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MN House Dist. 2B, 4B candidates answer voter questions at DL forum

The Detroit Lakes Area League of Women Voters and Chamber of Commerce co-sponsored a public forum for Minnesota House legislative candidates Monday night at M State. Included were House District 2B candidates Karen Branden and Steve Green (on left) and District 4B candidates Jason Peterson and Paul Marquart (on right). Sharon Sinclair (center) was the moderator. (Vicki Gerdes / Tribune)

The candidates for two Minnesota House districts, 2B and 4B, answered questions from area residents Tuesday night in a public forum hosted by the Detroit Lakes Area League of Women Voters at the M State Conference Center in Detroit Lakes.

District 2B State Rep. Steve Green (R-Fosston) and challenger Karen Branden (DFL-Rochert) were squaring off for the fourth time, but were joined this time by District 4B State Rep. Paul Marquart (DFL-Dilworth) and his challenger, Jason Peterson (R-Lake Park) in answering a wide range of questions.

The questions, which featured topics including everything from climate change and universal health care to the Legacy amendment and voting rights for prison parolees, had been submitted by the public — some in advance of the forum, via email, and some on a piece of paper at the event — and screened by a League panel prior to being read aloud by forum moderator Sharon Sinclair.

One question of particular interest to local residents was about whether they would support funding for the proposed new Becker County Museum in the next bonding bill.

Branden and Marquart both pledged their unqualified support for the project, while Green and Peterson both indicated that their support of the bonding bill would depend on what other projects were included, and whether there were some in there that they were not in favor of funding.

"I think the more we invest in our communities the better our communities do economically," said Branden. "Our communities ask for specific bonding because they know that's something their community needs, and I trust communities when they come forward and tell us what their needs are. So I'm in full support of the Becker County Museum, and I can't imagine what the area would be like without it."

"Whether I support a bonding bill or not will depend on what is in the bonding bill," said Green. "I have only voted for two bonding bills since I've been (in the Legislature), and they were all infrastructure, and they were good transportation funding for those... A few years ago Minnesotans passed a constitutional amendment that said we needed a balanced budget in this state because we didn't want to be in debt. Right now we are pushing about $10 billion in debt through bonding. If you read the bonding bill... there are things in there that people get bribed into voting for, whether they be swimming pools or a trail that didn't get funded through the other policies. In my opinion that's not something we should be bonding for."

"Yes I would (support it)," said Marquart. "In fact I introduced the bill last session to get money for the Becker County Museum. It's a keepsake of our culture and tradition and history... it's a regional project, and that's what they look for in bonding bills. I think we're always kind of fighting the metro areas as far as who gets the dollars, and any time we've got good projects here in rural Minnesota, we should fight for them... these are things that help a large range of people, they're long term infrastructure things. Bonding bills are good investments and certainly this Becker County Museum would be a good investment."

"Well, I think like Rep. Green said it would definitely depend on what's in the bonding bill," said Peterson. "We're not going to go ahead and support a bill that has a whole lot of wasteful spending in it. But also, on the other end we do need to reinvest in our community, and we need to, when there is an opportunity to hold together what we have right now, to keep the heritage, to have a museum here in Becker County, I think that would be a great project."

In 2008, Minnesota's voters passed the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment to the Minnesota Constitution, in order to "protect drinking water sources; to protect, enhance, and restore wetlands, prairies, forests, and fish, game, and wildlife habitat; to preserve arts and cultural heritage; to support parks and trails; and to protect, enhance, and restore lakes, rivers, streams, and groundwater," through an increase to the state's sales tax that would be put in a fund created to be used specifically for this purpose.

Each candidate was asked, "Will you keep these funds for what they were originally intended, or allow the funds to be raided for other uses?"

Rep. Marquart said, "Yes, if I had my choice on it. I know that there were dollars taken from the Legacy fund that was put into the bonding bill last year, and I wouldn't have done that, but I also supported the bonding bill because I'm not going to turn away billions of dollars that come into our area because of that provision... if it was separate, no, I wouldn't support doing that, but it was part of a bonding bill this year, and you have to take a look at the bill and look at it overall and say, how is it going to help your district. There's no easy answers necessarily, and overall that bonding bill, which I did support, it had a lot of good projects for this area."

Peterson said, "The Legacy fund is obviously in the Constitution, so it will be there, and I think the Legacy fund does good things... to help with the arts, to help with different outdoor programs. The problem with the Legacy fund is, and we've seen this if you actually dive into the numbers, that there's a lot of wasteful spending inside of it. There's a lot of money that's going in there to fund all these things that it wasn't actually intended to, so I think what we need to do is we need to get it back to what it was intended to do, to fund the arts and to help fund some of these outdoor projects, and I don't think we should take money from it... if we're spending the money that's in it correctly, I don't think we should take it for a bonding bill."

Branden said, "I think we should leave the Legacy funding alone, we should be using it for the purpose it was intended. The Minnesota Historical Society did research on the money that they used from the legacy funding and they found that for every $1 of Legacy money they received, it translated into $2 of economy. So that's a pretty good payoff, it's a pretty good trade. So it's doing what it is intended to do. I understand what Paul Marquart was saying, when it's all mixed together, you have to choose, and I can support that process to some degree. I wish we wouldn't put as many things into bills so that people were struggling with that choice."

She also pointed out that any changes made to the Legacy fund should be made with the voters' approval, since it was voter approval that helped create it in the first place.

"I'd like to thank my opponent for pointing that out," said Green. "You can't change the Legacy fund. The Legacy fund is in our Constitution and it was voted on. But when it was passed in 2008 it was passed as the Clean Water Legacy (amendment). That's what it was called, and it did pass by 56 percent, and there is waste in it."

Green cited a few examples, such as "$9,999 to a group to provide ceramic art for workshops for homeless people near Minneapolis; $10,000 for a grant that included travel to the Caribbean in order to conduct research prior to creating oil paintings..."

He said that he had introduced a bill to put the Legacy amendment back on the ballot, "giving people a choice. We have this thing for 25 years, and this kind of thing is going to go on for 25 years. People deserve a right, after 10 (years) to look back and say, 'Is this what I voted for?'"

Earlier in the evening, the second of two League forums featuring incumbent Becker County Sheriff Todd Glander and his challenger, Al Fowler, was held. Like the forum held earlier this month in White Earth, the candidates answered questions regarding racial profiling, keeping girls and women safe from sex trafficking and how to handle cases where officers are accused of using excessive force.

Both forums will be available for viewing, in their entirety, via the Detroit Lakes Area League of Women Voters' Facebook page later today (Wednesday).

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 17 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454