Candidates questioned on big issues from a rural perspective
BEMIDJI, Minn. — Candidates seeking the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party's endorsement in the 2018 Minnesota gubernatorial election met in Bemidji, Minn., Monday, Jan. 15, to promote their campaigns and share their ideas for the state's future.
The event, which included a question-and-answer forum, was co-organized by the Bemidji College Democrats and the Beltrami County DFL. Candidates attending the session were
• St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman;
• District 64A Rep. Erin Murphy, St. Paul, Minn.;
• State Auditor Rebecca Otto, May Township, Minn.;
• District 61B Rep. Paul Thissen, Minneapolis; and
• U.S. Congressman Tim Walz, MN-01.
After dedicated time for residents to speak with candidates, the forum began with the first question centered on health care. The question not only inquired about the candidates' plan as governor, but also on how they view the importance of rural health issues.
In his answer, Coleman said he supports single-payer health care, but making the transition isn't like "flipping a switch."
"Minnesota has to be the leader on this. We need to get to a single-payer system. But, it's not something we can just turn on; it's something we have to build out," Coleman said. "We have to expand the eligibility of MinnesotaCare (and) make sure that we have the rural health clinics and rural hospitals stay open."
"As governor, it's my job to make sure that you can have health care you can count on, especially when you're sick," Murphy said. "I am a single-payer supporter. I want MinnesotaCare available for everybody and to build the infrastructure to contract directly with our providers."
Another supporter of a single-payer plan was Thissen, who said health care is the No. 1 issue he hears from residents.
"I support a single-payer, Medicare-for-all system. It's a basic Minnesota value to me," Thissen said. "I'm healthy today, but I could be sick tomorrow. I'm willing to pay a little more for people who are sick today, because I know they'll be here for me tomorrow. We need to also up our investment in public health."
In her answer, Otto said she supports universal health care as part of a plan that she calls "Healthy Minnesota."
"I had a team of research experts study other countries that have gotten this thing done and explored how they did it, how they paid for it and how they keep their people healthy," Otto said. "We created a plan that is evidence-based where we can reduce health care costs up to 15 percent or more."
"I ran for Congress on the principle that health care is a basic human right," Walz said in his response. "We should find a way to deliver it in the most efficient and effective manner across the state. ... Expand health care to people through a MinnesotaCare buy-in."
The next topic introduced revolved around Minnesota's economy. The question put to the candidates recognized that the state's unemployment rate was at 3.1 percent in November, but it also noted that economic challenges remain for rural areas, such as Beltrami County.
Murphy acknowledged the wording of the question, stating that Minnesota is good overall when it comes to unemployment, but that "not every family is doing well in the state."
"We know that while unemployment in many of our communities is low, it's not the case for many people of color and indigenous people. So we have work to do across the state," Murphy said. "Our communities are different from each other; there won't be just one solution. So, knowing the diversity of our communities is going to make a big difference, and I'm grateful for the time I've spent on the ground with the people in Minnesota, and I'm ready to do this job."
"We need to raise the wage to $15 an hour over five years. We value work in the state of Minnesota, and if you work 40 hours a week, you should be able to come close to supporting your family," Otto said in her answer. "I also have a two-year plan to invest in all high schoolers, two years tuition free, to train the workforce of the 21st century."
New economic ideas and increasing necessities were highlighted in Thissen's answer. He talked about the lack of affordable housing and child care in some communities.
"We need to invest in our workforce. That's higher education, of course, but the things I hear most about are the lack of child care and housing. We can make a difference in that," Thissen said. "We also need things like succession planning, for when a business owner is set to retire and there may not be anyone to take it over. We can help as a state with that. These are creative ideas to support small businesses."
When Walz responded, he gave praise to actions already being taken in Bemidji to help the workforce and economy.
"There are innovative things that are happening in our communities. The career academy that's happening right now in Bemidji schools, it's getting students dual credits, getting them the skills necessary," Walz said. "We cannot waste our human capital."
"The state of Minnesota has to step up," Coleman answered. "It has to use DEED (Department of Employment and Economic Development) more effectively. DEED has to have a strike force that goes to every city, not to say, 'Here's what you need to do,' but say 'What is your vision for Main Street, and how can we help put the resources together to make that happen.'"
Other topics brought up Monday were the replacement of Enbridge Energy's Line 3 oil pipeline, environmental policy and tax legislation. District 26A Rep. Tina Liebling, Rochester, Minn., is also running in the DFL primary for governor, but was unable to attend.
Minnesota's primary election will take place Aug. 14, and the general gubernatorial election is Nov. 6.