Different routes to goals in District 17
WILLMAR -- Senate District 17 candidates Lyle Koenen, DFL-Clara City, and Andrew Lang, R-Olivia, shared common ground as they took on issues in a League of Women Voters-sponsored forum Tuesday in Willmar, but there are differences in how they get...
WILLMAR - Senate District 17 candidates Lyle Koenen, DFL-Clara City, and Andrew Lang, R-Olivia, shared common ground as they took on issues in a League of Women Voters-sponsored forum Tuesday in Willmar, but there are differences in how they get to that ground.
Both agree that long-term, sustainable funding is needed for transportation, both support the reopening of the Prairie Correctional Facility in Appleton, and both favor tax credits and other steps to make child care and health insurance more affordable.
Lang is making his first bid for office, while incumbent Koenen brings the experience of serving in the Legislature since 2003, when he was first elected to the House of Representatives. He was elected to the Senate in 2012 to fill the term of the late Gary Kubly of Granite Falls.
Koenen is self-employed as a milk contract hauler and had farmed with his family near Maynard. Lang is the parks supervisor in Renville County and a commissioned officer in the Minnesota Army National Guard.
"The real solution to transportation is long-term, ongoing funding,'' said Koenen in response to questions on transportation and the state's infrastructure needs. He supported the $700 million transportation allocation in the bonding bill that failed in the last minutes of the legislative session, but cautioned that bonding has its limits. Koenen said he's willing to take from both Democratic and Republican proposals to raise ongoing revenue for transportation funding. He emphasized the importance of finding a mix of revenue sources.
Lang agrees that long-term funding is needed. He said he had been "tracked down" by county engineers at the onset of his campaign on the need. He said he would start addressing the state's transportation needs by reviving the $700 million bonding proposal.
Lang opposes the Southwest Light Rail Transit proposal to extend the line from Minneapolis to several other metro area communities, charging that Minnesota "is not one of those states'' where light rail can be effective.
Koenen said light rail offers no benefit to his rural district, but he supported its funding allocation in the bonding bill. The allocation was necessary to get the support of urban legislators for the bonding bill and what it offered Greater Minnesota, he explained.
Koenen said he would like to see the state of Minnesota purchase the Prairie Correctional Facility and operate it. State ownership and operation would provide more consistency in the jobs it provides than under private ownership. "A lot more stable if state operated,'' he said.
Reopening the privately owned prison is a "no-brainer,'' said Lang, who added that he is open to either state ownership or operations by its current owner, Corrections Corporation of America.
Lang charged that the MNsure health insurance marketplace "is a disaster'' and said health care costs have been the topic raised on nine of every 10 doorknocking stops he had made.
Koenen agreed that health care costs are "running out of hand.'' But he cautioned that MNsure is simply an exchange for purchasing insurance coverage. If ended, its current clients would be moved into the federal exchange. He said he has not gotten a clear answer yet on whether the federal exchange would be more affordable.
Koenen attributed the gridlock that marked much of the last legislative session to the unwillingness of many to compromise. Lang blamed a lack of trust for some of the inaction, but also said that "gridlock is not necessarily a bad thing if there can't be some kind of agreement. I think we overreact sometimes when gridlock is used as a negative.''
Lang emphasized his 15 years of military service in instilling in him values that qualify him to represent the district. Koenen emphasized his focus on putting his conscience and constituents first before his party caucus.
District 17 includes all or most of Kandiyohi, Swift, Chippewa and Renville counties.