Attorney General Mike Hatch, Minnesota's only DFL executive officer, stumped with Don Samuelson, his party's House District 12A candidate, at a town meeting at the Brainerd Public Library Tuesday.
The campaign appearance came a dozen days after Gov. Tim Pawlenty appeared at a fund-raiser for Paul Gazelka, the GOP-endorsed candidate for the hotly contested 12A House seat.
Tuesday's meeting, attended by about 35 people, mostly DFLers, covered a wide range of issues including education, health care and jobs.
Hatch kicked off his comments by declaring his support for Samuelson and noting the success the former lawmaker had in shepherding a Patients Bill of Rights bill and a pharmaceutical bill through the Senate. Hatch said Samuelson was smart, diligent and had guts. He said the veteran lawmaker had the sort of institutional knowledge that is lacking right now in St. Paul.
Hatch cited statistics, starting in 2000, that showed a drastic decline in the number of civilly committed sexual predators who had served their time but were still in state facilities. Assuming that the number of such offenders didn't drastically change, these offenders, Hatch said, were either not referred into the system or were let out early.
"The shame of it is it didn't have to happen," he said mentioning Ah-Gwah-Ching and the Brainerd Regional Human Services Center as possible sites for those offenders. "We do have facilities, we just have to use them."
Samuelson said the BRHSC has tremendous support from the community and just has to find its niche to continue serving the state. He also floated the idea of establishing a veterans' nursing home here to cut down the waiting period that exists now and the possibility of starting a pilot project for meth addicts.
Hatch said housing sex offenders and geriatric prisoners is expensive but if the state is going to continue to incarcerate people something must be done with them. He said some state officials have opposed using the state's Ah-Gwah-Ching facility near Walker for civilly committed sex offenders because it's too far.
"What do you mean it's too far?" he asked. "Is Highway 210 now the Canadian border?"
Responding to the comments of the DFLers, Gazelka said in a separate interview he would like to see Brainerd's regional treatment center used to house geriatric sex offenders for the region, noting the buildings are already in place.
He said GOP House Speaker Steve Sviggum is open to the idea and has given Gazelka assurances that there will continue to be a state hospital regional presence in the Brainerd area.
"It may not be like it's always been," he said. "Things change."
He said everyone wants to make sure sex offenders are not released and will not harm society. Republicans, he said, are tough on crime and sexual offenses are heinous crimes that should be dealt with severely.
At Tuesday's town meeting, Hatch also talked about the "epidemic" use of methamphetamine and the drug's highly addictive nature. He said parents should warn their children of the dangers of meth.
"You can lose weight on this and the girls know it and it destroys their life," he said. "We're not handling it."
Crow Wing County Board Chair Terry Sluss, who moderated the meeting, said a community meeting on meth is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Oct. 19 at Forestview Middle School in Baxter.
Hatch bemoaned the partisanship and lack of collegiality in the Legislature and lauded Samuelson's ability to get along with members of both parties.
"He doesn't consider a Republican a bad person," the attorney general said. "You've got to work with them."
Samuelson said huge cuts have been made in state education funding in recent years. He said a Brainerd School District official told him that unless state funding increases or property taxes are raised, Brainerd could be facing potential layoffs of as many as 40 teachers.
Turning to another topic, Samuelson said the state should provide more recreational trails for all-terrain vehicles so that those drivers who are irresponsible don't damage the environment.
MIKE O'ROURKE can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5860
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