State House candidates touch on education, health care and guns
Candidates for two seats in the Minnesota House of Representatives covered various issues Tuesday night at the Rochester Public Library in one of a series of candidate forums hosted by the League of Women Voters — Rochester.
Incumbent DFL state Rep. Tina Liebling and GOP challenger Paul Wilson began their segment disavowing partisanship as both promised to break with their respective parties when necessary.
However, the two generally shared their respective parties’ positions on health care. Liebling, who has served in the Minnesota House since 2005, said she would support universal healthcare initiatives, calling health care a “human right.”
“We all have bodies, we all get sick,” she said, noting much of health care spending is spent on administrative costs. Liebling said she would support a single-payer system “where we don’t have this middleman.”
Wilson, a former Olmsted County Commissioner, said one system wouldn’t solve the health care problems.
“We have to look at the assets we have ... and pull them together,” he said. “I don’t think it should be a single system.”
Liebling later expressed support for mandating sick leave for Minnesota workers.
Wilson warned that could be a burden to employers.
“We need to keep in mind the small-business community is a significant part of our economy,” he said.
Liebling said state tax credits or direct funding could help offset business costs.
“We sure do a lot for the big guys,” she said. “There ought to be ways to help small businesses.”
Wilson said he was not in favor of a statewide $15 per hour minimum wage. He said wages should be left to employers and perhaps local chambers of commerce.
Liebling said wages have not kept up with inflation.
“Everybody who is working full time ought to be able to support themselves,” she said.
She said she wasn’t sure if $15 an hour was the correct figure, but said the state should lead an initiative to increase the minimum wage.
Liebling said she would defend cities’ decisions to become “sanctuary cities” — which bar local law enforcement from cooperating with federal immigration officials.
However, Liebling called the term “loaded.”
”What we’re really talking about is local law enforcement used to enforce federal immigration law,” she said. “I think that’s destructive.”
Wilson said the issue is about breaking the law, but didn’t specifically say he would work to end so-called sanctuary city initiatives.
”It’s a critical question we need to ask ourselves,” he said.
The two agreed that the state needs to pledge more money for transportation. Both agreed an increased gas tax would be part of that solution.
“I’m a Republican saying that,” Wilson said.
Touching on gun control, Liebling said she supports more criminal background check initiatives to restrict access to firearms.
“We need to make sure guns aren’t in the hands of people who shouldn’t have them,” she said.
Wilson agreed there are likely weapons that shouldn’t be available to the general public, but said mental health initiatives would help address gun violence.
Liebling called the argument a “red herring,” saying it stigmatizes people with mental health problems while not addressing gun violence.
Tyrel Clark, three-term mayor of Eyota, is the DFL challenger to incumbent state Rep. Nels Pierson, R-Stewartville. The two touched on multiple topics in their portion of the forum but split most on health care and education issues.
On health care, neither were asked specifically about a single-payer system but did discuss what they saw as the state’s role to keep costs down.
Pierson said higher deductibles are a result of federal policies and their impact on the state health care market. He said people need to be allowed more options for health care coverage.
Clark said often times those options mean poor coverage.
“It’s creating a market where you don’t have certain things covered any more,” he said.
Pierson reiterated removing mandates on types of coverage would help families with costs.
“High deductibles and coverage are bankrupting families,” he said.
On addressing the national opioid addiction problem, Pierson said he is open to seeing more state resources put into addressing it, but said a proposal to tax pharmaceutical companies wouldn’t be effective and companies would just pass the cost to consumers.
Clark said he would support the so-called “pill fee” levied against drug companies for every opioid-based pill they sell. Funding to fight opioid addiction was part of an omnibus spending bill passed at the end of the last session, he said. The bill was vetoed by Gov. Mark Dayton.
Clark said that initiative and others in the bill had bipartisan support but were lumped into one massive spending bill.
“It could have been done separate and had bipartisan support,” he said.
On education, Clark said he was dubious of vouchers for students.
Clark said it lowers the pool of resources for all schools.
Pierson noted the Legislature increased school spending last year.
“We put the increase on the per-pupil formula,” he said. “We certainly will push for more.”
Clark added that he opposed vouchers for private schools because they aren’t public and can turn away kids for any reason.
“They might not want to accept my son with special needs,” he said, adding that school funding has not kept up with inflation.
On gun control, both candidates said they support the second amendment, but Clark added he would support “red flag” initiatives which would allow local law enforcement or to take firearms from people who are determined to be a danger to themselves or the public. Pierson said he would like to see stronger liability laws for irresponsible gun owners.
In closing remarks, Clark criticized Pierson for siding with House Speaker Kurt Daudt on each vote last session.
“It’s a successful strategy for myself and other legislators,” Pierson said.
The forum was part of a series hosted by the League of Women Voters. The forums are streamed live from the Rochester Public Library auditorium and will be available on the library’s website for viewing.