By Anna Erickson
State candidates running for Dist. 2A and 2B seats fielded a wide range of questions at a League of Women Voters-sponsored forum Thursday night.
Dist. 2A incumbent Roger Erickson (DFL), a retired elementary teacher from Baudette, said he will continue to work on funding issues for schools, electric cooperatives and other group.
Dist. 2B incumbent Steve Green (Republican) is a small business owner from Fosston. He is running again because he’s worried about the next generation and elderly on a fixed income, he said.
Dave Hancock (Republican) is challenging Erickson for the Dist. 2A seat. He is a former teacher, veteran and business owner. He served in that seat from 2010-12. He believes in the core belief of the constitution and that people should be free.
David Sobieski (DFL) is challenging Green for the Dist. 2B seat. He owns a small boat cover manufacturing business in New York Mills. He said he knows how to make jobs in rural Minnesota and wants to be an advocate for the area.
Lu Ann Hurd-Lof, a member of the League of Women Voters, moderated the forum. She started out with a question about how candidates would work to fix the many bridges and roads across the state and locally.
“Stop wasting money on Senate office buildings and light rail in the Twin Cities,” Hancock said.
In the past, road and bridge work has been funded with bonds but he would like to use the general fund, he said.
Funding will likely come from the tax committee, Erickson said.
“This will be an important issue coming up,” he added.
The state has gotten behind but the good news is it will mean additional jobs, Erickson said.
Sobieski said that the state will have a return on investment when it invests money in roads and bridges.
“We can’t afford not to. We can barely maintain them as it is,” he said.
Green said that a lot of money right now goes to metro transit and something different needs to happen.
“We have the money but we need to be responsible,” he said.
How would you level the playing field for rural school districts, the candidates were asked.
There’s a disparity between metro and rural school districts, Hancock said. He didn’t vote for that disparity, he said, and wants to allow scholarships for all districts.
“We did level the playing field last session,” Erickson said.
More funding is going to outstate Minnesota with full funding for all day, every day kindergarten and early childhood.
Green disagreed. He said there wasn’t much done because mandates were increased along with funding.
“We’re not gaining anything but losing,” he said.
Sobieski said that Menahga School District and Park Rapids Area School District received more per pupil unit funding but it’s still not enough.
In talking with Park Rapids Superintendent Lance Bagstad, Sobieski said he learned the district doesn’t have enough money for an agriculture teacher, which it needs. He wants to be able to make that happen.
Candidates were asked what legislative measures they would support to help with agriculture.
Sobieski mentioned the agriculture teacher again and said he would support making that happen.
“It all comes down to putting people in the same room to make things happen,” he said.
Green said that the state needs to get the rails up and running and deregulate to get more money to farmers.
The University of Minnesota is the only place in the state that can certify ag teachers and that’s one of the reasons schools have trouble finding them, Erickson said.
Hancock said that taxes need to be reduced for farmers. He also wants to make sure no more good farmland is turned into wetlands.
Considering the environment, candidates were asked if they were concerned about the proposed Enbridge pipeline and what research they have done.
Green said that there are old pipelines that need to be replaced with new ones.
“Our nation runs on energy and we need something,” he said.
A lot of people don’t want the pipeline in their backyard but it needs to go somewhere, he said.
Erickson agreed that the state needs a pipeline sooner than later and needs to get something through.
Hancock believes that the pipelines are the most ecologically friendly way to transport oil and they need to stay away from trains.
Sobieski agreed and said pipelines need to be part of the mix.
“We need to be deliberate and careful. We need to have all the players at the table,” he said.
What is the role of the government for water-related issues and Aquatic Invasive Species, the candidates were asked.
Green said he surrounds himself with people who know about water issues and can tell him what needs to be done.
Hancock said this is an area where there can be bipartisanship.
“Park Rapids is doing some great things. Let’s gather the experts,” he said.
Sobieski said that the state needs to utilize the University of Minnesota for research and fully fund AIS.
Erickson said that the government has provided funding for local agencies to work on different ways to curb AIS and he will continue to support funding.
Candidates were asked how they would work with others whose values and ideas don’t align with their own.
“I’m building relationships down there, not building barriers,” Erickson said.
He says it’s really important to cross the aisle.
Green said during the last session that had a DFL controlled House it was hard to get anything passed that came from Republicans.
Hancock said that when working on a bill it’s important to get a sponsor from both parties early on. He would also like to have more opportunities where legislators can get to know each other outside the legislature.
Sobieski said compromise is “not something you talk about, it’s something you do.”
Candidates were asked about their views on Local Government Aid.
Green said that if he could fix some of the state’s budget problems cities wouldn’t need LGA.
Erickson said that he supports LGA.
Sobieski said LGA is a good thing and is a great equalizer.
Hancock said a lot of LGA is going to the suburbs and it needs to be revisited so more money goes to rural cities.
How can state government respond to the needs of veterans?
Hancock said that most of the veterans benefits come from federal government but he wants to make sure the state takes care of veterans just like everyone else.
Erickson said that he supports more regional veterans centers so they don’t have to drive as far to appointments.
Green agrees that there are many veterans issues that will need to be addressed and “we can’t turn our backs on those who fought for us.”
Sobieski is a U.S. Air Force veteran and said that “we can’t do enough to help our veterans.”
He accused Green of not supporting the veterans financially and said Green didn’t vote to give money to veterans during the last session.
Green responded by saying that the veterans funding bill was thrown in with other items that he couldn’t vote for, including bonding.
“I will justify what I do,” he said.
The next candidate forum is for Hubbard County Commissioner District 5 from 7 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 9 at the Lake George Town Hall, 37137 U.S. 71, Lake George. Invited to participate are District 5 candidates Cal Johannsen and Ted Van Kempen.