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District 20A: Falk digs in to fight issues facing rural areas

MURDOCK -- Andrew Falk has logged thousands of miles traveling to St. Paul since being elected to represent House District 20A in 2008, with this result: He's only deepened his roots back home.

Since being elected, Falk has purchased land of his own to farm and continues to assist his father in the family's seed business near Murdock. Falk, 27, is the fifth generation of the family to farm in Swift County. A University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management grad, Falk is also the founder of a renewable energy development company.

He continues to work toward making possible a large wind farm development.

In between, he continues to log those miles representing constituent concerns in St. Paul. He said helping constituents deal with the state bureaucracy has been one of the most rewarding aspects of his work. "It's something people never see,'' he said while adding, "I really enjoy the work.''

District 20A encompasses 4½ counties along the state's western border, including all or parts of Big Stone, Lincoln, Lac qui Parle, Swift and Yellow Medicine counties. The counties continue to lose population and that has made job creation and keeping local dollars home among Falk's highest priorities, he said.

He made the most of his first term by gaining two vice chairmanships on finance committees.

Helping make possible a capital investment bill that provides tax credits to benefit new and emerging businesses is among the legislation he is most proud. The legislation is already proving effective at helping promote small-business development in ways other economic tools could not.

"Things can always be made to work better,'' he said.

Falk was also successful in blunting the economic impact caused by cuts to Local Government Aid by joining rural legislators in exempting the smallest communities from the reductions.

He also fought to lessen the economic blow caused by withholding education dollars by making the case to reduce the impact to the Lac qui Parle Valley and Ortonville-Bellingham school districts.

There's been plenty of frustration, too. "Incredibly upset'' is how Falk said he reacted to the news from Corrections Corporation of America that they were closing the Prairie Correctional Facility in Appleton. "I knew the loss of jobs would have a dramatic impact on our community.''

Falk said he unsuccessfully urged the company to transfer inmates from its other facilities to Appleton. He also spoke directly with the company's CEO, Damon Hininger, and received assurances that reopening the Appleton facility is his top concern.

Falk said he authored legislation -- including a bill that would have mandated the state move inmates from Moose Lake Correctional Facility to Prairie Correctional Facility in Appleton -- but was opposed by both Gov. Tim Pawleny and Commissioner of Corrections Joan Fabian.

Falk said he is continuing to work toward making it possible for the Prairie Correctional Facility to reopen in Appleton.

He has also teamed up with fellow DFL'ers Sen. Gary Kubly of Granite Falls and Lyle Koenen of Clara City to work toward opening a veterans nursing home near the veterans clinic in Montevideo.

Falk said the next session will be dominated by the debate over how to balance the budget.

He supports a balanced approach as advocated by Tom Stinson, state finance director. Falk said cuts will be necessary, but he will fight hard to maintain educational funding and Local Government Aid for rural areas.

To generate more revenue, Falk said he favors creating a fourth income tier and increasing the income tax from 7.85 to 9 percent on individual incomes who make more than $250,000.

He charges that the tax cuts favored by Pawlenty and the Republican Party have served only to shift more of the tax burden to property taxes. For the first time, property taxes collected in Minnesota exceed income taxes, Falk said.

Property taxes hurt rural areas most of all, since they lack the industrial and commercial base that larger, urban areas possess.

He also takes issues with the governor's approach to health care in Minnesota, and the cuts that rural hospitals have experienced as a consequence.

Andrew Falk

Age: 27

Family: Single

Occupation: Self-employed farmer, owner Knight Energy wind power developer; worker Falk Seed Farm

Education: KMS High School graduate; bachelor's degree in business, Carlson School of Business Management, University of Minnesota

Tom Cherveny

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

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