Familiar opponents spar over differences in race for District 17A
MONTEVIDEO -- Two familiar opponents are back in the ring for the District 17A seat in the Minnesota House of Representatives, and it showed when incumbent Andrew Falk, DFL-Murdock, and Republican challenger Tim Miller, of Prinsburg, sparred this...
MONTEVIDEO - Two familiar opponents are back in the ring for the District 17A seat in the Minnesota House of Representatives, and it showed when incumbent Andrew Falk, DFL-Murdock, and Republican challenger Tim Miller, of Prinsburg, sparred this week at the Montevideo Chamber of Commerce-sponsored candidate forum.
They know very well where they differ.
Taking advantage of questions posed by audience members Tuesday evening, Miller emphasized his opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion, and challenged Falk on his support for bonding to build a new Senate Office Building, which is projected to cost $74.5 million.
“I don’t feel that it is right for me to go and decide the medical decisions of another person and that is why I voted accordingly,’’ said Falk, in response to an audience member’s question on his votes on three different bills pertaining to reproductive rights and abortion in recent years.
As for the Senate Office Building, Falk said it represents the best and lowest-cost option as the state moves forward with repairing the Capitol building and trying to meet space needs for year-around employees in St. Paul. And, he said, he sees some genuine benefits in putting the offices of legislators from the two parties under the same roof.
Miller agreed with the audience member who asked why the state authorized up to $90 million in bond funds for the building. “I don’t mean to be glib but that’s my question too,’’ Miller said.
Falk is the fifth generation in the family’s farm and seed business north of Murdock. He is seeking his fourth term in the House.
Miller is employed by Habitat for Humanity in Willmar and has a private consulting firm assisting nonprofit and for-profit ventures. He challenged Falk as the Republican candidate in 2012 in a contest decided by a 10,465-to-8,906 vote tally.
District 17A includes all of Swift and Chippewa counties, most of Renville County and a few townships in southern Kandiyohi County.
Questions raised by audience members in Montevideo brought out differences on subjects ranging from local government aid to pay equity issues.
Local government aid is provided by the state to local governments based on a formula. The funds may be used for any government expenditure and are intended to provide property tax relief.
Falk said the coalition that was built among rural, suburban and urban legislators to increase local government aid has benefited the rural communities that rely on it to hold the line on property taxes and maintain essential services such as police and fire protection.
Miller charged that local government aid is losing its focus on small, rural communities and comes with too many unfunded mandates.
The Republican candidate responded to a question on pay equity legislation for women by emphasizing that he supports equal pay for equal work, but expressed reservations about how far the state should go to require it.
“If we try to write laws to control all of these things, it is going to be a dog chasing its tail,’’ he said.
Falk helped author the pay equity bill during the last session, and said it provides protections for women working for vendors or firms contracted by the state. Stating that women now earn 80 cents on the dollar as compared to men, Falk called the legislation a middle-class as well as fairness issue. “If both partners are working, wouldn’t you want them both to be paid and valued equally?’’
Miller told the audience that the state should have put more of the state’s bond funds into roads and bridges, rather than the state office building. Falk replied that the constitution prohibits putting bond funds into the general fund for roads and bridges, but said that the Legislature did allocate
$87 million in bond monies - the largest amount ever - to the highway trust fund, where the constitution allows it.
The two candidates found some common ground. Both said they opposed recreational use of marijuana, but supported the recent legislation allowing medical cannabis when prescribed by physicians for specific conditions.
In their own introductions, Miller said he was running out of a conviction that the rural district and its communities can thrive, “but we have to dedicate ourselves to a better, cultivated state for business development.’’
He said he was also motivated to run because “my representative does not represent me and I don’t believe he represents the majority of the people in my district.’’
Falk said he remains inspired by the late Senator Gary Kubly and wants to serve. “He always carried that positive voice and looked at this as public service,’’ Falk said. Later in the debate when discussing legislation he helped author, he described his interest this way: “I really, truly believe that politics is about improving people’s lives, as Paul Wellstone said.’’