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Ettinger takes the stage alone when Finstad doesn't participate in Worthington Forum

Congressional District 1 Candidate Jeff Ettinger took questions from the crowd on Tuesday night in Worthington.

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Congressional candidate Jeff Ettinger spoke at the Worthington Event Center Tuesday night, Oct. 4, 2022.
Emma McNamee
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WORTHINGTON — Democratic Congressional candidate Jeff Ettinger spoke with community members and took questions from the crowd during a Tuesday night forum in Worthington that did not include Republican challenger and current U.S. Rep. Brad Finstad.

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The Worthington Area Chamber of Commerce initially canceled the forum when they learned Finstad wasn't coming, but on Tuesday morning announced it would take place after all with Ettinger still planning to participate.

The former CEO of Hormel and a long-time resident of Austin, Ettinger markets himself as a “main-street problem solver,” intent on taking a middle-of-the-road approach to governing by building on his background as a business and community leader.

“My opponent, Mr. Finstad, calls himself a conservative fighter,” Ettigner said as part of his introductory statements to the crowd. “Well, I believe that people in our district who are not conservative also deserve representation in Washington … I also believe we don't need more fighters in Washington. And I think that fighting mentality is part of what led to the Jan. 6 tragedy that happened on Capitol Hill. So I would, instead of being a conservative fighter, I will be a main-street problem solver.”

Ettinger’s philosophy of a middle approach came up throughout the evening as he answered questions on topics ranging from improving bipartisan relationships to creating standards of operation while making sure law enforcement agencies were adequately funded.

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Cost of Living

A frequently emerging topic from Tuesday night was inflation, with questions on everything from rising housing costs to the Inflation Reduction Act and whether Ettinger would have voted in support of the recently passed bill, which was opposed by Finstad and other Minnesota House Republicans.

“The Inflation Reduction Act … I think, certainly moved in the right direction,” Ettinger said. “It was also helpful in that, as the Congressional Budget Office verified, in that it would be a deficit reducer. And that’s something, over time, I think we need to do.”

When questioned about the housing market, Ettinger acknowledged there was a definite challenge in terms of costs and availability, which was worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic. As for solutions, he said pursuing partnerships for affordable housing projects at both the state and federal level is something he favors.

Education

Ettinger turned the question of education back to the teachers in the room, asking what would be most beneficial to them in terms of addressing issues plaguing classrooms today such as teacher shortages, limited mental health resources for students, and widening achievement gaps.

Members of the audience pointed to adopting a full-service community school approach, which focuses on partnerships between schools and community members to foster classroom success as a possible solution. Bolstering childcare opportunities for teachers and students was also identified as a priority, particularly in Worthington, where one teacher commented that students with younger siblings are often not able to pursue extracurriculars.

Also in the vein of education, Ettinger stated he would not have supported Biden’s recent student loan forgiveness program.

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“I do not think an across-the-board, blanket relief of that is the right approach. I believe that that kind of thing should be focused,” he said, adding that he was not opposed to looking into forgiveness opportunities for specific professions or people with “significant, dire problems” with repayment.

Abortion 

Ettinger also received questions about his stance on abortion, having commented in his opening statements that he lamented the reversal of Roe v. Wade. He stated he had personal opinions stemming from his religious views on when life begins, but that this country was founded on the principle of separation from church and state.

“My opinion, and from the polling and talking I've done with people around southern Minnesota, is the majority of southern Minnesotans, even if they don't personally favor abortion, feel that that should not be made into a crime in all instances. We had a regimen in place under Roe v. Wade, which was basically, primarily the decision of the woman but with some restrictions in place,” Ettinger said. “I would vote to codify that, bring it back into law.”

Topics like immigration — Ettinger stated he was a long-time proponent of comprehensive immigration reform and that while the U.S. was in need of a more organized system for entering the county, border security should also be addressed — and striking a balance between support for smaller farm operations alongside bigger industry names were also brought up. However, as the hour drew to a close, it was once again to the concept of finding middle ground that Ettinger returned.

“To me if you can do things and kind of forget who's wearing the blue hat, the red hat and just look at it from a community standpoint … if we could do that in Washington, I think we would benefit.”

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Emma McNamee joined The Globe team in October 2021 as a reporter covering Crime & Courts, Politics, and the City beats. Born and raised in Duluth, Minn., McNamee left her hometown to attend school in Chicago at Columbia College. She graduated in 2021 with a degree in Multimedia Journalism, with a concentration in News & Feature Writing and a minor in Creative Writing.
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