BAXTER — New and veteran lawmakers on Friday offered views on subjects ranging from changing the primary election date to chili cook-offs at the Brainerd Lakes Area Chamber’s Eggs and Issues event at Arrowwood Lodge.
The panel of three Republicans and two Democrats included Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Cass County (District 9), Rep. John Ward, DFL-Baxter (District 10A), Sen.-elect Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point (District 10), Rep.-elect Joe Radinovich, DFL-Crosby (District 10B) and Rep.-elect Ron Kresha, R-Little Falls (District 9B). Not attending was Rep.-elect Mark Anderson, R-Lake Shore, who sent his regrets and said he had a conflict and had to attend pilot training.
Differences of opinion surfaced on the topic of dealing with differences of opinion.
Ward said citizens repeatedly urged him, during the campaign, to find common ground with Republicans. He said it was important to be collaborative, to work together and to find a final solution.
Radinovich said Democrats should incorporate the ideas of the Republican minority members so that state policy doesn’t immediately change when the political winds change.
Kresha said it was unlikely the legislators would spend their time playing guitar and singing “Kumbaya” during the session. Rather, he said he expected the legislative debates will involve “full contact” with a variety of ideas on the table.
“It shouldn’t be easy,” he said. “We have huge differences. That’s why you send us down there. It’s got to be a healthy tension. It should be slow and painful.
In response to a question from the audience, Gazelka said there would be no government shutdown this year because of the DFL majorities in the House and Senate and Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton’s presence in the governor’s post.
“Everything they want to do, they’ll do,” he said of the Democrats.
Ruud said she recently spent a good part of a day with Radinovich and had the chance to talk as they went on a forestry tour. She said the Republicans and Democrats in the Brainerd lakes area had much in common.
“We know it’s important to work together,” she said. “We are a different breed, I think, than the metro group.”
Radinovich, a union official, noted he did not see many business people in attendance at his party’s caucuses, but said he wanted to establish lines of communication.
“I’m always open to solutions,” he said. “I want to be fact-driven.”
The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce is recommending the state’s primary be moved up from August to June in an effort to increase turnout. Lawmakers were asked to offer their opinion on that issue.
Radinovich and Ward said they favored the idea but Ward said that it would pose a problem for outstate legislators who can not easily return to their districts to campaign while the Legislature is in session.
Ruud said she wasn’t prepared to jump to a judgment on the issue this soon. Gazelka said the issue was one that he was not that passionate about. Kresha said he thought the idea made sense.
Doreen Galloway of the Crosslake Advisory Board and a Crosslake Days organizer pointed out that business participation dropped by 35 percent when the Minnesota Department of Health set guidelines that had to be met in order for the businesses to offer free chili at their business locations. She said this was an example of how big government had become. She said that in 25 years no one had ever become sick or died as the result of Crosslake Days chili.
Ward said this was not a new issue, but it was one that legislators were familiar with. He said it appeared some Department of Health inspectors were more zealous than others. Nonprofit organizations that offer food are very important to tourism, he said, but there was a role for state rules to play.
“There has to be some standard regulatory measures,” he said.
Responding to a question on unions, lawmakers offered different perspectives. Gazelka expressed concern there was no stop-gap for government unions compared to the competition which affected private companies with unions. He said he would like to see public employees have the right to join a union or not join.
Ruud said she agreed with Gazelka.
Ward said state workers should be able to belong to unions and that throughout their history unions have obtained better salaries and working conditions for everyone.
Radinovich said elected officials are the ones responsible for counter-balance and drawing a line on union requests.
“I think there is place for unions,” he said.
Kresha said he saw the value of unions but people should have the choice of whether they wanted to join or not.
Crow Wing County Auditor-Treasurer Laureen Borden noted lawmakers could be asked to offer legislation that would make certain Crow Wing County positions appointed rather than elected.
“Don’t let the process be rushed,” she advised.
She also urged lawmakers to use Deputy Auditor Deborah Erickson as a resource when considering election reforms, noting her service on a state board that deals with these issues.