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Minnesota House 17A, 17B candidates speak to voters

Erica Dischino / Tribune Minnesota House District 17B and 17A candidates answer questions Tuesday evening during the legislative forum sponsored by the Willmar Area League of Women Voters at the Willmar Municipal Utilities Auditorium. 1 / 6
Erica Dischino / Tribune District 17B candidates Republican Dave Baker, left, and Democrat Anita Flowe and District 17A candidate Democrat Lyle Koenen listen Tuesday evening to fellow 17A candidate Republican Tim Miller speak during the legislative forum sponsored by the Willmar Area League of Women Voters at the Willmar Municipal Utilities Auditorium. 2 / 6
Erica Dischino / Tribune District 17A Republican incumbent Tim Miller speaks Tuesday evening during the legislative forum sponsored by the Willmar Area League of Women Voters at the Willmar Municipal Utilities Auditorium.3 / 6
Erica Dischino / Tribune District 17A Democrat candidate Lyle Koenen speaks Tuesday evening during the legislative forum sponsored by the Willmar Area League of Women Voters at the Willmar Municipal Utilities Auditorium. 4 / 6
Erica Dischino / Tribune District 17B Democrat candidate Anita Flowe answers a question Tuesday evening during the legislative forum sponsored by the Willmar Area League of Women Voters at the Willmar Municipal Utilities Auditorium. 5 / 6
Erica Dischino / Tribune District 17B incumbent Republican Dave Baker answers a question Tuesday evening during the legislative forum sponsored by the Willmar Area League of Women Voters at the Willmar Municipal Utilities Auditorium. 6 / 6

WILLMAR — With just over three weeks remaining until Election Day on Nov. 6, the League of Women Voters of the Willmar Area continued to sponsor candidate forums Tuesday night, this time focusing on the races for the Minnesota House of Representatives in District 17A and 17B.

Attending the forum were Republican incumbent Dave Baker, a Willmar business owner, and Democrat Anita Flowe, a mechanical engineer from Willmar, who are running for the seat in 17B.

The candidates for 17A are incumbent and business owner Tim Miller, Republican from Prinsburg, and Democrat Lyle Koenen, who is trying to return to the state Legislature after losing the Minnesota Senate race in 2016. Koenen, of Clara City, is a retired farmer and current truck driver.

Miller was late to the forum and did not have the opportunity for an open statement, along with missing the first two questions on child care and rural transit. Miller first made an appearance at the governor's forum held at MinnWest Technology Campus before arriving at his own forum.

"I was late to class," Miller said when he arrived.

The candidates were able to share their thoughts, ideas and concerns on a number of issue during the 90-minute forum, giving voters an understanding on where they stand, how they are different and how they are similar. Many of the questions asked at the forum focused on specific groups of people including children, seniors, undocumented immigrants and farmers.

Child care continues to be a big area of concern for all four candidates.

"It is a quality-of-life issue for adults, parents, children all over the economy," Flowe said, who, along with Baker and Koenen want to take a look at the rules and regulations facing home day care providers.

"Minnesota has done a lousy job in making too many rules and too many policy issues so that good families that want to run a day care in their home (find) it is not worth it anymore," Baker said.

Koenen wants to see if the state budget has room to expand some of the state programs to help families find day care as well as form partnerships with businesses to create on-site centers.

"This is really important to the economy as a whole and the Legislature should be paying attention," Koenen said.

The concerns facing farmers are wide-ranging. The issue of environmental regulations came up, with the Republican candidates wanting to see a reduction in government interference.

"The state of Minnesota needs to get out of their way and let them produce the crops," Miller said.

Baker said farming is the backbone to central Minnesota's economy and the state needs to help them succeed by keeping their taxes low and reducing the amount of land taken for buffers.

"Don't get in the way, don't create more rules and things that make it more tougher for them," Baker said.

Koenen, who was a dairy farmer for most of his life, wants to make sure farmers have not only financial counseling but mental health help as well.

"There is a lot of need for mental health services. The stress puts a lot of pressure on farmers," Koenen said.

Flowe said farmers are small business owners and have some of the same needs as small business owners, including affordable health care.

"The premiums are just devastating for farmers. I want to make it possible for farmers to afford good health care," Flowe said, which could include buying into Minnesota Care.

Three out of the four candidates supported some sort of driver's license for undocumented workers. Only Miller was against it, saying this issue is a symptom of the overall immigration system in the country that needs to be fixed.

"We need to find a path way to make the roads safe, I don't disagree with that. But to shortchange it, to say let's just get them a driver's license, I don't accept that," Miller said.

Baker said that after he spoke with local law enforcement, he now supports the measure.

"We have unsafe roads and I want us to have a permit or document of some kind so we can train people to drive safely," Baker said.

Housing and care for seniors was another important issue covered at the forum.

"It is pretty clear the most cost-effective way to care for our seniors is to keep them in their homes for as long as possible," Koenen said.

This could mean the need for in-home care. To have qualified employees to fill those roles, the state will need to start paying them better.

"That industry is grossly underpaying folks because we don't reimburse those folks well enough," Baker said.

Flowe wants to make sure that seniors are safe and receiving good care in the many senior living facilities.

"We owe it to them to give them a safe and happy retirement," Flowe said. "We have not stepped to the plate yet and provide oversight in facilities other than nursing homes."

While all the candidates support measures geared toward the safety and protection of seniors, Miller wants to make sure the state doesn't go too far with regulations.

"There is really good work being done. We need to make sure we include all the stakeholders," Miller said. "We need to be rational with that."

The forum was watched by a full house at the Willmar Municipal Utilities building and can also be watched on demand on the WRAC website, along with airing on television.

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