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This year the race for Minnesota State Senator District 31 is between David Blanchard (D) and Kenric Scheevel (R). Scheevel was first elected to the seat in 1996 and is a Preston area farmer. Blanchard lives in Rochester and is the business manager of the Hotel, Restau-rant and Healthcare Employees Union Local 21. To find out what their views on the issues are, the Journal asked each candidate to supply written answers to the following questions:
What do you see as the core issues that affect this district?
David Blanchard: I see the core issues as maintaining a strong educational system for the rural areas of our district and insuring that they get their fair share of funding for this area, and to oppose any legislation that would take critical funding from our public schools through the use of vouchers for private education. Having a sound environment, so that future generations are left with the same clean environment which we were given from our parents and grandparents. Keeping property taxes at an affordable level which does not place a burden on the working families and independent farmers of our area. I am deeply concerned about the talk of the possibility that electrical deregulation may be proposed to deal with the projected shortage of electrical energy for this area, which would devastate the rural communities of this district.
Kenric Scheevel: The economic base of District 31 is made up primarily of agriculture, small business and tourism. While the metro area has been experiencing unprecedented economic growth, the districts in Greater Minnesota have not enjoyed the same level of prosperity. I will continue to work on initiatives that strengthen and enhance the viability of all three sectors of our economic base.
The education funding disparity between Greater Minnesota and the Metro area puts our school districts at a financial disadvantage. I will be introducing my “student to student” legislation next session to equalize funding.
I will continue to work with others to reign in the explosive growth in health care costs - particularly prescription drug costs that are in some cases forcing seniors to choose between food or medicine.
It is my goal to move Minnesota out of the top ten list of most heavily taxed states. This will improve everyone’s ability to be self reliant and increase their choices in life.
What is your stance on new confinement type animal feedlots being built in the karst areas of Southeastern Minnesota?
Scheevel: I believe there is a place for farmers of varying sizes and styles in SE Minnesota. Milk processors are already warning that without some larger dairies to replace the farmers that have quit milking, we stand in danger of losing our processing infrastructure - thus threatening the future of all producers whether they milk 40 cows or 400 cows.
However, confinement facilities must be designed and sited appropriately to minimize the impact on neighbors and to the environment. I passed legislation last session that initiated a Workgroup comprised of Design Engineers to review current feedlot design standards in our Karst area and bring forward their recommendations to the legislature next session. It is imperative that manure is both stored in a safe “container” and then applied to the land in a safe and appropriate way.
Blanchard: I am concerned that building new confinement type animal feedlots in an ecological sensitive karst area of Southeastern Minnesota could be very dangerous to the environment of this area. The risk of contamination to our streams and drinking water from these facilities makes them unacceptable to this particular area.
Governor Ventura has recently announced that he will ask the 2001 legislator to allow same-sex domestic partners the opportunity to receive dependent coverage through the State Employee Group Insurance Program. Will you support such an initiative. Why or why not?
Blanchard: I support the Governor's initiative to ask the legislature to consider this issue. In our increasingly competitive labor market, many private sector employers have established these programs to attract and retain good employees. However, I feel that the state, like the rest of us, must live within it's budget. Careful consideration must be given to such a program so that an undue burden is not placed upon the tax payers of the State of Minnesota.
Scheevel: I will not support the Governor’s initiative. First of all, I believe in the sanctity of marriage between a man and woman and the covenant or contract which results. Secondly, since the state does not allow the opportunity of dependent coverage for opposite-sex “domestic partners,” it would be inconsistent to grant the opportunity of dependent coverage for same-sex “domestic partners.”
Another proposal of Governor Ventura's is to reduce property taxes by having the state pick up most of local education cost. What position will you take on this? (and) what do you feel is necessary to improve the quality of rural public schools?
Scheevel: Since my first being elected in 1994, the legislature has provided significant property tax reduction by increasing the state share of education funding from roughly 60% to 72%. The Governor has now proposed increasing the state share to 100%, creating county wide school districts and either regional or statewide collective bargaining. The Governor has not, however, yet indicated who will pay the $900 million tax shift created by his proposal. I will fight vigorously such an attempt to turn our “community schools” into “state schools”. It is better policy to target property tax relief to those areas of greatest need and retain local control in our school districts.
Blanchard: My concern about the Governor's proposal is that if the State funds public education, control over our public schools will be taken from the local school districts and given to the State. I do, however, feel that the rural schools have inherent difficulties with funding. I would favor State funding most of the cost of public education if the Bill assured local control of the public schools and guaranteed an equitable division of funding between the rural and urban school districts. Increased funding for rural schools districts would certainly help to improve rural public education. However, there are other issues which must be addressed. Promoting parental involvement in the education of children is essential. Empowering educators to foster and maintain an excellent learning environment is also important for rural education.
How would you rate Jesse Ventura's performance as governor of Minnesota?
Scheevel: Governor Ventura has surrounded himself with very capable people. His commissioner appointments and administration have been individuals of excellent abilities. He charts a direction for them and then tells them to make it happen. His appointees enjoy an unprecedented amount of latitude to run their respective departments. Willingness to delegate is typically the mark of an effective leader. The Governor’s weakness, however, is his lack of attention to detail and his unwillingness to put in the hours of work personally needed to govern the State. He needs to spend more time attending to affairs of state and less time promoting himself and his economic ventures.
Blanchard: I would be the first to say that I have been pleasantly surprised at how well he has done as Governor of the State of Minnesota. My expectations were that he would not be able to do many of the things you come to expect from the Governor of the State. I do believe that he has on a number of occasions been able to better tap into the feeling of t