Hamilton, Johnson debate for House 22B seat

WORTHINGTON -- Age and experience may separate seven-term Minnesota House 22B incumbent Rod Hamilton (R-Mountain Lake) and his opponent, political newcomer Cheniqua Johnson (DFL-Worthington), but before a crowd gathered at Tuesday night's candida...

District 22B Minnesota House candidate Cheniqua Johnson (DFL-Worthington) addresses attendees of Tuesday night's candidate forum while opponent Rod Hamilton (R-Mountain Lake) listens. (Ryan McGaughey / The Globe)

WORTHINGTON - Age and experience may separate seven-term Minnesota House 22B incumbent Rod Hamilton (R-Mountain Lake) and his opponent, political newcomer Cheniqua Johnson (DFL-Worthington), but before a crowd gathered at Tuesday night’s candidate forum in Worthington, the two seemed to agree on several of the issues.

Hosted by the governmental affairs committee of the Worthington Area Chamber of Commerce, the forum featured more than a dozen questions, with the candidates taking similar stances on becoming a right-to-work state - each is opposed - and voicing opposition to law enforcement actions to detain individuals on behalf of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Meanwhile, each supports the issuance of driver’s licenses to undocumented individuals.

On the latter issue, Johnson said she’s always supported driver’s licenses for undocumented individuals, while noting her opponent initially didn’t support the legislation. Hamilton admitted he did change his mind - in fact, he became co-author of the driver’s license bill - after a conversation with a former Worthington police chief. Hamilton learned that if licenses are available to undocumented residents, they will take driver’s training, purchase insurance and drive; and if licenses aren’t available, they will not take the training, not purchase insurance and still drive.

As for law enforcement detaining individuals for ICE, Hamilton said, “I want to recognize the good work that law enforcement does. With that said, there are some individuals - some bad actors - that must be dealt with accordingly.

“I don’t think law enforcement should be doing ICE’s work,” he added, voicing concerns that undocumented individuals may be less likely to report victimization if they fear being held for ICE.


Johnson agreed, saying that settlements and lawsuits don’t go unnoticed.

“I would like to see more continuous investment in a community task force,” she said, adding that if a community is going to host immigrant forums, the people on the panels should be immigrants.

The candidates, asked to identify their “top priority” issues, again showed similarities. Hamilton listed investments in education, infrastructure and health and human services - particularly addressing insurance - as his priorities, while Johnson listed education, health and human services and being accessible to the people she represents through the development of town hall meetings.

Education It’s the state’s duty to make sure children are properly educated, Hamilton said, adding that he wants to continue to push for career tech in schools - to educate students that will supply the region’s next workforce.

Johnson, noting her endorsement by Education Minnesota, said she wants to be a voice on the state’s education finance committee.

“Your zip code should not define the quality of education you receive,” she said.

One question posed to the candidates pertained to the inequity that exists in capital funding for public rural schools. To this, Johnson reiterated her desire to serve on the education finance committee.

“Every school district in the area has had to compensate with some sort of referendum, whether it passed or didn’t pass, whether they thought it was good or not,” Johnson said. “There’s some sort of effort being made to compensate for the lack of state funding for our schools down here in southwest Minnesota.


“I want to do something about that directly and I think we’re missing that voice,” she continued.”When we’re talking about budgets … when we’re talking about schools overpopulating, we have to prioritize southwest Minnesota rural schools and we have to bring folks to see what exactly we’re talking about.”

Hamilton said inequities for funding in rural school districts are why school districts, including Worthington ISD 518, have not been able to pass bond referendums.

“One of the things we did this last year was that we … bought down some of those property taxes on ag land,” Hamilton said. “We want to build off of that and we need to go one step further.

“We need some rate equalization, some help from the state, so we can specifically put a bill together for Worthington and specifically for these communities that are trying to get these (referendums) accomplished and introduce it to the tax committee, the education finance committee and also to the bonding committee - we’d take a three-prong approach in order to get this passed,” he added.

Health care Both Hamilton and Johnson agreed that good quality insurance should be available to residents at affordable prices.

Johnson said people shouldn’t have to choose between feeding themselves or seeing a doctor.

Hamilton doesn’t support complete government control of health care and is critical of the Affordable Care Act. While noting the state legislature was able to lower premiums and eliminate surprise billings, there’s “still much work to be done.”

In responding to a specific question about the lack of dental clinics that accept Medicaid, Johnson admitted her family travels 40 minutes to a dentist who will accept their insurance.


“We need to eliminate the barriers of the health insurance market,” she said. “I don’t think we’re doing enough at the state level. Free clinics are definitely a great initiative.”

Hamilton, who noted his endorsement from the Minnesota Dental Association, said the state funds a mobile dental unit that provides care to individuals who don’t otherwise have access.

“We need to do more investment in that,” he said. “There’s a lot of uncompensated care in Worthington. I believe the state must do a better job on this.”


Other questions posed to the candidates during the hour-long forum pertained to retaining young people in southwest Minnesota, support for farmers buying into Minnesota Care, support for the LGBTQIA community and people with disabilities and their support for victims of sexual assault.

During their parting comments, Hamilton said, “It has been an absolute honor to represent all of you in St. Paul and I would be thrilled to represent you again.”

Johnson countered by saying, “I’m asking that you take a chance on a new person, a new face … that may not have (Hamilton’s) years of experience working in our communities.

“I know a lot of people who don’t know what it means to be represented and don’t know who’s representing them,” she said. “That’s a concern for me.”

Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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