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Republican Sen. Michelle Benson, of Ham Lake, is being challenged for her Senate District 31 seat by Columbus resident Kate Luthner, a Democrat. The district includes East Bethel, Ham Lake, Oak Grove and St. Francis.

Michelle Benson

Sen. Michelle Benson cropped (copy)

Michelle Benson

Residence: Ham Lake

Age: 52

Family: Husband Craig, 3 Children

Education: BA Chemistry, College of St. Catherine, MBA, Accounting, University of St. Thomas

Occupation: Legislator, Mom

Years lived in district: 22

Community involvement (top 3): Board Member Challenger Project, Board Member The Way of the Shepherd Montessori

Assess state government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including the governor’s use of executive orders and the Legislature’s actions.

During the early weeks of the pandemic, we needed to take drastic steps to allow hospitals to prepare for Minnesotans who would contract COVID. As we learned more about the virus we better understood that long-term care was the most critical point for prevention of spread. The Governor took weeks to act in protecting the elderly. Minnesotans worked together to flatten the curve and we succeeded. During the summer, we should have had the state open more fully, because as we move back indoors, we will see hospitalization climb and will need to return to more restrictive measures.

The Governor did little to involve the Legislature after May. The meetings Legislators were invited to attend were simply presentations from staff telling the legislators about decisions that were already made. These decisions were not emergent and could have been collaborative. For example, in May the governor talked about spending millions on contact tracing. The contracts for his May press release were signed recently with no input from the Legislature. As we move into fall, and the number of hospitalizations increase, I will be ready to work closely with public health officials and our health care systems in response to COVID.

What is the best way for state government to support the economy going forward?

Shutdowns, hiring challenges, and the cost of safety measure all weigh on our business community. Our economy has good underlying strengths and we need to make sure we build on those strengths. Businesses need to know that their customers and employees are safe, whether it is COVID or civil unrest. Supportive grants for safe- reopen are critical, and stable policing in our larger cities will help core business function. Passage of Section 179 tax reform will also help businesses improve cash flow.

We will also need to make sure that Minnesota is an attractive place to create jobs. That will require a thoughtful approach to business regulation and taxes as well as appropriate investment in workforce development.

What, if anything, should the state do to assist in improving police relations with diverse communities in Minnesota and address the larger issue of systemic racism?

Attracting, recruiting, and training more people of color is one critical step to improving understanding between communities of color and law enforcement.

I spoke with residents and business owners in the areas impacted by riots. They want a police presence, but the police need to feel like part of the community. North Minneapolis residents would often call to complain about an officer who was crossing a line or harassing members of the community. Their concerns were listened to and addressed, and they have a working relationship with law enforcement as they build a community that welcomes families and employers.

What other priorities would you like to address if elected?

We face a historic budget deficit while employers and our health care systems struggle under the impact of COVID. We will need to make cuts to parts of our government to balance the budget. I have been through budget cuts during the 2011 session, and after much contention, Republicans reached agreement with Governor Dayton. I will take the lessons learned from those very challenging decisions as we face the 2021 budget cycle.

As we learn lessons from the COVID pandemic, it is essential that Minnesota play to our strengths. We are well situated to welcome pharmaceutical development and production that currently happens over-seas. Early in the pandemic, China withheld PPE and critical inputs for essential drugs. We already have the only N95 mask production in the U.S. Minnesota can help reduce our national risk by growing pharmaceutical production here.

Kate Luthner

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Kate Luthner

Residence: Columbus

Age: 40

Family: Husband and 3 children

Education: BA and MBA

Occupation: Full time parent, Elected school board.

Years lived in district: 2

Community involvement: School Board, Girl Scouts, PTO

Assess state government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including the governor’s use of executive orders and the Legislature’s actions.

I believe the Governor acted as a strong and protective leader, looking to balance ever-changing information with the needs of the state. I support the mandates.

What is the best way for state government to support the economy going forward?

The state should bolster businesses that need short-term assistance and follow up with an audit to insure the funds were used for the greater good. Moving forward encouraging business with fair and clear tax law and creating a partnership rather than an adversarial approach. We all want a better, more prosperous and safer state.

What, if anything, should the state do to assist in improving police relations with diverse communities in Minnesota and address the larger issue of systemic racism?

Training, body cameras, and a systemic change that will take years. Recognizing the issues and peeling back the layers to create a better tomorrow for us all.

What other priorities would you like to address if elected?

My top issue is school funding. The current formula is overly complex and relies too heavily on local levy funds creating an unequal system of learning. Education is the key to our future and the current senate is constantly voting to defund it. (Source: Senate bill SF7 proposed .5% increase when inflation alone is 2% and had zero plan for the cross subsidy, a group of programs required by law but with no funding attached). We need true education advocates in both the house and senate to work on this basic right.

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