Legislative candidates talk the issues; District 27A and B candidates answer questions at forum

Published 9:09 am Friday, October 26, 2018

The Eagles Club in Austin hosted a public forum for candidates seeking state representative seats in Districts 27A and 27B on Wednesday afternoon.

Present at the forum were 27A incumbent Rep.Peggy Bennett (R), 27A challenger Terry Gjersvik (DFL), and 27B incumbent Rep. Jeanne Poppe (DFL).

Poppe’s challenger, Christine Green (R), was absent from the forum.

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Audience members asked the candidates about their respective positions on four issues.

Do you support a single payer healthcare system?

“I’m not sure that I would say that I’m on board with just the single payer healthcare system,” Poppe said. “I would say that I think that we need to fix our healthcare access and affordability. I’m not sure that we have one single silver bullet that is going to do that.”

Rep. Jeanne Poppe

Poppe said she supported a MinnesotaCare buy-in to “allow people to have access to different healthcare insurance systems.” She also said she believes  “we are moving closer to needing to do something along those (single payer system) lines.”

“A single payer healthcare system is estimated to cost approximately $17 billion a year,” Bennett said. “Other states have tried this and it hasn’t worked. That would be over half of the Minnesota budget. Where do we get that money?

Bennett criticized the Affordable Care Act and said a MinnesotaCare buy-in “would be more harmful to rural Minnesota than anything.”

“Minnesota Care has the least reimbursement rate and our hospitals and clinics are already struggling with low reimbursement rates from Medicare and Medicaid and we have a large population of seniors in rural Minnesota,” she said.

“Right now, one out of every five dollars in our national economy is going toward healthcare, and that is increasing,” Gjersvik said. “If we don’t do something soon, it’ll be one out of every four dollars.”

Gjersvik said he believed all options needed to be on the table, and that he would hold town hall meetings and “bring in an expert or a group on the public option and bring in an expert or a group on the private option and we can talk about it.”

“I think it’s important for citizens to get educated about what it means,” he added. “We have a price problem; we have a payment system problem. What we have right now is a broken system. We can’t continue to do what we’re doing today.”

What will be done to address transportation needs and, if additional state funding is provided, should counties be required to eliminate related taxes?

“Sometimes we talk about raising the gas tax, and frankly you can’t raise the gas tax enough to cover the needs that we have, but maybe that’s part of the answer,” Poppe said. “We could talk about getting some money from car parts. Maybe we shift and try to put more money in from other areas. A lot of these are bigger issues than saying we’re going to do one thing and solve the problem.”

Rep. Peggy Bennett

“I’m really happy with what we did in 2017 when our legislature put in a little over $5 billion into roads and bridges over the next 10 years,” Bennett said. “We took current taxes on car parts and those related to vehicle parts and put that into our fund for roads and bridges.”

Bennett said she did not support raising the gas tax, calling it “antiquated,” and said she would support a constitutional amendment that would make taxes on car parts a permanent source of road and bridge funds.

“In Freeborn County, there are 60 miles of roads that are antiquated and they need to be fixed and are sitting in an unfunded status right now,” Gjersvik said, adding that he supports a nickel gas tax. He also said there are other options from the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities that could address the situation, though he did not specify.

“Engineers at the county level need a sustainable amount of money so they can plan long term so their contractors can plan long term for equipment and staff,” he said.

Do you support sanctuary cities or a sanctuary state in Minnesota, or would you cooperate with U.S. Customs Immigration Enforcement?

“I do support that we have immigrants in our community,” Poppe said. “Austin survives because we have immigrants in our community. We have a number of people who have chosen to come here for work and do what they need to do to support their families. Is immigration a problem we have to be solving? Absolutely. We have to figure out who’s coming into our country and who’s going to be able to work here, but right now it’s a federal issue.”

Terry Gjersvik

“Legal immigrants are part of the wonderful fabric of this state and nation and I support that,” Bennett said. “When we’re talking about sanctuary states and sanctuary cities, we’re talking about people who are here illegally. You can go on both sides on the compassionate part of how to deal with that, but my thought is that we are a nation of laws, and we are set up as a state and nation to follow the laws. If we don’t like the current laws on illegal immigration, we need to get them changed in the proper process. No, I do not support sanctuary states or cities because they are choosing to break our nation’s laws.”

“I’ve seen the diversity of our district and it is much higher than I expected” Gjersvik said. “A friend of mine’s brother is a plant manager in Albert Lea and I know that the immigrant group that works there is real important to him and the functioning of that plant. I think it’s a shame as a nation that we have not been able to come together and made some immigration reform laws so that we can come to a solution to a problem that is really dividing our country and adding to the polarization we certainly do not need at this point.”

What should the legislature do to attract more people who want to work and alleviate the workforce shortage?

“We need to educate people to go into jobs, and one of the things I’ve been working on is trying to make sure we have access to technical education for high school students,” Poppe said. She also stated a need to diversify the workforce and have adequate, affordable housing.

Bennett agreed with Poppe about education, saying schools should be “balanced, not just funneling our students to a four-year college, but also including the trades.” She also said more needed to be done to keep people in Minnesota, particularly those leaving because of high taxes.

“Establishing and creating a world-class workforce is something that we need to do,” Gjersvik said, arguing that companies rank an accessible market and available workforce as the top reasons for opening in an area. Citing his experience as a teacher, he said that much time is spent preparing students for tests to enter a four-year school, but only 15 percent of people in Freeborn County had a bachelors degree.

“We’re neglecting the 85 percent that are going to stay and work in our community and I believe we need to invest more in high school vocational programs,” he said.

He also advocated student loan forgiveness for those going into technical and vocational training.