CROSSLAKE -- Contenders for the open Senate District 4 seat squared off at a candidate forum Tuesday night with both candidates emphasizing experience that would serve them well in the Legislature.
Stan Nagorski of rural Crosby and Breezy Point Mayor Carrie Ruud made their cases at a Brainerd Lakes Area Chambers of Commerce forum in a city that was shifted from Senate District 12 to District 4 after redistricting altered the political boundaries and much of northern Crow Wing County was placed in District 4. Incumbent Sen. Tony Kinkel, DFL-Park Rapids, didn't run for re-election.
Tuesday's forum was conducted at the Crosslake Community Center before a crowd of about 100.
Ruud, 50, pointed to her roots in nearby Breezy Point and stressed her experience as a real estate broker and as a mayor. She talked about dealing with Breezy Point's loss of state funding and the acquisition of new fire trucks for improved fire coverage.
"Breezy Point is in great financial shape," she said.
Her solution to the expected state budget shortfall includes a careful look at state expenditures to determine whether a program is essential. Other issues she emphasized included senior issues and affordable health care.
Nagorski, 57, also a real estate agent and a biology teacher in the Crosby-Ironton School District, agreed that all programs should be looked at for potential cuts. He noted the Legislature authorized substantial tax cuts in recent years and cited studies that show Minnesota's tax climate has improved.
His desire to ensure a quality public education system was Nagorski's primary motivation for his campaign, he said, describing that issue as paramount to the state's success. Education, he argued, has fallen behind in funding and an educated public is needed if entrepreneurs are going to create Minnesota jobs. Other issues he identified as key ones were health care, the environment and economic development.
Responding to a question about Minnesota's environment, Nagorski said he first learned about nature while growing up on a central Minnesota farm. In his 33 years as a teacher he conducted water quality tests on area lakes. He called for smart growth and alternative energy sources.
"We can't go on forever with fossil fuels," he said.
Ruud lauded the conservation clubs that have kept up the quality of lakes such as Pelican Lake. She said she'd educate Twin Cities lawmakers on issues such as logging, stating that timber is a sustainable, renewable resource.
Asked to comment on taxes, Nagorski noted the Legislature's recent reforms and advocated a tax system that was fair and progressive.
Ruud said the Legislature's recent property tax reform was a radical change and she was not sure if all of the repercussions on cities and on commercial property sites were evident yet. She recommended leaving the property tax changes alone for a full year to accurately assess their effect.
The issue of health care prompted Ruud to note the need to recruit and train more nurses.
"The nursing shortage is getting to be a critical need," Ruud said.
Nagorski said nursing homes are often understaffed and the employees are underpaid. He expressed amazement that a county as big as Cass County didn't have a hospital.
"The people who have to go so far (to reach a hospital) are at-risk," Nagorski said.
In her closing statement Ruud said she was the only candidate who was pro-life, believing in the sanctity of life from conception to death. She also said she would protect the Constitution's Second Amendment rights relating to firearms. Ruud called for an education system with adequate funding, high standards and accountability.
Nagorski said he was the most qualified candidate with experience in education and as a real estate agent. He said he was a longtime outdoor enthusiast.
Lisa Paxton, executive director of the chambers, was moderator for the forum.
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