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Candidate Q&A: Senate District 21

Voters will choose one of two Red Wing residents for Minnesota Senate District 21, which covers Goodhue, Dodge, Winona and Wabasha Counties. Incumbent Matt Schmit, with the Democratic-Farmor-Labour Party, will appear on the Nov. 8 ballot with Republican opponent Mike Goggin.

Sen. Schmit has held the position since defeating opponent John Howe, R-Red Wing, in the 2012 election. Both he and Goggin ran unopposed in this year's primary election.

Goggin: Prioritize rural infrastructure

Party: Republican

Age: 53

Address: 2529 Pine Ridge Blvd, Red Wing

Occupation: Electrical engineer and project manager

Education: Gustavus Adolphus College, BA in business; University of Colorado at Denver, BS in electrical engineering

Family: Married 26 years to Pam; sons David and Dylan

Civic involvement: Past president Red Wing Soccer Club and coach, Red Wing Booster Club, Red Wing Amateur Hockey Association volunteer, Red Wing Amateur Baseball Association volunteer

What role should the state government play in funding local transportation infrastructure?

Transportation funding should be a priority in the state budget. Roads and bridges should be considered first — they are critical infrastructure that all Minnesota families, workers and businesses depend on. We can make improvements without raising taxes and fees.

One example is the feel-good spending on all sorts of trains which needs to take a back seat to the neglected condition of our rural cities and townships infrastructure. Common sense tells us that getting our citizens to work, our farm product to market and the children safely to school should be the number one priority on the transportation list.

Do you support current restrictions on nuclear power generation, or would you like to see them reduced or increased? What role do you see renewable energy generation playing in your district's energy portfolio moving forward?

The state needs to have a comprehensive energy policy. Part of the comprehensive policy needs to include nuclear energy. Nuclear energy is 100 percent CO2 free electricity. This is reliable baseload power the state needs to ensure our homes, farms and businesses have electricity to run our appliances and operate equipment on the farms and businesses. Nuclear energy needs to be included in all green energy policy.

I think rooftop solar and wind turbines at the home or business is better than large wind and solar fields. The average size farm would need roughly 40kw to 50kw of renewable energy to support their operations. Installing massive wind and solar farms takes productive farmland out of production.

For example, a proposed 300mW wind farm in North Dakota needs 116,000 acres and has roughly 22 miles of access roads while one nuclear reactor at Prairie Island supplies 550 mW of electricity. This is electricity for about 500,000 homes, farms, and businesses.

What steps do you support to stimulate the growth of jobs? How do you think an increased minimum wage for the Twin Cities might affect the rest of the state?

The business property tax needs to be deleted. Our businesses not only pay state income tax but they also pay a property tax that goes directly to the general fund. Minnesota is one of only a few states to have this additional tax. As for the minimum wage issue, it's just a matter of time before the Twin Cities passes ordinances mandating a $15 an hour minimum wage. As a result, rest assured that those of us in small town and rural Minnesota will soon thereafter see the push to make these laws statewide so as to "level the playing field" between metro and rural small businesses and family farm operations.

In addition, these minimum wage proposals soon to pass up in the Twin Cities will also carry with them mandates for mandatory paid time off and worker scheduling dictates for our local businesses and farmers to grapple with.

Health care costs have increased under the Affordable Care Act, and it remains unpopular with many Americans. What specific reforms, if any, do you support regarding MNsure, its districts and insurance coverage?

MNsure has been a complete disaster from the start and has resulted in people losing their plans and doctors, higher costs for premiums and care, and fewer choices in coverage. Our state has spent more than $400 million in taxpayer dollars to bail out this failed program and there isn't anything to show for it except the steady drumbeat of bad news detailing the devastating hardships being placed upon Minnesotans. MNsure needs to be repealed and replaced. The best way to lower health insurance premiums and give people more options is by waiving costly, one-size-fits-all federal mandates. I would support a plan to do that. We should allow Minnesotans to shop for health insurance outside of the state exchange and give consumers more transparency in healthcare pricing.

Should Real ID measures for Minnesota allow undocumented immigrants to obtain state driver's licenses?

2020 is the deadline for states to meet the REAL ID law. This is going to be a very expensive unfunded mandate by the federal government to implement. About 50 percent of the population renewing driver's licenses in 2018 will need to get a new REAL ID in 2020. We need to help undocumented workers navigate our immigration laws so they can become citizens of the United States and obtain a driver's license.

Schmit: Multifaceted approach to job growth

Party: Democrat Farmer Labor

Age: 36

Address: 2000 West Main St.

Occupation: Consultant and small business owner

Education: Bachelor of Arts, St. John's University; Master of Public Policy, University of Minnesota

Family: Engaged

Civic involvement: Red Wing YMCA; Saint Joseph's Catholic Church; area chambers, civic and philanthropic groups; Blandin Foundation Broadband Strategy Board; Agriculture Utilization Research Institute

What role should the state government play in funding local transportation infrastructure?

Experts agree Minnesota has an annual transportation funding gap of approximately $800 million. With federal and state commitments not keeping pace with growing costs, local governments have resorted to property, sales, and wheelage taxes to address their priorities. The state should do more to keep pace with Minnesota's road and bridge funding needs — to maintain critical infrastructure, to spur growth and commerce, and to reduce local taxes.

Republicans and Democrats from the House and Senate serving on the transportation conference committee recognized this challenge and the opportunity Minnesota has to leverage its strong budget for long-term investment in transportation. On principal, we agreed to an approach consisting of three important components. Similar to the three legs of a stool, each component is necessary to make the agreement stand: current surplus or general fund dollars; state bonding to leverage low interest rates; and new revenue constitutionally dedicated to roads and bridges.

Do you support current restrictions on nuclear power generation, or would you like to see them reduced or increased? What role do you see renewable energy generation playing in your district's energy portfolio moving forward?

Nuclear energy provides safe, clean, reliable and affordable baseload power for Minnesota's increasingly diverse energy portfolio. The future of nuclear energy in Minnesota must be ensured, but current federal failure on long-term storage of spent nuclear fuel presents a considerable obstacle. As Minnesota's representative on the national Nuclear Legislative Work Group, I collaborate with legislators from around the country to find a national solution to this challenge and push Congress to act. Fortunately, retirement of a key U.S. Senator and related changes at the federal level make 2017 the most promising year in decades for a long-term solution for addressing spent nuclear fuel.

Minnesota's past, current, and future governors each support (or likely will support) increasing reliance upon renewables such as wind and solar. The challenge for legislators is to manage this transition in a manner that balances the interests of our environment with ratepayers and utilities throughout the state.

What steps do you support to stimulate the growth of jobs? How do you think an increased minimum wage for the Twin Cities might affect the rest of the state?

Minnesota's state economist recently confirmed what many businesses and employers already know: we're facing a serious labor shortage, particularly in Southeastern Minnesota. Although there is no silver bullet to stimulate sustainable job growth, the formula includes a competitive environment including innovative and equitable education; job training and affordable workforce housing; health care affordability and choice; a well-maintained transportation system; and an appropriate degree of regulation and taxation.

For many parts of Greater Minnesota, broadband Internet access can reduce limitations of time and distance to allow for home-based businesses and teleworking to flourish, for distance learning, retraining, and job applications to be more fruitful, and for opportunities in telemedicine and precision agriculture to improve our health and environment.

The minimum wage is an important tool to help those struggling to make a living, pay their monthly bills, and get ahead in life. The tool should be used wisely with input from workers and employers alike.

Health care costs have increased under the Affordable Care Act, and it remains unpopular with many Americans. What specific reforms, if any, do you support regarding MNsure, its districts and insurance coverage?

Federal health care reform presented Minnesota with a choice: sign up for a one-size-fits-all federally-administered health insurance exchange or build on Minnesota's record of innovation in health care and create a state-based exchange. Although MNsure had a rough rollout, it's made dramatic operational improvements. And the underlying cost drivers and problems with the individual market have nothing to do with MNsure. Despite all the political rhetoric casting MNsure as the problem, resorting to the one-size-fits-all federal exchange takes important state-based tools off the table and it should be treated as a last resort.

Following two area health care summits last fall, I carried legislation to provide short-term premium relief and long-term cost containment: state-based tax credits to make monthly premiums more affordable, expanded eligibility to allow individual market enrollees the chance to buy into public options available to working Minnesotans and state employees, reinsurance models similar to those undertaken in Alaska that provide premium stability, and a federal waiver to redraw Minnesota's federally-mandated geographic rating area lines that contribute to Southeastern Minnesota's uncompetitive premiums.

Should Real ID measures for Minnesota allow undocumented immigrants to obtain state driver's licenses?

In the absence of federal immigration reform, many local law enforcement agencies face a growing challenge with immigrant populations filling local jobs, purchasing vehicles, and utilizing our roads. Minnesota should pursue a common-sense approach that recognizes this reality and related safety concerns but stops short of standard driver's license issuance in these circumstances.

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