Several candidates seeking the votes of area residents to represent them in state and national offices faced-off in a forum Thursday evening, Sept. 13, at the Ogilvie High School auditorium.
Republican State Rep. Sondra Erickson and her Democratic challenger Joe Walsh were the first to answer questions from forum organizers and those in the audience.
Walsh explained to voters why he was running for Minnesota House District 16A, which includes Mille Lacs County and portions of Morrison, Benton and Sherburne counties.
“Simply put — we can do better,” he said. Walsh cited the government shutdown of last year and borrowing from schools and the tobacco fund as the major motivations behind his campaign.
Erickson began the debate by stating her background in agriculture and education make her the ideal candidate for the district.
“I think I understand the district very well,” she said.
Q: What is Minnesota doing right in terms of its lower than national average unemployment rate?
Erickson: Minnesota is “least affected” by economic downturns. She claimed the last two years of policy emanating from St. Paul have kept “you in charge” by holding down taxes and reforming education.
Walsh: “We don’t have a strong economy without an education.” He points to the state’s strong support of education 10 to 20 years ago as a reason why it’s doing better than other regions. “And two, we haven’t implemented things like right to work that bring down wages.”
Q: Property taxes are high for many in this area. What are your plans for Local Government Aid?
Erickson: “Property taxes are a local issue,” she said. “It’s up to counties, townships, cities and school districts to keep a check on levies.” She said many municipalities had asked the legislature to remove the homestead tax credit because they were restricting their ability to collect property taxes. She gave no response on what her plans for LGA would be.
Walsh: “Property taxes were never meant to be the No. 1 source of revenue in Minnesota,” he said. He criticized the repeal of the homestead tax credit, which he claimed benefits wealthier Minnesotans over the middle class. He said LGA is vital for smaller communities that cannot raise property taxes enough to cover basic needs.
Q: What do you think should be done about the federal investigation into Minnesota’s Medicare system and the proposed audit?
Erickson: “Unfortunately, the audit that the legislature passed doesn’t go into effect until 2014,” she said. Erickson also claimed she would have never authorized an HMO system 20 years ago, but she doesn’t fault the insurance companies involved in the investigation that are accused of over-billing the state.
“We lost track as Minnesotans as to what happened to us regarding these HMOs,” she said. “The accountability and transparency needs to be reinstated. Certainly fraud in government is something that needs to be taken seriously.”
She said the audit should go back as far as it needs to and that reimbursements need to be made.
Walsh: “Let’s be very clear here,” he said. “This is not a case of government fraud. This is a case of government allowing private business to run wild.” He added the audit needs to go back far enough to see how much was “stolen from our state.”
“We need to recoup that money. The statistics show that they essentially overcharged,” he said. “Government isn’t the problem in this circumstance. It’s a problem of … government passing the buck on to the private sector.”
Q: What are your views on the constitutional amendment on voter ID?
Erickson: She said some type of voter ID proposal has been circulating the capitol since 2000.
“This is not a new issue and it didn’t consume that much time at the legislature,” she said. Erickson added that the cost won’t be as much as has been reported and if people need identification for all sorts of other things, so why not voting.
Walsh: “When we elected our legislators in 2010, we sent a very clear message that jobs and the economy were our No. 1 priority,” he said. “And what we got was two constitutional amendments.”
He said the voter ID proposal on the ballot is another “unfunded mandate” and favors instead electronic poll books. Walsh claimed that option is less expensive and will identify felons not eligible to vote.
“It doesn’t say on your driver’s license whether or not you’re a felon,” Walsh said. “This is a distraction. This is a solution looking for a problem.”
For the full story, see the Thursday, Sept. 20 print edition of the Times. See next week’s Times for coverage of the Sen. Dave Brown and Sally Knox exchange.