Jackson County, District 22B candidates meet at forum
JACKSON -- Candidates for contested offices at the city, county and state levels gathered Friday at Jackson County Central High School for a voter forum, presenting their opinions on renewable fuel, property taxes and controversial local issues.
The forum was sponsored by the Jackson Area League of Women Voters and moderated by Dave Maschoff of KKOJ/KRAQ, along with Judy Johnson of the League of Women Voters.
Candidates were given paper and pencil at the beginning of the forum, but were not permitted to bring notes. Candidates who could not attend the forum could not send a statement, and no candidate could appear without opposition.
All three debates began with an opening statement and concluded with a closing statement, with a series of questions based on those posed by the public in between.
District 22B House
Incumbent Minnesota Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, and his Democrat opponent, Richard Peterson, sparred with each other on a variety of topics mostly involving the economy, renewable fuels and energy. They were also asked about education, rural development, health insurance, nursing homes and veterans' issues.
Hamilton also emphasized his endorsements, including one from Education Minnesota, the state's teachers' union, which usually endorses Democrats. He alluded to "conservative values" and noted he has always been willing to listen to constituents.
Peterson, who farms in Jackson County and graduated from Jackson High School, introduced himself to the small crowd of about a dozen and talked about his experience with the Trimont Area Wind Farm and local and national corn growers associations. Peterson emphasized his long-time support of the ethanol industry and other homegrown renewable fuels, including biodiesel and wind-generated power.
The first question, which both candidates were given in advance, asked about the price of fuel and what could be done to ease energy costs.
Hamilton advocated wind power, solar power and biofuels, but also wanted to look at conventional sources of energy, including clean coal, as well as nuclear power. Peterson emphasized the production of ethanol and other biofuels and also advocated the use of wind and solar power. Both emphasized that jobs could be brought to Minnesota through biofuel and wind energy production.
The second question, also given to the candidates in advance, more specifically asked the best way to develop jobs in the area. Peterson and Hamilton again noted the many opportunities "green collar" jobs in wind energy and biofuel production could bring to the area. Hamilton declared his support for the JOBZ program and Peterson declared his opposition.
The third question, also known to the two campaigners in advance, asked the two men what they would do to counter the rising costs of healthcare.
Hamilton touted the addition of 25,000 people to the state's healthcare provider, MinnesotaCare, during his term in the House, though he cautioned, "We still have a long way to go." Hamilton also advocated transparency in the system, which could help keep costs down. Peterson, however, wanted to further expand MinnesotaCare to cover more people and ensure that all Minnesota children have health coverage.
Answers to more questions, which were not given to candidates in advance, showed that both men wanted to protect patient privacy in the healthcare system and that both wanted nursing homes to receive better funding, though Peterson wanted to re-examine the entire nursing home funding system.
In a discussion about school funding, Hamilton deplored the funding disparities between rural Minnesota and the metropolitan area, stating the legislature in the past few years had "done a lot, but we haven't done enough." Peterson said that property taxes were getting out of line, and emphasized the necessity of providing health care and education to all children.
Jackson County Commissioner, District 1
Incumbent Craig Rubis and his challenger, Bill Tusa, answered questions on the fate of the Jackson County Resource Center, the possibility of a new county shop building, restructuring county government and the county's law enforcement needs.
Tusa introduced himself as a lifelong member of Jackson County and a graduate of Jackson High School and Minnesota West. He called the global economic situation "dire." Rubis also introduced himself in his opening statement as a lifelong member of Jackson County and a farmer. Rubis said he believed Jackson County is financially well-managed, and emphasized the importance of research and knowing all the facts before making difficult decisions.
The issue of what to do with the Jackson County Resource Center, which had initially been slated for demolition and rebuilding until commissioners voted to scrap the project due to the economic turndown, was posed to both candidates.
Tusa stated something should have been done about the Resource Center and that he wished "it hadn't been completely pulled," specifically citing the needs of the county's Human Services Department. Tusa did not favor the tearing down of the old Resource Center, but seemed to prefer the idea of remodeling the building to make it more energy efficient. Tusa criticized the county for not maintaining the current resource center adequately.
"We need to match the dollars spent with the ability of taxpayers (to pay)," Tusa said.
Rubis said the county had studied the issue for four and a half years and had all the facts, but as soon as the issue was to go to a public vote, it had to be given up because "the economic conditions trickled down to our area, and I don't believe anything would pass." Putting the issue on the ballot would have cost the county money, Rubis added.
The second question involved a possible replacement of the county's aging shop facilities.
"Right now, with the economic conditions, we can't do it," Rubis said.
Rubis wanted to build a new shop, but in a financially wise way and not during an economic downturn.
Tusa cited some county employees who stated some of the buildings at the county shop could be used as cold storage, and said he favored building a county shop according to a step plan.
Then the moderator asked whether either candidate favored restructuring county government.
Tusa said he did not, but stated that information between county commissioners and department heads should be passed directly, and that county employees needed to work as a team better.
Rubis explained that county government had already been restructured recently, when Jackson County separated the positions of auditor/treasurer and county administrator.
In their closing statements, Rubis and Tusa both criticized the State of Minnesota's unfunded mandates, which require counties to provide services without providing money for them to do so.
Jackson City Council, Ward 1
Only two of the five candidates who filed for the two open Ward 1 seats on the Jackson City Council attended the meeting -- Chad Petersen and Bradley Perkins. The other three candidates invited to attend were Gary Willink, Lance Edlin and Fred Bern.
In his opening statement, Petersen said he was motivated to run for city council because small-town government should be a neighborhood thing, and that none of the current city councilmen were from his neighborhood. He also said that the current city council members are all approximately the same age and none have children in the house.
Perkins cited his 25-year involvement in downtown business, and said Jackson has serious issues facing it. He also stated the council had lost touch with some of the areas it spent money in, and said he was concerned with the dying retail in the downtown area.
When asked about whether they supported the tearing down and replacement of the Des Moines River Dam, both men said they were against it. Perkins said he would have left the dam as it is, adding, "There were a lot of scare tactics."
Petersen agreed, saying "right now nothing needs to be done with the dam" and emphasizing that the city should not go into debt in order to remove or replace the dam.
The second question inquired about what could be done to keep the downtown from deteriorating and the third asked what should be done with the old Chozen building, recently donated to the city.
Petersen cautiously approved the plan to make the Chozen building into a small business incubator, but stressed that he wanted to have possible businesses lined up and an exit plan for thoem before the idea went forward.
Perkins said the city needed to find new ways to entice businesses to town. He also cautiously approved the idea of the Chozen building as a small business incubator, but wanted to be sure the small businesses were committed before the project went forward.
The candidates were then asked what they believed should be done with the Jackson Police Department.
Petersen said he was "very bothered" that the police chief did not live in town but credited the police force with increasing community policing efforts. He suggested adding a bike patrol to the city trail system.
Perkins said he did see space needs at the police department but questioned adding another full-time officer to the force.
Finally, the two made their closing statements.
"This economic impact hasn't really hit us in Jackson yet, but it's going to come," Perkins said. "City government has to go with that. City government has to learn to spend within their means."
Petersen seemed to agree.
"If it's tight at home... it's going to be tight downtown," he said.
In Hamilton's opening statement, he praised his mother, who reminded him to fight for the voters who put him in office and sent him to St. Paul.