Area candidates address disabilities issues
Brainerd area legislative candidates faced off Wednesday, Aug. 27, in a candidate forum centering on people with disabilities, their families and their caregivers.
The forum at Arrowwood Lodge in Baxter, sponsored by Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota and Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities, gave candidates the opportunity to address issues related to how the state's dealing with people who are disabled and the agencies that serve them.
Candidates who attended were state Rep. John Ward, DFL-Baxter, and Republican candidate Josh Heintzeman of House District 10A; state Rep. Joe Radinovich, DFL-Crosby, and Republican candidate Dale Lueck of House District 10B; state Rep. Ron Kresha, R-Little Falls, and former DFL Rep. Al Doty of House District 9B; and DFL candidate Dan Bye of House District 9A. State Rep. Mark Anderson, R-Lake Shore, of House District 9A, did not attend.
More than one legislator urged those attending the advocacy network summit to do their homework and support the candidate who best represents their interests.
Heintzeman responded to a question about the challenges Minnesota faces with an aging population by stating he was open to ideas and solutions on this question. He said the state should use all the tools in its tool box.
"It's an issue of balance," Heintzeman said.
Ward said the needs of an aging population could be met through a balanced budget with long-term vision that invests in the state's citizens and one that asks everyone to pay their fair share.
"We did that the past two years," Ward said.
Radinovich said the 2010 Legislature chose to fix a $6 billion deficit entirely with budget cuts - including cuts to the Department of Health and Human Services - and that eventually led to a government shutdown.
When the DFL was in the majority in both houses, Radinovich said, they raised taxes on people earning more than $250,000 a year to help balance the budget.
"We need to stay on the right track," the first-term lawmaker said.
Radinovich's opponent, Lueck of rural Aitkin, said the first rule the Legislature should follow is "Do no harm." He said lawmakers should think through what they're doing. Lueck criticized expenditures on a new Senate Office Building and objected to characterizations of fiscal conservatives as ogres who wanted to abuse the disabled.
He recalled his service on the Aitkin County Board when the county would have to do what the state forgot to do and what it wouldn't pay for.
"Make sure of what you're doing," Lueck said. "The unintended consequences ... they can be traumatic."
Bye said he applauded lawmakers for the turnaround the state has experienced in the last two years.
Kresha talked of starting his own firm and how that was an investment in the community. He said the Legislature had to repeal a farm-related tax and a warehouse tax that DFL majorities had pushed through. He said the war on poverty had been going on for about 50 years and hadn't made much headway. He urged politicians to get together and quit pointing fingers at each other.
Doty, Kresha's opponent, said Baby Boomers will need more services as they age and politicians have been kicking the can down the road. He noted the emphasis that's often placed on taxpayers and said Minnesotans were not just taxpayers, but were citizens.
"Call them citizens," he said. "Call them neighbors. Call them friends."
Responding to another question, Radinovich said the most recent Legislature approved a 5 percent pay increase for home care workers. Democrats, he said, were willing to raise revenue to support state services.
Lueck said while he supported the state's recent hike in the minimum wage, he didn't like the Legislature treating revenue like "mad money." He said that local units of government have to adopt their budgets each year and then look their constituents in the eye if they're going to raise taxes.
Bye said his mother helped establish Duluth's first Human Rights Department and the takeaway he drew from observing that process was that government officials needed to learn and listen and keep an open mind.
On the topic of what the state's role should be to help people with disabilities remain in their homes, Kresha acknowledged he voted against the 5 percent increase for home health care workers. He said later that measure was part of an omnibus bill with $1 billion in new spending over two years.
"We have to be very judicious," he said, noting the importance of a sustainable budget.
Doty said the ideal solution was for people to remain in their homes. He said state programs should be overhauled so the regulatory lines could be blurred between assisted living and nursing homes.
Heintzeman said he was working to understand the issues and did not have a wealth of background on them.
Ward talked about his eight years of legislative experience and the transition from when people with disabilities were kept at Brainerd State Hospital to the shift of community based living.
Radinovich said in the last 10 years the Legislature faced deficits eight times. He criticized "all cuts" solution to the 2010 deficit of $6 billion as "unconscionable." He said the DFL majorities made the difficult decision to raise revenue.
Lueck said that while he served as an Aitkin County commissioner he was at the tip of the spear in terms of hard budget choices. He said that all too often lawmakers in St. Paul made decisions without realizing the needs of local units of government.
All of the candidates agreed they would try to change the strict asset and income standards necessary for people with disabilities to qualify for Medical Assistance.