41A and 41B candidates answer audience questions at forum

With a little over a month left before the general election, candidates for both the Minnesota House districts 41A and 41B seats met for a League of Women Voters forum at New Brighton City Hall Oct 1. 

Running for 41A is incumbent Connie Bernardy, DFL-New Brighton, and Republican challenger Susan Erickson, also from New Brighton. The race for 41B is between incumbent Mary Kunesh-Podein, DFL-New Brighton, and Independent Tim Utz of Columbia Heights. 

Candidates opened with a two minute statement before fielding questions submitted by the audience and read by a moderator. Candidates answered in random order and within a minute. The forum closed with a two minute statement from each candidate. 

District 41A includes northern New Brighton as well as Fridley and Spring Lake Park. District 41B includes southern New Brighton, St. Anthony and Columbia Heights.


Spending priorities 

“Schools are woefully underfunded,” said Kunesh-Podein, who works in education and is finishing out her first term in the House. She said the school district she works for is operating with a budget deficit of over $10 million. 

A month into the school year, she added, that deficit is noticeable. When asked about the role of state government in education, Kunesh-Podein said government is charged with dealing with the “woes of society,” and that a way to improving resident success is through adequately funded education. 

Kunesh-Podein’s 41B challenger, Utz, has previously run for the seat, coming up short each time as a member of the Republican or Constitution parties.

This time Utz is running as an Independent. He said legislative actions should be dictated by the restrictions of the constitution, and that he believes legislators are reaching past their purview. Utz said education funding — and other things — could be part of an eventual constitutionally appropriate legislative action.

Erickson said government is meant to competently run programs, stressing that spending priorities are for public safety and roads and bridges. She said legislators should focus first on using “existing resources” for such things, as well as funding education, but that taxes should “only be big enough to get the job done.”

Bernardy said the role of government is to uphold the values of constituents, which she said has a lot to do with family needs like education and senior needs. Bernardy, who has been a representative since 2000, said she knows her community values education and funding education opportunities. 

When specifically asked about more money for early childhood education, Utz said he doesn’t want a “nanny state.” He said he doesn’t like the way kids are taken away from parents to an institution at a young age, and that families are too reliant on the state. 

Kunesh-Podein said early childhood funding is a “wise investment,” that providing support to people as young as possible helps level the playing field down the road between the “haves and have nots.”

Bernardy said making sure every child is ready, catching them young, actually saves money. Erickson acknowledged an achievement gap, specifically for children of color, but said she doesn’t think more money in pre-kindergarten will help. Erickson said parents should be in charge of children, not the government. 


Health care, transportation 

Questions ranged widely throughout the night, covering care for seniors, environmental and energy policy, and the ability to compromise. Outside of education funding, the other main topics were the role of government in health care, and what the state should do about transportation and infrastructure. 

Bernardy, responding to a question about single-payer health care, said people “ought to have access” to health care. She said the idea of Medicare for all, that everyone in the state would be buying into one pool, would be a feasible level of health care security that people should have and can get behind. 

Erickson balked at the notion of handing health care over to “government bureaucrats.” Erickson said she sees a way out of the health care dilemma through lower costs pushed down by more competition. 

Utz said the market will create opportunities for health care consumers. Kunesh-Podein said she is a fan of single-payer, adding that, as a “broke mom” Minnesota was there for her when her kids needed dental care or shots. She said affordable health care is the state’s “moral responsibility.”

As for transportation, the candidates weighed the benefits of spending more money on bridges and highways, or mass transit. 

Utz said he would first set a clear definition of transportation, that he would figure out and stick to what the constitution states as transportation and “modes of movement.”

Kunesh-Podein said she believes the way forward is finding a formula for urban-minded mass transit and highway planning for outer cities. 

Bernardy said a good portion of Minnesotans don’t drive. “Young people don’t want a car,” she said, noting that planning for roads needs to consider surface life more than smoothness. Together, she said she is confident a comprehensive, “multi-modal” plan can be made. 

Erickson is for public transit funding, but for it do be done efficiently. She said the metro light rail lines are not supporting themselves and that Minnesotans should turn to more economical and effective transportation, like the bus. Erickson added there should be no more crumbling bridges. 


Election Day is Nov. 6. To find your polling place go to www.pollfinder.sos.state.mn.us.


-Solomon Gustavo can be reached at sgustavo@lillienews.com or 651-748-7815.

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