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Torkelson, Houle face questions in Dist. 16B forum

Torkelson and Houle

NEW ULM — Minnesota House District 16B Rep. Paul Torkelson of Hanska and challenger Tammy Houle of Redwood County presented their viewpoints at the New Ulm League of Women Voters candidate forum Wednesday.

They agreed on a number of subjects, but not on everything.

Running for his sixth term, Torkelson said he supports a pro-life agenda, agriculture, rural living, gun rights and full school funding.

Houle, a Renville County Extension Office worker, said she has a passion for public service, transparency, accountability and accessibility.

“I support appealing the buffer law because it takes away personal property rights,” Houle said. She accused Torkelson of helping create it.

Torkelson said former Gov. Mark Dayton initiated the buffer law and wanted 50-foot buffers and that legislators worked to pare it down to 17 feet in many areas.

Talking about COVID-19 measures and what the Legislature can do to protect people, Torkelson said Gov. Tim Walz “has his hands on the wheel” with his emergency powers as long as he is allowed to do so. Neither candidate favored letting him continue, or on the latest mandate ordering everyone to wear masks inside public buildings.

“I have mixed feelings on mandatory masks,” Torkelson said. “They’re not a cure all, just one step.”

“It’s hard to know who to trust,” Houle said. She said there is a lot of conflicting information about it, and she doesn’t trust the “mainstream media” to report the facts.

“Thank goodness there’s the World Wide Web where people can do their own research,” she said.

“I think Minnesota’s intended (COVID-19) cure is worse than the illness” Houle said. “I feel state COVID illness case numbers are artificially inflated. I think we should follow what Wisconsin and the Dakotas are doing. They weren’t in a lock down like we had. We have higher (COVID) death rates.”

Houle said there is no evidence that masks protect healthy people and are often so loose fitting, they don’t do much good.

“We didn’t demand masks until four months into the pandemic,” Houle said.

Torkelson said there was a lot of uncertainty about the COVID-19. It’s a new disease that isn’t fully understood yet. He said he didn’t think a statewide approach is appropriate. “I’d like to see a regional approach instead of one size fits all.”

Talking about the state’s budget, Torkelson said the Minnesota Legislature will face a $9 to $10 billion budget deficit in the coming biennium. He fears state jobs will have to be cut. Houle agreed.

“I think we’re in dire straits right now,” Houle said. “I’m a public employee myself.”

Candidates were asked about flavored smoking products and vaping. Torkelson said he supports protecting children and teens more from candy-flavored vaping products, though he said an outright ban might be going too far. and that he opposed making marijuana legal.

“Nicotine is very addicting,” Houle said. “Minnesota spends less than 1 percent of its budget on health.”

Active in 4-H, Houle said a woman talked to her 4-H group about vaping and told them to notice how much advertising was targeted at them.

“I’m opposed to that program if that’s what we fund,” Houle said, referring to encouraging kids to look at advertising. “People can research the subject online.”

Torkelson and Houle said they opposed a tip credit for restaurant workers.

“I oppose that and mandatory minimum wages,” Houle said. “I understand sometimes restaurant servers make more on tips that wages.”

Torkelson said he supported sharing tips with front and back end restaurant workers.

Talking about air quality, Torkelson said sometimes state regulations are overdone.

“I’ve heard stories about air pollution equipment that worked fine having to be changed out because it didn’t have the right code,” Torkelson said. “State agency authority should be applied appropriately. It doesn’t always do that.”

Asked about bringing Minnesota’s tax laws into compliance with federal rules, especially regarding farm depreciation, Houle said she was more concerned about how Minnesota taxes Social Security income while Wisconsin and the Dakotas do not.

Torkelson said Minnesota tax laws have not kept up with federal laws, forcing farmers to keep double tax records and depreciation schedules on their farm equipment. Farmers have been hit with big tax bills because some depreciation shows up as income because of the discrepancy. He hoped that Minnesota tax law could be brought into compliance at the next special section.

(Fritz Busch can be emailed at fbusch@nujournal.com).

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