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Politicians visit with Ridgewater students

Abdi Hussen, left, of Willmar meets Senate candidate Larry Rice of Willmar during a meet the candidates session held Thursday at the cafeteria at Ridgewater College in Willmar. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

WILLMAR -- Ridgewater College students had a chance Thursday in the school's cafeteria to question candidates for office.

Most of the people running for local legislative seats were there, along with some city, county and congressional candidates. Several third-party candidates for statewide office attended, too.

The Ridgewater Student Senate conducted a voter registration effort earlier this fall. The two-hour Campaign Rally Day event was a continuation of the effort to encourage students to vote.

The candidates varied in their approaches. Some came with a stack of brochures and a campaign sign.

Some brought decorations. The showiest tables were for legislative candidates Larry Rice, a DFL candidate for State Senate in District 13, and Bruce Vogel, a Republican candidate in State House District 13B.

Rice had a colorful striped cloth on his table and bowls of candy. Vogel had a Halloween theme, with black signs, candy, stretchy cobwebs and rubber spiders.

The candidates saw a trickle of students walk through their tables set up at one end of the cafeteria in the beginning. They got busier when an instructor brought an entire class to visit with them.

At one point, Willmar Mayor Les Heitke decided to circulate among the tables where students were eating lunch.

It was a challenge to find people who would be voting in Willmar as he worked the crowd, he said, but everyone was friendly. Heitke was distributing photocopies of the Tribune's editorial endorsing him for re-election.

Brooks Morton, a sophomore from Spicer, and Jesse Tish, a freshman from Paynesville, circulated through the area, talking to a variety of candidates. By the time they left to go to class, they had collected fistfuls of brochure and other literature.

"I just grabbed a few of their fliers so I can read later," Tish said.

Tuesday will be the first time voting for both of them.

The two had spent considerable time talking with State Rep. Al Juhnke, DFL-Willmar, about ways to make tuition more affordable. Morton said they had been surprised to learn that students once paid no tuition to attend technical schools.

The conversations they'd had were interesting, but "other than that, we're just trying to get a bunch of candy in our pockets," Tish said with a smile.

Brooke Barrett, a sophomore from Willmar, will be a first-time voter. She also worked on the voter registration drive.

"I never realized the effect voting had," she said after speaking to several candidates.

She was with Jessica Bairett of St. Cloud and Amanda Hoeschen of Freeport, both second-year veterinary technologist students.

"Their concerns seem to be our concerns," Bairett said. They and many students are concerned about education, jobs and health care, she added.

Barrett was surprised to learn that she has met several candidates around the community. "Now, I can put the face to the name," she said.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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