Area voters: Who will best represent rural Minnesota in St. Paul?

To provide our readers with information to help them in their decision-making at the polls, the Record sent out a questionnaire to each of the candidates who want to represent this area in the state legislature. Candidates from Senate District 9 and House District 9B and Senate District 15 and House District 15B were invited to respond to the following questions.

The candidates were asked to introduce themselves and to limit their responses to each question to 100 words.

1) Are there any issues that you would consider voting differently on than the majority of your party:

2) How do you see yourself functioning and being able to accomplish anything in today’s polarized political environment?

3) Do you believe it is important to stick to what you believe in, even if it means not passing anything or to compromise some of your ideals in order to pass something?

4) The new legislature is expected to face a gap between projected revenues and expenditures of more than $2 billion. What will be your approach to closing the gap?

5) Should the state repay all of the money it “borrowed” from state aid to education during the coming biennium?

6) In dollars, how much new bonding are you willing to support in the coming biennium? What’s your rationale?

Al Doty, DFL Candidate, Senate District 9

Al Doty

Introduction: I grew up on our family farm near Campbell, Minn. Graduated from the University of Minnesota with degrees in political science, history and social studies. Graduate work at the University of Manitoba. Taught and coached wrestling at Pierz High School; was a Senior Advocate for Horizon Health. State Representative, 2007-2010. Currently on Royalton City Council, Pine Grove Zoo Board of Directors, and the Camp Ripley Citizens Advisory Council. Many other past memberships; for a complete list go to www.aldoty.com. I live in Royalton with my wife, Donna.

Question 1: Several. I’m a lifetime NRA member, I was endorsed by NRA when I was the incumbent. I have a 100 percent lifetime pro-life MCCL voting record while in office, and my opponent does not. Those issues are not always supported by everyone in my party. I voted against many bills supported by my party; including bonding, education, and tax bills which I felt did not give rural Minnesota and our area a level playing field. Luckily, as a DFL member, I can vote for my district without fear of party punishment. Some of my Republican friends learned they couldn’t do that.

Question 2: Those who know me from previous careers know that I’m a good negotiator who understands compromise. My Independence Party background helps me relate to others on all sides of the issues. Since I take my instructions only from my constituents, I don’t sign any pledges or oaths to outside special interest groups. My opponent has signed pledges. Not signing “blank checks” lets me work for what my district needs.

Question 3: Anyone who says they won’t compromise their own personal ideals is really telling you they won’t represent constituents who don’t believe exactly the same as they do. You’re elected to represent all the people of your district, regardless of your personal beliefs. I’ve made several tough votes that were good for my district, and I’ll continue to do that. We’re elected to serve the will of the people, not force our will on them. After living in this district over 40 years, my beliefs match well with the area.

Question 4: The gap will be about $4.5 billion. We have to repay our schools the money that my opponent “borrowed’ to “balance” the budget. I believe it’s wrong to tax the wealthiest incomes at a lower rate than you and I pay. I’ll continue to vote to make that fair. I also think it’s wrong to reward businesses who outsource their jobs and their money to foreign countries instead of keeping jobs here and I’ll continue to vote to close corporate loopholes. These two areas show some of the biggest differences between my votes and the voting record of my opponent.

Question 5: The money borrowed from schools is required to be paid back and it should be done as quickly as possible. This past legislature withheld 40 percent, the highest percent ever held back. This shows a deeper problem; unwillingness to deal with reality and create a truly balanced budget. We can’t keep borrowing and making cuts from programs that will cost us more money later like this past legislature did. Borrowed money does not make a surplus.

Question 6: Bonding projects should create jobs in order to be included in the final bonding bill. Our state has traditionally held to good accounting practices that bonding shouldn’t exceed 3 percent of a budget. I wouldn’t jeopardize our bond rating by going beyond that. Projects should be ranked by how many jobs they’ll create, and how soon they can start, then be funded up to 3 percent, which would be something less than a billion dollars/biennium. I voted for many Camp Ripley bonding projects which created jobs in our area. My opponent voted against a $19.5 million Camp Ripley project last session.

Paul Gazelka, GOP Candidate, Senate District 9

Paul Gazelka

Introduction: Paul Gazelka lives in Fairview Township, north of Pillager. He and his wife, Maralee, have been married 30 years and have five children. They love the outdoors and spend their free time camping, hunting, boating and biking. Paul also enjoys riding his motorcycle. Paul is a State Farm Insurance agent in the Lakes area. At the State Capitol, Sen. Gazelka is Assistant Majority Leader and serves on the Veterans, State Government, Environment and Transportation Committees. He also serves as the vice chair of the Commerce Committee. Paul is endorsed by MCCL, NFIB, Minnesota Chamber, Minnesota Farm Bureau and NRA.

Question 1: The reason I’m a Republican and an Assistant Majority Leader is because I embrace their core tenants. We should reduce the debt by reducing the continual increase in government spending rather than raising taxes. We should promote pro-life and marriage. We should require photo ID for voting. I support second amendment rights. Parents should be in charge of determining what education option is best for their children. We need to help job-creators grow jobs by reducing government red tape, reducing property taxes, and frivolous lawsuits on them. I could not be with a party that was far from these ideals.

Question 2: Getting anything done in a polarized environment is determined by how well you build relationships with people in both parties. I have met multiple times with our DFL Governor. My goal is to build a solid, trusting relationship. As a result, many of my pieces of legislation became law, signed by the Governor. I passed legislation that included pro-gun legislation, business permitting reform, local education equipment purchasing, reforming green acres for farmers, a wolf hunt, allowing people to purchase a fishing license even in the middle of a shutdown, reducing auto insurance fraud and more. It’s called getting things done.

Question 3: Core principles, like being pro-life, supporting traditional marriage, controlling unsustainable debt should never be compromised. But sometimes you have to make choices between bad and worse. We compromised with the Governor to end the shutdown. We passed a balanced budget that did not raise taxes, but the Governor vetoed that. Then we agreed to delaying payments to schools and tobacco bonds to end the shutdown. I was adamantly against the education shift, but agreed to compromise with the Governor because that was the only choice I had to end the shutdown. That shift should be completely paid back by November.

Question 4: The new legislature is not going to face a $2 billion budget shortfall. The February 2011 forecast showed that we turned the November 2010 $6 billion deficit into a $1.2 billion surplus. It also projected that next year, 2013, we would have a $1.2 billion deficit because government spending is growing too fast. However, since February, new monthly reports show that we have collected over $400 million more in revenue than projected and we refilled a billion dollars in cash flow accounts that were near zero when we started. We will balance the budget by reducing the spending increases.

Question 5: Absolutely. School shifts, or delaying payments to schools, has been going on since 1983. In 2010, when my opponent was in office, he voted for about $2 billion of shifts to balance the budget … and never paid it back. To end the shutdown, we agreed to shift another $700 million. We already paid $300 million back and passed legislation to pay over $400 million back … vetoed by the Governor. In November, about $400 million should automatically be paid back because of the excess surplus. To cover the interest cost, we increased funding to schools; $50 per pupil and added a literacy bonus.

Question 6: The maximum bonding amount is a percentage of the total revenues. We should never go beyond that formula or change it to spend more. However, beyond that, bonding is meant to cover state infrastructure; for example repairing our roads and bridges, school buildings, and government building projects like what go on at Camp Ripley. It was never meant for pet projects, like the St. Paul Saints, etc. I will look at each bonding bill carefully to judge its appropriate size and what kind of projects are in it. I have voted for bonding bills and voted against bonding bills.

Dave Brown, GOP Candidate, Senate District 15

Dave Brown

Introduction: I live in Becker with my wife and two teenage daughters. I’m finishing my first term serving in the state senate, and have served on the committees for Agriculture, Energy and Telcom, Commerce, Capital Investment and Higher Education.

Question 1: I voted differently from the majority of my party on issues like last in, first out for our public school teachers. Our teachers are not what’s broken. I also opposed my party on trying to take away local control on when school referendums could be held.

Question 2: I ask the same question back to those working in the media. Our media seems quite polarized in their reporting.

Question 3: I believe it is important to keep campaign promises. What I say during the campaign I need to stick to once elected. Candidates who talk of the importance of compromise are telling us we cannot depend on their promises.

Question 4: My approach will be reform and reduced spending. I will not support an increase in taxes.

Question 5: Yes. I had a bill last session to prevent any future legislatures from borrowing money from our schools to balance the budget but could not get support from either side to move it forward. If we are borrowing to balance, then we are not really balancing anything but rather simply delaying payment. This approach must stop.

Question 6: I’m not going to throw out a dollar amount. We need to take a look at specific projects and need to make roads and bridges a higher priority in our bonding bills. I pushed for it this year and will continue to do so.

Sally Knox, DFL Candidate, Senate District 15

Sally Knox

Introduction: As a health care worker and mother of three, I’ve seen first hand how legislative inaction hurt Minnesota families. We deserve legislators who work across party lines with compromise for common sense solutions. I will work with people of all parties to get the job done on time and on budget. We saw two years of a legislature that played political tit-for-tat on the taxpayer’s dollar. They shut the government down, defunded schools, and caused our property taxes to go up. We must get people back to work, strengthen small businesses, and invest in our future.

Question 1: I do believe there is waste in government spending, such as huge overpayments to HMOs. I support the right to bear arms, and know how important it is, especially to people in rural communities. The best way to keep our kids safe from guns is to teach them guns are not toys. Also, I believe we should not measure our success as a legislature on how many bills we pass, but rather on how well legislation is working for the people. We need to weed out laws that no longer work. Question 2: I know what everyday Minnesotans are facing. I have the ability to see the issues from both sides and the willingness to work across party lines with compromise. People are tired of polarized political tactics that just aren’t working for the rest of us.

Question 3: How big-headed is it to think that what you believe in is good for the rest of Minnesota? We must listen to the people in our communities and take heed to their concerns and needs. The current legislature has treated compromise like it is a dirty word. I know that families cannot function without working together, and neither can the legislature. We should also not just try to “pass something.” Laws need to work for everyday people.

Question 4: We need to close corporate tax loopholes and level the tax base for working class Minnesotans. If we want to strengthen the economy, we need to put more money into the hands of consumers. Additionally, I believe we will save money by requiring accountability in our health care system.

Question 5: Before the current majority took control of the legislature, only 10 percent of what was owed to schools could have been withheld. They increased that to 40 percent, which gave schools huge budgeting problems. Funding disparities caused increased class sizes and teacher lay-offs. It also forced some schools to cut to a four-day week. The fact is that we are required by law to pay that money back. We should work to pay back the money we owe and restore funding to previous levels. We owe it to our children and their future success. This approach must stop.

Question 6: Transportation bonding is important to our economy and can help get Minnesotans back to work. Funding needs to go up by $1 billion per year for the next 20 years in order to fix all the deteriorating roads, bridges, rails, airports, locks and dams in this state. Research shows that transportation funding during recessions helps to shorten a recession and lengthen the time between recessions.

Ron Kresha, GOP Candidate, House District 9B

Ron Kresha

Introduction: I am married 19 years to my wife Wendy and together we have five children: Alex, Amelia, Adrienne, Aliza and Ainsley. I taught English and technology in the Ivanhoe and Pierz school districts. After leaving education, I helped found two companies in Little Falls: Atomic Learning and Golden Shovel Agency. Through my education experience, business and entrepreneur experience, and community involvement (service clubs, volunteering, and school and church councils), I have witnessed the affects of growing our rural economy. I would like to be a champion of growth and innovation so that we can maintain our rural way of life.

Question 1: My primary focus is on creating and supporting a framework for Morrison and Todd counties to be competitive for small businesses and entrepreneurs. If a majority of my party, or a majority of the legislature were not able to recognize the needs of greater Minnesota and continue to focus only on the larger metropolitan areas of the state for growth, then I would oppose such efforts or legislation.

Question 2: As your representative, it will be my job to listen to the citizens and address their concerns against a state budget that is in disarray. I have maintained from the beginning that the largest lobbying group I am responsible to is the 39,000 people in District 9B. In order to faithfully represent this area I am going to need to prioritize the needs of the district over St. Paul gamesmanship and I am going to need to build some coalitions in St. Paul with other rural legislators.

Question 3: It is my intention to represent District 9B with integrity and honor and to participate in statesmanship not gamesmanship — there is a difference. I have maintained from the beginning that I will fight for initiatives that strengthen our rural economy and way of life, small business growth, veteran and Camp  Ripley affairs, and agriculture. To answer the question more directly, I will not compromise who I am as a person in any situation. If being in politics means selling my soul, then my career will be short. If it means fighting for District 9B, then I expect to be successful.

Question 4: There are a number of areas that can be addressed to help alleviate the deficit. We need to look at automatic increases and cost overruns in the state budget. Additionally, some state departments can reduce staff using attrition and early retirements. We also need to continue to look for ways to allow our state economy to strengthen so that more revenue is raised to offset the state deficit. Lastly, because of the structural imbalance of the budget, it will be important to sunset tax avenues that are reducing revenue and not improving our economy.

Question 5: I am in favor of repaying the schools as quickly as possible. According to Minnesota Statute, any additional revenue or surplus must go to repaying schools after the proper cash accounts are replenished. Thus, if we as legislators do our job and keep the expenses down to generate additional revenue, then the schools will be paid back quicker. This requires a trade off. In order to pay off schools quicker the costs must be controlled and additional spending must be put on hold. Every dollar of spending that is added to the state budget, delays the repayment of our schools.

Question 6: As a starting point, I am willing to support a total biennium bonding of $1 billion or $500 million each year of the biennium as long as the bonding dollars are used primarily for transportation, infrastructure, and gives rural Minnesota an equitable amount of the allocation. I also realize life happens and will make sure that when disaster strikes, such as the Wadena tornado or Duluth floods, that the funds are available to the local people who are putting their lives back together. After all, natural disasters rarely occur along party lines.

Adrian Welle, DFL Candidate, House District 9B

Adrian Welle

Introduction: I grew up on a small family farm near the city of Lastrup in Granite Township, which taught me the meaning of rural Minnesota values. I currently live in the city of Pierz where I am in my fourth year serving as an elected council member. I interned for the city of Little Falls and currently serve as the city clerk/treasurer for the city of Upsala. I have a bachelor of arts degree from St. Cloud State University in public administration. I also previously served as the guest service manager at the Little Falls Perkins.

Question 1: This election is not about Democrat vs. Republican; it is about what’s best for rural Minnesota and who will represent us better at the capital. I believe the battle really is rural vs. metro. I’m not afraid to break away from my party’s beliefs to vote what is important to this district. A few examples are that I believe in our 2nd Amendment rights and belong to the NRA. Also, being adopted, the issue of pro-life is very important to me. I believe in the right to life and to bear arms and am not afraid to vote against the party.

Question 2: I believe that it is important on day one of getting elected to reach across party lines and build effective relationships to get the job done. I believe it is important to reach out to metro legislators and bring them to our district to give them an understanding of our rural values and to educate them on the rural way of life. By building effective relationships you can get the job done more efficiently and work together. There needs to be some form of compromise between both sides to work together to do what is best for Minnesota.

Question 3: Compromise is not a dirty word. Compromise is what this nation was founded on and it’s up to legislators to make hard decisions, which is why they are elected in the first place. I believe in leading with an open heart and an open mind, but still remember where I came from and who elected me and realistically do what is best for everyone involved. It is important to seek some compromise in this political climate but not at the expense of the core of your district’s beliefs.

Question 4: I believe that a great approach to this problem would be closing corporate loopholes and also a fair tax for everyone. Why are the middle class earners paying a higher tax rate than those making more than $250,000 per year? I think that even our top earners should be paying the same percentage of tax as the rest of us are paying. I am very much in favor of them paying the same rates and establishing a flat tax on all earners.

Question 5: The answer to the question on borrowed money from education is simple, it is a 100 percent “yes” it should be repaid. There are two constitutional requirements in this state for the legislature to fund. 1) Trunk highway system and 2) education. We need to fulfill our constitutional requirement and adequately fund education. Education is the key to building a strong workforce and strengthening the middle class. Our state is lagging behind and funding needs to be restored to get our state back to the educational leader we used to be.

Question 6: When it comes to bonding I am willing to support bonding around $750 million. It is important that we use this bonding bill to create jobs in Minnesota. We need to support infrastructure to continue to move our state forward. Creating jobs throughout Minnesota will help us to get our state back on track and to build a thriving economy once again.

Brian Johnson, DFL Candidate, House District 15B

Brian Johnson

Introduction: I received my bachelor of arts degree from the University of Minnesota, majoring in political science and history. I received my Juris Doctorate from William Mitchell College of Law. I own a small business, which is a law office located in Annandale. As an attorney, I have the task of not only advocating for my clients, but also working with all parties in the effort to reach a suitable resolution. If elected, the skills will serve me well when working together with all legislators to get things done.

Question 1: If elected, I will make a continued effort to consider all sides of the issue and represent the interests of my constituents, even if it means not siding with the majority of the DFL legislators. Regarding a specific issue, I believe that I am more flexible when it comes to gun regulation when compared to DFL legislators. I support current firearm rights, including one’s right to carry a handgun in public.

Question 2: From the beginning of my campaign, my ongoing message has been “Working Together for a Better Minnesota.” In 2011, Minnesotans witnessed the longest state shutdown in United States history. This is extremely embarrassing. Many Minnesotans are tired of the partisan politics. I am tired of partisan politics, too. If elected, the one promise I can confidently make is that I will strive to work closely with legislators on both sides of the aisle to get things done, because this is what matters most to Minnesotans.

Question 3: Unfortunately, the word “compromise” is viewed as a dirty word in politics. The ability to compromise should be admired rather than admonished. It is important to stick to what you believe in, but it is not a state representative’s job to represent his or her own agenda or beliefs in the legislature. Rather, it is representative’s job to be a voice for the people. Too many politicians make pledges to a few individuals, instead of working together to benefit all Minnesotans. My only pledge is to listen to my constituents and work together to better the lives of all Minnesotans.

Question 4: The wrong approach is to continue increasing taxes on the middle class and small businesses, through both income and property tax. We close this gap by doing two things. One, we focus on cutting wasteful government spending. Second, we establish a fair tax policy, which consists of closing corporate tax loopholes and make the wealthiest Minnesotans pay at least the same income tax percentage that middle class Minnesotans currently pay.

Question 5: Yes. Funds otherwise meant for public education should never be taken to help “balance the budget.” During the last session, the Republican-controlled legislature borrowed $2.4 billion from education with no sound plan to pay it back. Thus, local governments were forced to increase property taxes. We must pay our kids back now, rather than wait and make them suffer for our legislature’s poor decisions. I have met with many K-12 teachers in our district. These teachers are confident that the lack of state funding has negatively affected the classroom and will continue to do so if something doesn’t change.

Question 6: I believe bonding bills can be beneficial when they are used to fund things, such as transportation and infrastructure. I support new bonding if we need it, however, we must consider all of our options before we decide to borrow more money. It is difficult to determine the exact bonding amount that may be needed. Therefore, I will not commit to a specific dollar amount at this time.

Jim Newberger, GOP Candidate, House District 15B

Jim Newberger

Introduction: Hello. My name is Jim Newberger and I live in Becker. I am a conservative who loves his country and state. I have worked in the private sector as a paramedic for 24 years. I have been married for 20 years and have three children. I am asking for the privilege to serve you, the people of the new House District 15B in 2013-14. I am pro-family, pro-life – MCCL endorsed and pro-2nd Amendment – NRA- endorsed. I have 25 years of leadership, experience and service to my family, church and community.

Question 1: If my party chooses to increase spending or create new taxes then I will have to vote against it. As a state we have borrowed, taxed and spent ourselves into a deep financial hole. We must work to reduce government waste, spending and growth. We must give our children a better chance at a brighter future. Also, I am pro-life and will not vote against life issues.

Question 2: My first priority is to uphold the conservative principles we share as Central Minnesotans. I will do everything I can to work with other legislators, without violating the principles we share in our district. This is possible. It can be done. Question 3: Yes, you must “stick to what you believe in.” That defines who you are as a person. There are some fundamental ideals that need to be upheld, such as, life, smaller government, the 2nd Amendment and family values.

Question 4: We need to cut the “fat” out of the government bureaucracy, develop a business climate that will attract high paying jobs and stop the over regulation of our state. Currently, Minnesota was ranked as number 45 out of 50 for business climates. Being fifth from the bottom is not OK. We need jobs. These changes will go a long way toward closing the budget gap. Raising new taxes is not going to work.

Question 5: Yes. The state should not be taking money from schools to pay other bills. This needs to stop. We need to equalize school funding. The money our school districts receive per pupil is not the same as larger, metro districts. This needs to change. I value our schools and will strive to get equal funding for them. I support schools of every type: Home, private, religious, charter and public. I attended public schools and graduated from St. Cloud State University.

Question 6: At this point I do not have a solid figure. I want to learn what the specific needs are before I make a decision to set bonding amounts. However, I will not support spending “more” than we have in previous bonding cycles. We cannot go deeper into debt.

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