Kimmel, Torkelson debate agendas at League forum
NEW ULM — What to do about the lack of rural Minnesota workers in a time of high employment brought contrasting responses from District 16B Republican incumbent Paul Torkelson and Democratic challenger Marinda Kimmel at the League of Women Voters Candidate Forum Monday night.
“A full-time minimum wage earner can’t afford to live on what they make in Minnesota. Disadvantaged people need help,” Kimmel said. “I’m for raising the state minimum wage. Housing is so tight, people often have to live out of town to find a job. When they find a better job in the town where they live, they take it.”
Kimmel, who has worked in the mental health field, dealing with family and youth conflicts for eight years, said she qualified for a federal loan forgiveness program to come back home and help people with mental health problems, but she’s afraid that program will be gone in a year or so.
“This (low unemployment) is a good problem,” Torkelson said. “Lots of hands-on workers are about to retire. Schools need to add vocational training programs for students to do their jobs. Schools need to partner with those businesses.”
Torkelson, Chairman of the Minnesota Transportation Finance Committee, said the most important legislative issue is educating his colleagues about the needs and challenges in parts of the state other than their own.
Kimmel said rural Minnesota is ripe for innovation, revitalizing downtowns and luring young professionals to come back home.
In addition, she said the Minnesota Secretary of State didn’t find the voter fraud that was alleged after the last election.
“I’d advocate for voter registration with driver’s licenses and keeping (voting) systems up to date with firewalls. Funds are available for that,” Kimmel said.
Torkelson said paper ballots are a good reference to look back on in case of a recount.
Regarding the opioid crisis, Torkelson said the blame goes to pharmaceutical manufacturers who advertised as not dangerous pain relievers, which is not the case. Then drugs were over-prescribed by the medical community.
“I believe the medical community is coming around, but we need to stop the flow of illegal drugs coming in at our borders,” Torkelson said.
Kimmel said opioid deaths are up dramatically in Minnesota. She said a “penny a pill” tax would generate $20 million a year to support programs to counter the issue. In addition, she said the Yellow Line program in Blue Earth County helps divert afflicted people to human services programs instead of moving them in and out of jail.
Kimmel said the Highway 14 four-lane project from New Ulm to Nicollet was forecast to be done by 2000 back in the 1960s.
“It’s costing more and more each year it isn’t done. It’s still unfunded and unscheduled,” Kimmel said. “I’m for taking another look at a carefully thought out gas tax for the project to get done. More than 2,000 semi trucks are based in New Ulm and 6,000 vehicles travel through New Ulm daily. Highway 14 is a big failure. The Legislature needs to take another look at this.”
Torkelson said he felt the Legislature make good progress on Highway 14, completing the Nicollet to North Mankato four-lane project.
“The Nicollet to New Ulm project is on my radar. They don’t let me write checks at the Legislature,” Torkelson said. “We have a priority list and work our way down it. It’s a big deal that I work hard on. I was livid when the Nicollet to New Ulm project didn’t get funded.”
Kimmel said the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) used project criteria authored by Torkelson that sent project money to projects within 40 miles of U.S. Bank Stadium.
“It wasn’t my fault. It was MnDOT,” Torkelson said. “They used the seven-county metro area for highway project money. I was very upset. But we got funding for Highway 23 from Willmar to St. Cloud and Highway 14 from Owatonna to Dodge Center.”
Regarding the Legislature’s role for drastic changes to mitigate climate change, Torkelson said evidence is mounting but the issue is what is practical and sensible to do today to reduce human input.
“Minnesota is a biofuels leader. I’m willing to consider other greenhouse gas issues,” Torkelson said.
Kimmel said it’s important to look at more power generated with wind and sunlight.
“New Ulm got its first electric car charging station,” Kimmel said. “I support biofuels and looking at more renewable energy.”
Kimmel said all government entities must work together to address climate change.
“It’s hard to be green when you’re in the red,” Torkelson said. “We have to be careful not to disturb the economy. I know this as a farmer.”
Kimmel said there is a huge mental health care shortage and this region is on a federal list regarding it. “We need to keep local hospitals and providers open,” she said.
“Many prisoners have mental health issues,” Torkelson said. “We have to look at why people behave as they do. We need more mental health counselors in schools and programs to put people in the right place.”
Regarding campaign finance, Kimmel said Citizens United allows politicians to be bought by large corporations and fund programs against the public interest.
“Overturn Citizens United,” Kimmel said.
Torkelson said there is no dark money in Minnesota that he knows of and that campaign finance is on the “up and up.”
Fritz Busch can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.