WILLMAR — Two Republican incumbents and two Democrat newcomers seeking Minnesota House seats participated in the taped candidate forum conducted Aug. 27 by the League of Women Voters of the Willmar Area at the Willmar Municipal Utilities building.
The candidates were all asked the same series of questions by moderator Jan Dahl, allowing them the chance to let potential voters know where they stand on issues and what kind of legislator they would be if elected. The forum can be viewed on the League's Facebook page, the West Central Tribune website and WRAC-TV channel 189.
Campaigning to represent District 17A are incumbent Rep. Tim Miller and rookie candidate Ben Dolan. In 17B, the race is between incumbent Rep. Dave Baker and college student Logan Kortgard.
Despite the differences in parties, the candidates had similar priorities for the next two years. Top priorities included health care, education and broadband. All of the candidates agreed that expansion of broadband or high-speed internet service is needed in the surrounding areas.
"Broadband is a necessity in the modern economy," Kortgard said, who supports the state working with community-led cooperatives and organizations to make expansion happen. "By investing in them specifically, we can facilitate the gap of internet coverage and make sure greater Minnesota has access to quality, affordable broadband they deserve. This is not going to get better without help from the state."
Baker is also a supporter of broadband expansion, though he wants to see private industry take the lead in those projects, especially since the state is facing a multibillion-dollar deficit due to the coronavirus pandemic.
"We're going to have a struggle this year," Baker said.
The lack of competition in the rural areas is one of the reasons Dolan thinks the region lacks the internet infrastructure of the metro areas.
"We need more public money to go to building our broadband out in greater Minnesota," Dolan said, adding he will fight to get more funding for rural projects.
Miller believes broadband expansion is a wise investment even though he has concerns about a one-size-fits-all mentality for internet technology. He would like to see more hybrid projects of fiber-optic and wireless technology be eligible for funding programs.
"We need to do it wisely, smartly and we need to do it in a way that applies to each given area in our state, not just one size fits all," Miller said.
Current events such as election security and the social upheaval found its way into the forum. While none of the candidates was against absentee voting, Baker and Miller were opposed to turning Minnesota into a universal mail-in state. They said they are concerned about potential voter integrity issues. Miller acknowledged that 48 precincts in his district already vote by mail and he supports it in that case because it was a local decision.
"Statewide things are inappropriate," Miller said. "We shouldn't be afraid to vote in person."
Kortgard said he wants to see more investment in election judges and their safety, while Dolan believes the state should do what it can to increase voter turnout.
"Elections matter and we need to get everybody out there to vote this year," Dolan said.
When it comes to the protesting and violence seen in many cities across the country, Miller and Baker said it worries them.
"Protect the family, protect our children, protect our way of life. It is certainly under threat right now," Miller said.
Baker said one of his top priorities is supporting and defending law enforcement and Minnesota could risk its good standing if it doesn't fix its public safety issues.
"What is happening right now in Minneapolis-St. Paul frightens me like never before. It doesn't feel like Minnesota right now," Baker said.
Kortgard said many of those protesting probably feel frustrated that their voices are not being heard, something he understands in a way as a young person.
"As a young person running for office, I don't really feel that my voice is heard, I don't feel it is adequately reflected in policy and legislation," Kortgard said.
All the candidates said that listening and communication are important skills to have as a legislator.
"In a legislative setting, you need teamwork. You can't break ranks and do your own thing, you need to work together with other people," Dolan said. "If you can't work as a team in the Legislature, you are running for the wrong job."
Baker and Miller pointed to successes they have had working across the aisle in their three terms in the House.
"You build relationships with people," Miller said.
Even with his successes, Baker, who has voted against his own party if he feels it is warranted, wishes bipartisanship wasn't so surprising.
"When you see people working together in a bipartisan fashion, it is a rarity, which is sad and I am not proud of it," Baker said.
Kortgard said his time at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities has taught him how to team-build and bring everyone together to work toward a goal.
Whether they are re-elected for their fourth term in St. Paul or elected for the very first time, all the candidates want to do good for their district and Minnesota.
"I always wanted to be a catalyst for positive change in our communities," Dolan said.
They also urge voters to make sure their civic voice is heard this fall. Election Day is Nov. 3 with early voting starting Sept. 18, whether by absentee ballot or in person.
"Elections matter. We have a very important decision as a state, a nation, as a community this year," Miller said.