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Sawatzky building trust


WILLMAR -- Minnesota needs to work together again, says Mary Sawatzky, 51, of Willmar, the DFL-endorsed candidate for the Minnesota House of Representatives District 17B.

She said voters want an end to partisanship and are looking for a candidate who can hear and represent their interests above those of the party.

Sawatzky is making her first bid for office by challenging first-term incumbent Bruce Vogel, R, Willmar, and Independence Party candidate Zack Liebl, of Atwater.

The middle class has been hit hard under Republican leadership, according to Sawatzky. The elimination of the homestead credit, cuts to Local Government Aid, and claims of balancing the budget by withholding funding to education are chief among the issues she raises in her campaign.

Yet Sawatzky said her main goal is to address the issue she said voters raise more than any other: She wants to end the political gridlock and open communication across party lines.

"I think we have to get people's respect back, and trust. We need to communicate better. I'd like to see the Legislature as a group of people who will work together,'' she said.

She has been active in a wide range of civic activities, ranging from VFW Baseball to the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life campaign in Kandiyohi County.

In the process she's built a strong network of friends and acquaintances. The ability to work with others and build consensus are attributes she said she can bring to St. Paul.

Sawatzky is a Willmar educator who also serves as president of Education Willmar. She grew up in Granite Falls, and earned a bachelor's degree in special education and elementary education at St. Cloud State University. She worked in the New London-Spicer Schools before joining Willmar Schools 25 years ago.

Sawatzky said she wants to be a voice at the table when education is discussed in St. Paul, but that her agenda is shaped by the needs of her constituents, not any single issue. She is upset that the Legislature claims to have balanced the budget and increased funding to education when it withheld funding to schools.

Withholding the funds means that the state budget is not balanced, said Sawatzky. School districts will have to obtain financing to carry their budgets. The increase in funding for students will instead pay the interest owed banks.

A fresh set of eyes is needed in St Paul, according to Sawatzky. There are ways to hold down spending while not harming important services.

The state must also be willing to consider increases in revenue when necessary. There are loopholes for the rich to plug, and options such as extending the sales tax to sales over the Internet to consider that can protect businesses in rural Minnesota, said Sawatzky.

She supports Local Government Aid, and views it as a matter of responsibility. It supports essential services such as police protection in small, rural communities, she said.

Reductions to LGA and other cutbacks have served to place more of the burden on property taxes, and are hurting the middle class most of all.

Sawatzky said the district's needs are being ignored by the failure to complete the four-lane, state Highway 23 project. She believes the state is not keeping up with transportation needs, and that hurts rural areas most of all. The region's link to the metropolitan area is important for the economy and jobs, and to maintain the quality of life needed to attract and retain young families.

If elected, Sawatzky said her first goals would be to devote her energies to building the relations to improve the Legislature, and focus most of all on constituent needs.

"We need to have better communication skills and be approachable,'' said Sawatzky. "That's my first goal for working in St. Paul.''

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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