House District 17A candidates
Andrew Falk, 31, and his wife, Marnie, have one daughter.
Falk farms north of Murdock on a fifth-generation family farm.
Falk was first elected to the House in 2008 and is serving his third term.
Tim Miller, 48, and his wife, Cherie, have seven children and three grandchildren.
Miller is the sustainability coordinator for Habitat for Humanity of West Central Minnesota. He has put in 14 years in nonprofit and business development, and was an independent business owner for more than 20 years.
Civic involvement includes being a member of the Ag and Renewable Energy Committee of the Kandiyohi County and city of Willmar Economic Development Commission, a former Barn Theatre Board member, a former Christian School Board member, volunteer with Hope Pregnancy Center of Willmar and a veteran of the U.S. Army Reserve.
House District 17B candidates
Dave Baker, 52, and his wife, Mary, raised three children: Dan, Olivia and Alex. Dan died in 2011.
Baker owns and operates several businesses such as the Oaks at Eagle Creek, Green Lake Cruises and Willmar Super 8.
Civic involvement includes past chair-elect for Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, past president of Willmar Municipal Utilities, past chair of Spicer Commercial Club, board member of Willmar Chamber of Commerce and member of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Willmar.
Mary Sawatzky, 53, and her husband, Douglas, have two children, Jeff and John.
Sawatzky is a special education teacher in the Willmar School District. She is completing her first term in the House.
Civic involvement includes American Legion Auxiliary, past president of the Philanthropic Education Organization, American Cancer Society Relay for Life, VFW baseball coordinator, Willmar Baseball/Fastpitch Booster Board and member of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Willmar.
WILLMAR - Candidates from House District 17A and 17B laid out their differences in policies, priorities and politics during a forum Monday at the Willmar Municipal Utilities.
Hosted by the League of Women Voters of the Willmar Area, the forum was the final debate before the Nov. 4 general election.
Rep. Mary Sawatzky, DFL - Willmar, is being challenged by Dave Baker, R - Willmar, in District 17B, which includes nearly all of Kandiyohi County.
Rep. Andrew Falk, DFL - Murdock, is being challenged by Tim Miller, R -Prinsburg, in District 17A, which includes all of Swift and Chippewa counties, most of Renville County and a few townships in southern Kandiyohi County.
When asked what ideas the candidates have for investing in Minnesota’s future and private enterprise both Miller and Baker focused their answers on the private enterprise component and said making it easier for businesses to do business is vital for the state.
Miller said the state needs to “unshackle” businesses from excessive permits and regulations that are currently “defeating” private enterprise.
Baker said “private sector jobs is where it all begins in Minnesota.”
Baker said the state lost “good entrepreneurs” in the last two years because of taxes and regulations.
Falk and Sawatzky both said investing in “people” is key and that providing quality education from early-childhood through college and helping students and workers match their skills with careers will move the state forward.
Private business will follow the public investment made in people and education, Falk said, adding that education allows entrepreneurs to “innovate or out-compete” others. He said past cuts in higher education funding, which reduced research opportunities, not only hurt individual students but the entire state.
Sawatzky said the high college debt Minnesotans carry means college graduates aren’t buying homes, which she said creates an $83 billion negative economic impact on the state.
When asked about supporting a continued freeze of state college tuition, there was a mix of yeses and maybes from the candidates.
“I absolutely do support a freeze for another two years,” Sawatzky said.
In the past, Sawatzky said students paid about one-third of the total cost of a state college education and the state paid the rest.
“That has flipped,” Sawatzky said, with students now footing two-thirds of the cost.
Baker said he supports the concept of a college tuition freeze but questioned where the money would come from to make that happen.
Baker, who said teachers who have “amazing results” in the classroom should be paid more, said it’s unlikely a salary freeze for college teachers would be acceptable.
Miller, who has two kids in college and one about to enter college, said he hopes college tuitions remain frozen, but he said finding the revenue to fill that gap involves taxpayers’ dollars. He said the Legislature will need to make some “tough decisions” on tuition and taxes.
Falk said college tuition should be frozen and if the Legislature would’ve closed corporate tax loopholes years ago the state would’ve had enough money to maintain college programs, reduce the cost of education and “invest in the middle class.”
The candidates have all logged many miles campaigning this season. They were asked what constituents were telling them.
Falk said he hears about the need to improve transportation. He said the state has ignored the need to invest in roads and bridges for too many years. But he said while it’s easy for people to say they want those improvements in transportation, legislators have to be willing to vote to pay for them.
Miller said he also hears about the need for transportation but is also hearing from constituents about the same-sex marriage legislation. “They’re disappointed it was approved,” Miller said.
In their closing comments, Baker said he’s running for office because he doesn’t like the direction that Sawatzky and the state are heading.
“I can do better,” said Baker, who said his years as a business owner and being able to listen to people from different sides will serve him well in the legislature.
“No one will tell me how to vote,” he said.
Sawatzky said her votes in the House have represented the constituents in the district.
“I’m the vehicle to send your message to St. Paul,” she said. “I build coalitions.”
Falk said the state needs to focus on the “core” public services that have been neglected in the past. He said being effective in the Legislature means working together with people who don’t necessarily agree with him.
Miller said he doesn’t support negative advertising, but said pointing out differences between candidates isn’t necessarily negative.
“We solve differences through elections,” Miller said.
Videographer with Minnesota Jobs Coalition contests rule
The District 17 candidate forum Monday was temporarily stopped shortly after it began when Jessica Rohloff, chapter president of the League of Women Voters of the Willmar area, announced that an individual from the Minnesota Jobs Coalition had refused to comply with the League’s rules that only the local media was allowed to record the forum.
Because the organization - which was represented by a young man with a video camera - had challenged the rule and was allowed to record the event, Rohloff announced that others in the audience could do the same.
In later comments, a clearly frustrated Rohloffs said the rule was made in an attempt to prevent the forum from being disrupted by “outside” political action groups that have been actively campaigning in District 17.
Candidates from District 17A and 17B have been the target of negative campaign advertisements from both GOP and DFL political groups that aren’t directly tied to the candidates and their individual campaigns.
The Minnesota Jobs Coalition, which was at the forum on Monday, is actively campaigning against local DFL candidates.