Juhnke, Wilhelm again in 13B: Wilhelm makes second attempt to unseat incumbent Juhnke, who seeks sixth term

WILLMAR -- In the race for the District 13B House of Representatives seat, Republican Bonnie Wilhelm is challenging incumbent Rep. Al Juhnke, DFL-Willmar.

WILLMAR -- In the race for the District 13B House of Representatives seat, Republican Bonnie Wilhelm is challenging incumbent Rep. Al Juhnke, DFL-Willmar.

Juhnke is seeking his sixth term as the representative for District 13B, which includes Kandiyohi County with the exception of seven northern townships. This is Wilhelm's second attempt at unseating Juhnke.

Juhnke's seniority in the Legislature -- should he be re-elected and if the DFL takes control of the House -- would likely elevate him to the chairmanship of either the House Ag Committee or the House Ag Finance Committee, he said. Juhnke has been on the Ag Committee since he was elected in 1996 and has served on the Ag Finance Committee for most of his legislative tenure.

Wilhelm wants to be a citizen legislator, to serve for a time.

"I believe we need to get back to citizen legislators," Wilhelm said. "People who want to make a change, but who don't want to make a career of politics."


If elected, Wilhelm would enact a personal term limit of 10 years, emphasizing that if a legislator cannot advance her agenda in 10 years, she likely will not be effective beyond that time frame.

Juhnke is a real estate appraiser and is married with two college-age children. Wilhelm is the former production manager at The Barn Theatre in Willmar and was previously a patient care manager in Wisconsin. She is married with five adult children.

The candidates were asked to identify the key issues in this race. What follows are three of the top issues for each candidate.

* Juhnke's top issue is education. The cost of college tuition has risen 70 percent in the past five years, Juhnke says. He supports reducing college tuition to reopen the academic doors to more students.

"We are pricing people out of their education," he said.

At the beginning of the educational ladder, he supports funding for all-day, everyday kindergarten for all children and no waiting for getting preschoolers into Head Start programs.

"With a small investment, we can make a big difference in these kids' lives," he said.

* Wilhelm's top issue is health care. Wilhelm advocates health insurance pooling opportunities for businesses and farmers.


"We need to allow them to pool, to reduce their risk and reduce the premiums," she said.

She also advocates allowing small business the opportunity to opt out of insurance mandates. Changing the requirements would allow businesses to design coverage plans for what they will most likely need in their health coverage, she said.

Wilhelm also advocates increasing the maximum age of children covered on parents' policies to 30, thus covering a gap of coverage faced by young people just starting out on their lives and careers.

* Juhnke puts health care as the second issue on his list of priorities. The cost of health care is bearing on families and businesses with double-digit cost increases, Juhnke said.

Juhnke expects Minnesota to be among the first states to have a universal health plan. The state almost has a universal plan with the MinnesotaCare program, he says.

MinnesotaCare is the state's health insurance plan for people who can't afford private insurance but make too much to qualify for other subsidized programs.

"Everyone in Minnesota has health care, it's just a matter of who pays for it," he said, noting that the costs are paid by insurance, by the government or by the taxpayers. "That's an issue that needs discussion."

Juhnke advocates changing how farmers' income and depreciation of equipment are calculated to get family farmers eligible for the MinnesotaCare programs.


"Farmers need insurance and they are taking off-farm jobs to get it," he says. "That cuts into their time and focus on farming, which hurts the farm business and the economy."

The federal Medicare prescription drug program continues to confuse seniors, including Juhnke's mother, he says. The state needs to bolster the state program to address senior drug coverage issues.

Another key health care issue is the fees paid by nursing home residents, who pay a yearly $2,000 private-pay fee that goes directly into the state general fund, Juhnke says.

* Wilhelm identifies transportation as the second issue on her list of priorities. The district needs more road funding, from township gravel roads to major highways, Wilhelm says.

Rural roads need to be maintained so that trucks can haul crops, she says, and the current gas tax funding of rural road maintenance pays for just two loads of gravel per mile of road. The usual rate of gravel is 10 loads per mile, she says.

Funding is needed for improvements to state Highway 23 south of Willmar and for the roads to the east, she says. People needing to get into the Twin Cities need to leave extra early just to get through the congestion caused by housing development to the west of the metro area. Even U.S. Highway 12 between Willmar and Litchfield is busy due to the Bushmills Ethanol plant.

"These are key transportation issues, and we are falling behind," she says.

The biggest problem in transportation funding is that money is being diverted to the state's general fund.


The state does need the extra funding that would be provided by the transportation amendment, she says. If passed, the amendment would direct the sales tax from automobiles to road and transit funding instead of the state's general fund.

* Juhnke also identifies property taxes as a key issue. The state has shifted tax responsibility onto local governments with expectations that the locals will pay increasing amounts of costs, Juhnke says.

Juhnke's two expectations for the next legislative session are that there be full funding of Local Government Aid formulas, thus reducing the local tax burden, and that the state pick up its funding of schools instead of requiring districts to seek local funding.

"The state should pick up 90 to 95 percent of school funding," he said, explaining that the local tax burden is falling disproportionately on farmers and small businesses.

* Wilhelm also puts education on her list of top issues. The state is required to provide for K-12 education and that's where the focus needs to be, Wilhelm says.

More funding will not solve the problems, she said. Teachers face discipline and social issues and language barriers and must be allowed to "think outside of the box" for solutions. Educators are further pulled by mandates, she said.

"Education must go back to the children," Wilhelm said. "We are trying to fulfill too many mandates."

Parents should spend at least one evening meal a week with their children. "There is no simple answer, but it has to start with parenting," she said.


Get more information about Juhnke at and about Wilhelm at .

What To Read Next
Get Local