WILLMAR — No great political divide showed itself when Minnesota State Senate District 17 candidates Andrew Lang, R-Olivia, and his DFL challenger Fernando Alvarado, of Willmar, faced one another in a forum hosted for broadcast online by the League of Women Voters of the Willmar Area.
Both candidates emphasized their willingness to work with members of the opposite party, find compromise and put the interests of the rural district first.
The forum between the two was postponed until Sept. 17 due to Sen. Lang’s call to duty with the Minnesota Army National Guard. The first-term incumbent is a helicopter pilot with the Guard, as well as employed as a helicopter pilot with North Memorial Health Air Care. A native of Kandiyohi, Lang and his wife, Susie, live in Olivia. They are parents to two boys.
Alvarado brings to the campaign the experience of serving his country as a Navy veteran. He served aboard the attack submarine U.S.S. Groton. A native of upstate New York, Alvarado moved in 1986 to Willmar, where he has been with Auto-Owners Insurance Company for nearly 30 years. He is serving his first term on the Willmar City Council. He and his wife, Cindy, have two grown daughters.
The two fielded a range of questions from forum host Andrea Pieske, but none put the candidates at great odds. Both support building rural broadband infrastructure. Alvarado would like to see Minnesota do more.
“It’s like electricity. We need to have it in every house and business in Minnesota,” he said.
Lang pointed out that the Legislature has appropriated $30 million for broadband infrastructure.
“This is infrastructure,” he said by way of emphasizing the importance he places on it.
The incumbent did not say whether he would support a buy-in to MinnesotaCare as a means of making health care affordable to more people. Alvarado said he would. The DFL challenger said he would like to see Minnesota allocate more funding to assist those needing MinnesotaCare coverage.
“Every Minnesotan should have health care coverage and it should be affordable,” he said.
Lang said his experience has taught him that Minnesota has “somewhat limited powers” when it comes to dealing with the federal government and the Affordable Care Act. He said he has worked hard to promote transparency in medical costs as a means of helping Minnesotans deal with the costs of medical care.
It’s important “to know what you are paying for,” he said.
Alvarado said he’s been “very disappointed” that the Legislature has not approved a bonding bill in 2020. Lang said he expects there will be one when the Legislature returns in a special session. He would support a bill in the range of $1.2 billion to $1.3 billion.
Jobs creation, affordable housing and child care are the three top priorities Alvarado said he would bring to the Legislature if elected. He also emphasized his ability to work with others and work for compromise, citing his experience with challenging issues on the Willmar City Council.
Asked about his three top priorities, Lang cited his work in the Legislature on projects in the district, including the Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health Services Hospital in Willmar, funding for the Prairie Lakes Youth Programs, flood protection in Montevideo, the Montevideo veterans home project and road and bridge projects.
But come next session, the incumbent said there can only be one priority. The state could be facing a $6 billion to $7 billion deficit, roughly 12 to 15 percent of the total budget. “Budget, budget, budget, that’s the truth of it,” said Lang.
Members of both parties are going to have to find ways to work together to manage the expected shortfall. “Without trying to find a way to swim upstream on this one, we’re all going to be in tough shape. That’s the truth of it.” he said.