Sawatzky and Baker face off in debate
WILLMAR -- A candidate forum hosted Wednesday night by the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities and the City of Willmar gave Rep. Mary Sawatzky and challenger Dave Baker an opportunity to present their views on issues that impact District 17B.
WILLMAR - A candidate forum hosted Wednesday night by the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities and the City of Willmar gave Rep. Mary Sawatzky and challenger Dave Baker an opportunity to present their views on issues that impact District 17B.
The House of Representatives district includes nearly all of Kandiyohi County.
The cordial discussion between the DFL incumbent, who is a special education teacher in Willmar, and the GOP challenger, who is a local business owner, included responses to questions on the state budget, transportation funding, local government aid, levy limits, funding broadband infrastructure, filling a shortage of skilled employees and requiring scientific reviews before the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency adopts new standards.
Baker said increasing private sector jobs, transportation and education are the top priorities in the state. But when it comes to funding those priorities, he repeatedly used the word “balance” in terms of identifying needs and allocating money to meet those needs.
Baker said he will not promise to never raise taxes if elected.
Sawatzky identified transportation, mental health and jobs and economic development as the top issues.
She highlighted recent funding for an environmental study and right-of-way purchase that will make Highway 23 between New London and Paynesville “shovel ready” if construction money is allocated to build another four-lane segment.
Sawatzky said when she took office two years ago there was “no hope” of getting the Highway 23 four-lane gap finished, but she said the new Corridors of Commerce the Legislature approved is moving the project ahead.
“All those things happened in the last two years,” said Sawatzky, who supports increasing transportation funding.
“I’ve been a great advocate for transportation in Kandiyohi County,” she said.
Baker said he also supports the Corridors of Commerce and would support increasing revenues, possibly through some kind of a gas or vehicle tax.
“We need good roads,” said Baker, adding that hospitality businesses like his depends on getting people to their destinations.
But Baker said a decision on increasing transportation funds needs to be combined with “efficiencies” implemented by the Minnesota Department of Transportation and “common sense” actions such as allowing more weight on truck axles.
Sawatzky asked how Baker would get other Republicans to support a transportation bill with new revenue since GOP legislators have already signed a no-tax pledge.
Sawatzky also said a balanced budget and fiscal responsibility are important, but she said the state has to respond to needs, such as making sure education funding keeps up with inflation.
She also said for the first time in years, new revenue approved for health and human services in the last two years has funded nursing homes and programs to keep senior citizens in their homes.
Baker said public services must be available for people who need them, but he said the health and human services budget needs to be “tightened” and programs should be implemented to get individuals who are mentally and physically able off of “welfare” and back to work.
Baker also criticized the Legislature’s approval of a $90 million Senate office building and said the MnSure health insurance system is “definitely broken.”
Baker said he’s running for office because he felt his concerns about how state policies affect local businesses “fell on deaf ears” and he decided it was “time to put up or shut up.”
He touted his business experience, leadership roles in local and statewide entities, communication skills and leadership abilities as preparation for a job in the Legislature.
“I know how to lead,” Baker said. “I’m well-positioned in my life to be a good legislator.”
Sawatzky said she’s been a “good legislator” for the district because she listens to constituents and works collaboratively with the community and across the political aisle in order to promote the well-being of “all people.”
She said the knowledge she’s gained in the last two years will make her a stronger legislator next year.