Koenen says he's ready to fight for fairness
CLARA CITY -- Lyle Koenen is often described as a quiet sort of guy who is willing to work behind the scenes to get the job done. But there is a well-stoked fire in his belly, too. Koenen, 49, said that two terms as a member of the minority party...
CLARA CITY -- Lyle Koenen is often described as a quiet sort of guy who is willing to work behind the scenes to get the job done.
But there is a well-stoked fire in his belly, too.
Koenen, 49, said that two terms as a member of the minority party in the Legislature have convinced him that rural Minnesotans have been treated unfairly by the Republican party and the suburban legislators who have been ruling the roost in St. Paul.
He's said he's running for a third term on a demand for "fairness.'' Metropolitan areas have been gaining while rural areas lose. "We're paying more for less,'' said Koenen, who adds that the struggle goes beyond rural and urban differences.
He said low and middle income workers, family farmers and business owners have continued to struggle while the most affluent have been handed tax breaks. Rural schools are hurting, the cost of a higher education is soaring, and everything from rural transportation needs to health care is being neglected, the DFL incumbent for the District 20B House seat said.
Koenen says he's bringing these issues to this campaign, one that sees him spending long hours on the go. Koenen said he is well aware that his is a targeted race.
Koenen knows a little bit about adversity too. He's farmed for 27 years and worked as a truck driver and a bus driver to make a living.
He said his first term in the Legislature was all about being up against adversity. "It seemed all we could do was object,'' he said. "It felt like you were getting run over.''
Things improved in the last session, when the DFL picked up enough seats to force some honest dickering, according to Koenen.
Now, he said that he is "cautiously optimistic'' that DFL'ers will pick up more seats and he can begin to see the accomplishments he's always hoped for in St. Paul.
He wants fairness in taxes. "We're not doing a good job,'' he said. State cuts and newly-imposed fees mean rural areas pay more, said Koenen. Property taxes in rural communities have climbed by 11 and 12 percent, while owners of $250,000 homes and properties of greater values in the suburbs have only moved upward by eight percent, he said.
Health care is the issue that people raise with him most often when he's knocking on doors. He wants to see the self-insured and others working in jobs that do not provide health care allowed to buy into the Minnesota Care program. It would provide them with the cost savings of being in a larg buying group.
He also believes there is much the state can do to standardize the paperwork and administrative costs in providing care.
He'd also like the state to negotiate for better prescription drug prices from manufacturers, while also making sure that rural pharmacists are not short changed in the process.
The state needs to live up to the promise it made earlier to provide more education funding. Changes are needed in how schools are funded. The current, per pupil formula is not fair to children in rural districts, he said.
He proposes a funding system based on a school's sections instead of strictly enrollment.
Koenen said Gov. Tim Pawlenty has not been willing to invest in our transportation system other than to add debt and "make our children pay for our roads.'' Koenen said he's leery of the transportation amendment due its wording, but wants to see more funding provided transportation. He'd consider a gas tax increase if he could be assured of "fairness'' in how the monies are distributed to rural road needs.
There is a big job to do in St. Paul, but Koenen said he can't think of a better time to get to it. Renewable energy offers great promise to agriculture and rural areas. Rural communities could enjoy job and population growth if rural legislators can wrestle fair treatment for infrastructure, health care and educational needs, he said.