — opportunities that were there for folks like me, white men. Minority communities have been locked out of many areas due to the color of their skin. Expanding access to capital, loan guarantees, interest buydown for minority-owned businesses — especially in socially disadvantaged areas — needs to be enhanced to help bring optimism to those individuals and areas. This is a cost-effective, broad spectrum way to increase access while still maintaining solid business plans when revitalizing those communities.