ZUMBROTA — With time running out to court undecided voters in southeastern Minnesota, three Republican incumbents and three Democratic challengers fielded questions Thursday night, Oct. 22, from Goodhue County newspaper editors.

The three sets of state Legislature candidates for Senate District 21 and House Districts 21A and 21B took 30-minute turns to respond to local and statewide topics during the forum in Zumbrota City Hall. Questions were asked by the Republican Eagle, Zumbrota News-Record and Cannon Falls Beacon.

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Senate District 21

Mike Goggin (left) and Ralph Kaehler. File photos
Mike Goggin (left) and Ralph Kaehler. File photos

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Republican Sen. Mike Goggin is defending his seat against DFLer Ralph Kaehler. Goggin, of Red Wing, in his opening statement said he is able to work across party lines, pointing to the recent passage of a bill he sponsored to modify the Farm Loan Origination Fee Grant Program. Kaehler, a solar energy developer and fourth-generation family farmer in St. Charles, Minn., said he will bring agricultural and business experience to the state Senate.

The district includes Goodhue, Wabasha, Dodge and Winona counties.

House District 21A

Barb Haley and Matt Bruns. File photos
Barb Haley and Matt Bruns. File photos

Two Red Wing residents are vying for the District 21A seat. Republican incumbent Rep. Barb Haley is running for her third term in the House. She said her focus is on health care, education and jobs. DFL candidate and special education teacher Matt Bruns said he would be an advocate for the working class and work to ensure access to health care and infrastructure such as rural broadband.

21A covers the cities of Red Wing, Lake City, Cannon Falls and Goodhue.

House District 21B

Steve Drazkowski and Elise Diesslin. File photos
Steve Drazkowski and Elise Diesslin. File photos

The 21B race is between longtime Republican Rep. Steve Drazkowski and Elgin, Minn., City Council member Elise Diesslin. Drazkowski, leader of the New House Republican Caucus, said he is a champion for individual freedom and personal responsibility. Diesslin, the DFL and Education Minnesota endorsed candidate, said she would “listen more and talk less” at the Capitol.

The district includes the Goodhue County cities of Zumbrota, Kenyon, Pine Island, Mazeppa and Wanamingo.

Here’s what the candidates had to say on the issues:

The pandemic

This illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), shows the appearance of the novel coronavirus, which causes COVID-19. Submitted / Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
This illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), shows the appearance of the novel coronavirus, which causes COVID-19. Submitted / Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The Republican candidates criticized Gov. Tim Walz’s response to COVID-19 and for sidestepping the Legislature through an ongoing emergency declaration.

“We haven’t had the Legislature engaged,” Drazkowski said. “We’ve had a dictator in chief that has a one-size-fits-all, dictatorial, authoritarian approach to this.”

Haley said there was strong, bipartisan work early to flatten the curve of disease transmission and support hospitals, but now she would like to see more legislative involvement as the pandemic transitions from an emergency phase to a management phase.

“We've got a long road ahead of us still, but I want the Legislature to be involved,” Haley said. “I want to represent you, my constituents, and be at the table with those decisions.”

The DFL candidates spoke favorably of the statewide mask mandate, but said more could have been done sooner.

“Science needs to drive our solutions in this case,” Bruns said, adding that controlling community spread of the coronavirus will help keep the state’s economy open.

Kaelher criticized Republican lawmakers for filing a lawsuit challenging Walz’s emergency powers and talk of holding up the state bonding bill unless the governor ended the peacetime emergency declaration.

“We had our elected legislators out there playing games with the blame and who gets credit for this, and it hurt all the working people,” Kaehler said.

Education funding

Diesslin, the daughter of two K-12 teachers, said she wants to see a fully funded education system, adding the pandemic has shown the importance of teachers in the state.

“Teachers are just a godsend currently,” Diesslin said. “And when they moved online, in the early spring, parents noticed how difficult it is to be a teacher.”

Drazkowski said improving performance of the education system takes more than regular increases to funding.

“We have to do a better job of delivering the money in a way that will provide incentives for schools to perform,” Drazkowski said. “Reward the ones that are performing and maybe find new incentives for those that aren’t.”

The basic general education formula, which is set by the Legislature to determine school district funding per pupil, favors Twin Cities schools over rural districts, Goggin said.

“And that needs to be changed,” Goggin said. “We need to levelize that so that each kid gets the same opportunity.”

School funding also is important to provide special education and mental health resources for students, Bruns said.

“The sooner we get mental health support to our students, especially in the elementary years, the more money we save in our education system and in our society as a whole,” Bruns said.

Police reform

Candidates agreed more police and justice system reforms are needed following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, as well as voiced support to continue to fund local law enforcement agencies.

Goggin, an electrical engineer at Prairie Island nuclear plant, said he works in an industry focused on benchmarks and implementing best practices — and said law enforcement should do likewise.

“And you need to make sure that you have the community involved,” he said of reforms. "It can't be just one small group here, one small group there. It’s got to be an entire community working together for that.”

Addressing racial equity and supporting law enforcement are not either/or propositions, Kaehler said.

“That's creating a division and trying to separate the issue rather than finding a solution,” Kaehler said.

Haley said the Minnesota Police Accountability Act that she voted for was a good first step and needs to be given time to see how its reforms to police use of force and training play out.

“Too often in these kinds of situations we don't allow some time to see the policy that we just passed — how does it get enacted and will it have the impact that we intended it to, or do we need to tweak and change it?” Haley said.

Quick bytes

  • Bruns on rural broadband: “The lack of broadband access is just a mark of inequity across the state. I mean, even in dense urban areas, we can have really low connectivity and an incredibly high cost. Right now it needs to be treated like rural electrification.”
  • Haley on the state budget deficit: “We're gonna have tough decisions. The way that we're going to reach those is with people that are willing to really work hard, that have integrity in the process and have relationships both within our own caucuses and across the aisle.”
  • Diesslin on investing in agriculture: “I also support the right to repair, and I think that's huge that farmers and farm families should be able to repair their own equipment in their own way without having to go through a third party to do so.”
  • Drazkowski on the recently approved $1.9 billion bonding bill: “This one was full of pork, like many of them were. There were three different zoos in the bonding bill, there were all kinds of trails and other things that are not core functions of government. I voted no because of that.”
  • Goggin on transportation funding: “Instead of raising the gas tax, let's use all of the tax money that we take in that are auto parts related and auto-related taxes, and use that to keep funding our roads and bridges.”
  • Kaehler on the future of family farms: “The first thing that we need to do is understand that it's the farmers that are going to do it. Government is just a support; it's not government that's going to make agriculture successful.”

Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 3. Find links to Goodhue County election information including absentee voting and polling locations at www.co.goodhue.mn.us/143/Elections.