District 31

Michelle R. Benson

Occupation: Legislator/ Mom

Previous political/community experience:  Michelle is proud to have served her church community, as a Cub Scout leader, assistant baseball coach, and school volunteer.  She currently serves as a board member at The Way of the Shepherd Montessori and board member at The Challenger Center of Minnesota.

She has served as a Minnesota State Senator since 2011 with committee assignments including Agriculture, Energy, Environment, Legislative Audit Commission, Health and Human Services, Human Services Reform, Finance, and Rules Committee. She currently serves as Deputy Majority Leader and Chair of the Health and Human Services Finance and Policy Committee.

Assess state government’s response to the pandemic thus far and what do you believe to be the best way that the state can support both public health safety and the economy as it emerges from restrictions? During the early weeks of the pandemic, we needed to take drastic steps to allow hospitals to prepare for Minnesotans who would contract COVID-19. 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 more open to boost the economy while the risk was reduced. As we move back indoors, we will see hospitalization climb and will need to return to more restrictive measures and the associated economic challenges. A recent study of the hospitality industry indicated that 40% of those business may never recover.

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 want to keep their customers and employees safe, We should let businesses open based on the risk in their region so that we minimize the damage of further shutdowns. We can support safe reopen via supportive grants for business. We could pause statewide property tax payments for businesses subject to shutdown and pass Section 179 tax reform will also help businesses improve cash flow.

The unrest in the Twin Cities following the death of George Floyd while in police custody has had an impact around the world. Talk about your feelings and/or involvement in response, and how can state government assist in improving relations with diverse communities? 

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What are other priorities facing residents in your district in the next few years, and how would you deal with them? Our local schools are doing their best to meet students’ needs during COVID-19. I will champion improving education based on lessons learned during COVID-19 including access to the internet.  Often our local districts are disadvantaged in the school funding formula. Fair funding should be the basis of any changes in funding. Funds for roads and bridges should be allocated based on safety and congestion. I was proud to work with community leaders to ensure timely funding for the new bridge off Lake Drive over I-35. It’s a good model for transportation spending: data demonstrated a clear need, county and city officials ensured that the project was shovel ready, and stakeholders were engaged to advocate. We face a $6-billion+ deficit over the next 3 years.  I will continue to push for a needs vs. wants budget with accountability and transparency as the hallmark of every dollar that is spent.

Kate Luthner

Age: 40

Occupation: Parent and freelance social media

Previous political/community experience:  Currently serving on the Forest Lake Area School Board, active PTO parent, Girl Scout Cookie mom and life long Girl Scout; earned my gold award in 1997. Delegate to the MSBA for our district, elected by peers in 2019.  Previously served twice in midwest regional leadership for an educational 401c3, working across multiple states, creating policy, recognizing superior work in our region. 2012-14 MOM’s club, a group to support parents and community, president and board member.  As a teen, member of the Civil Air Patrol; group dedicated to service and leadership.  Perpetual crusader for common sense, recycler and periodic plogger. 

Assess state government’s response to the pandemic thus far and what do you believe to be the best way that the state can support both public health safety and the economy as it emerges from restrictions? I believe this is a complex issue that we as citizens only see the outside layer.  The thoughtful response in March seemed to value human life highest and acknowledged that funding and childcare would be needed to avoid disaster while we attempted to navigate a complete unknown.  

As time passed, the governor took deliberate care to remain calm and I appreciate that.  He clearly had experts advising and sought input from actual people.  That leadership, I believe kept Minnesota in a better than average situation.  As we boiled under political pressures from all directions our divided state (and country) politicized the problems and solutions to the point that science and caution were shouted down. Looking forward I believe the best result from this experience is to keep some of the innovative solutions, such as curbside delivery that is fantastic for elderly, disabled, and a parent with 2 sleeping kids in the car. Second, to focus on correcting the gaps made wider by the pandemic; how half our state has no access to broadband and why so many families can’t afford to stay home sick. I hope to be part of the solution, getting us from the messy middle to a time when we can learn from our experience and take the positive forward.  It will be part listening to experts and the public and part leading through a  recovery period where nimble action and focus on the greater good will be key.

The unrest in the Twin Cities following the death of George Floyd while in police custody has had an impact around the world. Talk about your feelings and/or involvement in response, and how can state government assist in improving relations with diverse communities? 

George Floyd’s murder is the match that set the world on fire.  What was simmering unseen for many flamed into our collective consciousness.  I have had the fortune to live a privileged life where my hard work and drive are accepted and helped me move up.  I live in a civic minded town and school district that has been seeking to educate about race for years and I have taken the education as it came from these sources.  I felt we were in a better place on the subject.  I was not as right as I hoped. I left the house with my children (in masks) for the first time in months to hold their hands and join a march because it is important to stand up for justice for all.  As the days and nights unfolded I never knew how deeply prejudiced, or, simply unwilling to see or fix a greater problem too many in our state are.  If your neighbor’s house is on fire, do you help put it out or do you use all your resources to protect your house? We all need to work together, to have the hard conversations, to seek greater understanding.  I want equity in our schools, this is one path toward a whole where it should not matter who you are, if you are in Minnesota you get to be a respected and valued person.

What are other priorities facing residents in your district in the next few years, and how would you deal with them?  “Besides that Mrs Lincoln, how was the play?”  So much of what is to come for Minnesota is tied to the preceding two topics, however, there is the day to day that we can not let slip. We need to keep roads, bridges, public buildings and parks within our scope of work because if we let them decline the price to rebuild is triple.  The job of the state government is to work for the collective good of the state.  As stated in context of the pandemic and race gap, education is part of our public infrastructure that needs to be supported and is my number one reason for running.  The current system of funding schools is broken and I think we can do better.  Personally I will spend my time advocating for education within the context of the larger movements of society and for its own intrinsic merit.

District 32

Mark Koran

Age: 56

Occupation: Insurance

Previous political/community experience: I served on the Lent Township planning commission. I have been MN State Senator for the last 4 years I have always believed there should be government accountability to its citizens. Government should be effective, transparent and less intrusive. I bring a unique perspective to the State Senate as I have always worked in the private sector and at the MN Department of Revenue (almost 18 years), which provided a priceless education for this role. I also believe we need to redesign how government services are delivered, to build in the accountability to our citizens which does not naturally exist. This experience has led to me being appointed to the Senate Committees of State Government (Vice Chair), Family and Aging, Commerce, DNR/Environment/Legacy, Health and Human Services, Legislative Audit Commission (Vice Chair), Subcommittee on Employee Relations (Chair), Blue Ribbon Technology, Opioid Advisory Council and Affordable Housing.

Assess state government’s response to the pandemic thus far and what do you believe to be the best way that the state can support both public health safety and the economy as it emerges from restrictions?   Initially we put forward a bipartisan effort to combat the pandemic. Our resources included $600 million for Hospital capacities and protections for Healthcare workers. Since then the Governor has worked unilaterally by removing the Legislature from any decision-making process, by continuing the many renewals of his emergency powers. This removes the voice of our citizens. This action is the reason I voted multiple times to, not just remove the emergency powers, but to restore the Legislature to our proper role, giving our citizens a voice.  The emergency portion of the pandemic was handled and now we are in the maintenance phase. Including the Legislature does not make us less safe. We have 3 agencies, Dept. of Health, Human services, and Public Safety – their core responsibility is to always be prepared for epidemics and pandemics. If their leadership is still unprepared, they are unfit to continue to serve in their current capacity. Now is the time to restore the voice of our citizens. To start rebuilding our businesses, we need to remove incentives for not working or returning to work, keep taxes low and remove burdensome and unnecessary regulations on them. In addition, a top priority for our community, again, highlighted by the pandemic, is the need for good and affordable high-speed Broadband.  The need has increased exponentially. I have been the chief author and leader of legislation to bring better access to rural MN. I will continue to lead with policy changes which will accomplish this goal.

The unrest in the Twin Cities following the death of George Floyd while in police custody has had an impact around the world. Talk about your feelings and/or involvement in response, and how can state government assist in improving relations with diverse communities? 

I used to live in the neighborhood in St. Paul affected by the riots. I have toured the devastation in St. Paul and Minneapolis. The economic impact will have a long-lasting affect and many businesses will not return. It is awful to destroy businesses and steal in the name social justice. I have been and will continue working with Community leaders, whose voice has not been heard nor have they been consulted on any decisions that affect their neighborhood. These leaders want criminal justice reform, high quality police force and illegal firearms off their streets. Their desire for criminal justice reform includes, prosecuting multi-time convicted felons, who are still carrying illegal weapons and terrorizing these neighborhoods. Not the current version where too many are not charged or sentenced in any meaningful manner. Police reform must start with the city leadership adhering to the State’s high P.O.S.T. standards already established. The city of Minneapolis has reduced their hiring and training standard, leading to more unqualified officers serving the city. Both St. Paul and Minneapolis also have rules of engagement which have created an environment for lawlessness. These prior policies lead to this tragedy and the 10 years of lawlessness is a culmination of poor leadership. St. Paul and Minneapolis have all the tools necessary to address the challenges their own policies created. It’s all within their power to bring back safety and security for the citizen and businesses. No State Law will solve their issues.

What are other priorities facing residents in your district in the next few years, and how would you deal with them?   I have been a strong leader in representing the District by bringing more focus on our key needs, broadband accessibility, in-vestments in our roads (which includes improvements to Hwy 8 in Chisago and working to bring improvements to the highway railroad crossing on 95 in Cambridge), $2.5M for Swedish Immigrant trail, $3 Million for the Chisago County Communications center, $40K for Isanti county historical society I have been checking in with our businesses & residents in District 32, the overwhelming concern is safety, security, and the economy.  It is important to keep taxes down, less government intrusion and supporting our 2nd amendment along with our police, ensuring safety and security for our communities. I will continue to lead responsibly while protecting all our rights with a sensible, commonsense approach

Thank you for the opportunity to represent you the last 4 years. I humbly ask for your vote on November 3rd.  

Joshua Fike

Age: 27

Occupation: Correctional Officer

Previous political/community experience: I was born and raised here and this community has given me a strong sense of duty and activism. I first became interested in politics seeing Paul Wellstone’s commitment to our state, and advocating for John McCain in 2008. While attending Anoka Ramsey Community College in Cambridge, I became involved as a volunteer with the Isanti County Parks, New Pathways, and with Will Steger Wilderness Center furthering environmental science education. I attended and earned my Bachelor’s degree at Saint John’s University. I’ve worked at the Correctional Facility in Rush City for the past 5 years where I have helped change the outlooks of those incarcerated to see that they don’t reoffend. I believe in servant leadership and the idea that our leaders should serve the community before themselves. I got involved with this race because I want to serve Isanti and Chisago counties and bring your concerns to the capitol.

Assess state government’s response to the pandemic thus far and what do you believe to be the best way that the state can support both public health safety and the economy as it emerges from restrictions?  I believe the moves Governor Walz made were done in the best interests of public health and well intentioned. The situation faced was one unlike any that has occurred in recent memory. Hindsight is 20/20, pun intended, and it’s easy to stand here today and judge what could have been done better. I’m not here to do what’s easy, I’m here to help us heal and the first step is making sure our numbers stay down by continuing to be cautious and considerate of our neighbors. I would keep the mask mandate in place until such time doctors, far more educated than I am, are certain we’re through the brunt of it. We need to get people back to work in safe ways and help our small businesses thrive through an assistance program if necessary. Our area was in need of more small businesses before the pandemic and we will make sure we keep our community alive in every sense of the word. Even as winter draws nearer, I’d like to find a way to hold events that were cancelled earlier this year like Braham’s Pie Day and Karl Oskar days in Lindstrom. These events are a huge part of the identities of our towns and we should celebrate them when we can. What we can’t do is allow ourselves to politicize it and play games with the lives and incomes of Minnesotans. I find it disturbing that the legislature removed commissioners during a pandemic and hampered our response.

The unrest in the Twin Cities following the death of George Floyd while in police custody has had an impact around the world. Talk about your feelings and/or involvement in response, and how can state government assist in improving relations with diverse communities? The relationship between the MPD and the community there has been deteriorating for years and the incident this summer was a terrible side effect of how the two have not been working together effectively. The reform legislation was a vital step but it comes nowhere near solving the problem which is the divisive ways we interact with each other. Our response should not be single minded and reactionary but proactive and taking into account all factors. Too many times we see the state government react in knee jerk ways that attempt to appease protests without real change occurring. This leaves all sides frustrated and only worsens the situation. I’m a proponent of what has been called unbundling of services: taking certain things off the plates of the police and putting them onto other groups. As a society, we have come to expect the police to do too much to the point that they are far too overspread. A national survey published by the Treatment Advocacy Center, the National Sheriffs’ Association, and the New York State Association of Chiefs of Police found that over 20% of total law enforcement  time was spent responding to and transporting people with mental illness. I received crisis intervention training with the Department of Corrections and the National Alliance of Mental Illness. It opened my eyes to the fact that the way we think about mental illness crises and other non-life threatening incidents needs broad rethinking. 

What are other priorities facing residents in your district in the next few years, and how would you deal with them? Northern Minnesota starts with us and our infrastructure is far behind where it should be. Our communities have been withering away because the allure of the metro and Duluth are drawing away our young people. We have great things here but a lack of opportunity and enrichment drives away possible new residents as well. To solve these problems we need to fully fund stellar schools, we need to keep our property taxes from skyrocketing any more, we need to bring fast, reliable, and affordable broadband here. Most importantly of all, our elected officials need to be active in the community. Too often they want us to go to the capitol to voice our concerns or we leave voicemails and emails that go unanswered until they want our vote. I’ll be in the community and if you ever want to know my stance on an issue, I’ll come to you.

District 39

Karin Housely

Age: 56

Occupation: Small Business Owner – Housley Homes Real Estate at Keller Williams

Previous political/community experience:   It has been an honor to represent Senate District 39 (Forest Lake, Stillwater & the surrounding St. Croix Valley) for the last eight years. I’ve worked very hard to get a lot of great things done for our district and I’ve done that by working across the aisle. More than 70% of the bills I have authored have been bi-partisan. As the chair of the Family Care and Aging Committee, my passion has been children, families and protecting our elderly. I was able to get landmark legislation signed into law to help keep our seniors safe that live in assisted living homes. I also passed into law multiple bills to help prevent the financial exploitation of vulnerable adults. I have always had an open-door policy, listening to my constituents, hearing what their issues are and how I can help is at the core of what I do every day. 

Assess state government’s response to the pandemic thus far and what do you believe to be the best way that the state can support both public health safety and the economy as it emerges from restrictions? From the beginning of the pandemic, we knew that our seniors were going to be the most at risk of losing their lives to COVID-19, especially those in our senior living facilities. I have been critical of the state’s Department of Health for NOT prioritizing our elderly. Over 70% of our deaths due to COVID-19 have been in these facilities, but the Department of Health has not allocated nearly enough resources to our senior homes. They still aren’t keeping up with testing our caregivers and residents of the congregate care homes, yet they are providing free testing to anyone wanting a test on public street corners. This is wrong. I’ll continue to be the voice for these seniors who have been in complete isolation for more than five months. Going forward, we MUST make our seniors the top priority. As far as opening our economy, small businesses are our state’s foundation. Listening to these job creators about where the state can help is needed. Whether it’s lowering taxes, removing unnecessary regulations, streamlining processes or small business loans, it should all be on the table. We’ve lost a lot of small businesses during COVID-19 and now, more than ever, we need to come to the aid of these folks so we don’t lose anymore. I have worked with both local chambers in my district, and know firsthand that a strong business community is vital to supporting the quality of life in our communities.

The unrest in the Twin Cities following the death of George Floyd while in police custody has had an impact around the world. Talk about your feelings and/or involvement in response, and how can state government assist in improving relations with diverse communities? First of all, the death of George Floyd should not have happened. It was horrible. I can’t imagine the pain his family feels and the emotions it elicits in others. My heart goes out to anyone who has been subject to brutality at the hand of another. We have work to do as humans. After the horrific event and the rioting, a group of legislators toured the multiple sights and met with leaders in the community to see what we could do to prevent a similar tragedy and where we could help. We quickly passed a bill calling for police reforms and accountability. The legislation provides officer training for mental health and crisis intervention through the establishment of a Critical Incident Stress Management Team. Peace Officers would also get more training for dealing with people in crisis and defusing volatile situations.  Services could include consultation, risk assessment, education and intervention. What happened to George Floyd should not have happened, but we need to build trust between law enforcement and our communities with training and common-sense accountability measures.  As a society, we need more diversity education and we need to listen. That being said, I hear from constituents daily about their concern with keeping our communities safe. We cannot defund our police departments. Residents need to know that our streets and communities are safe and that starts with a fully funded police department. To that point, I am honored to be endorsed by the Minnesota Police and Peace Officer Association. 

What are other priorities facing residents in your district in the next few years, and how would you deal with them?  Getting our kids back to school full time and safely is a priority from every parent I hear. We need to catch them up due to the time off. Also, the state’s budget - we need have a balanced budget. Because of COVID-19 we have a projected deficit at more than five billion dollars. We can’t tax our way out of it either. There is still a lot of waste, fraud and abuse happening and we need to hold the state accountable for every hard-earned dollar they take from us. No department is immune to it, every area should be scrutinized with a fine-tooth comb to help save our taxpayers money. That being said, the programs that are working efficiently and have proven to be successful should most definitely be expanded if there is room in the budget. It’s going to take time to rebound from COVID-19.

Josiah Hill

Age: 43 

Occupation: High School English Teacher—Stillwater Area High School 

Previous political/community experience:  I have been elected by my 550+ educational peers to serve 6 consecutive 2-year terms as our education association president. In that capacity, I have spent countless hours at both Capitol hearings and state-level teacher union meetings and have seen, first-hand, both the function and dysfunction in government. 

Assess state government’s response to the pandemic thus far and what do you believe to be the best way that the state can support both public health safety and the economy as it emerges from restrictions?  Even though our federal government failed to adequately respond to this pandemic, our state mobilized quickly to take the necessary steps to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Gov. Walz and his staff were right to focus their decisions on scientific data, working to keep Minnesotans safe while not completely shuttering the state. As conditions have changed, they have attempted to be flexible and responsive during this time of unprecedented challenges.  Still, COVID-19 has hurt many Minnesotans, physically, emotionally, and economically. In the months and years ahead, we must work together to find solutions by listening deeply and making decisions that benefit all Minnesotans, especially the most vulnerable among us. If we rush to reopen, we risk doing even greater harm. If we remain in a virtual lockdown, we will suffer different harms.  We must continue to find the balance - COVID-19 is not an either/or crisis, though many try to cast it that way. COVID-19 doesn’t care about politics, so our response must transcend partisan bickering and represent everyone affected by the virus in a variety of ways. This will require the kind of leadership that many voters see missing in the Minnesota Senate today. 

The unrest in the Twin Cities following the death of George Floyd while in police custody has had an impact around the world. Talk about your feelings and/or involvement in response, and how can state government assist in improving relations with diverse communities?   Like most people around the state and nation, the tragic death of George Floyd struck me hard. The largely peaceful protests that followed, expressing the grief and resolve of our affected citizens, were unfortunately marred by violence. Violence in response to violence cannot be condoned. In the same way, violently clamping down on violence in response to violence cannot be our way forward to making all feel safe and secure.  I believe that in order to move forward together, we have an obligation for all to listen, grow, and improve together. I have listened deeply to friends, neighbors, and voters as they shared their thoughts, ideas, concerns, and, often, fears about this tragedy and the resulting demonstrations. At the core of these feelings is the desire for all to feel safe.  State government can help by finding ways to rethink how we serve and protect all communities, how we ensure that our police officers have the necessary tools and support to do their important work, how we allocate resources to provide the necessary services, and how we give voice to those who have often been silenced. Together we can address fundamental needs--housing, employment, health care, and education--that elevate all Minnesotans and make our state stronger. 

What are other priorities facing residents in your district in the next few years, and how would you deal with them?   Many of the voters I have spoken with have shared their concerns about students having the tools they need to succeed in order to lead us into the future. We must invest in our public schools to ensure a bright future for all of our kids, removing the burden on property taxes.  We must also continue to focus on keeping our water, air, and soil protected so that future generations can enjoy Minnesota for centuries to come. Failing to do so will permanently endanger our safety, our way of life, and the traditions we all enjoy so much.  We need to work together to expand health care to more Minnesotans, especially in the midst of this pandemic.  We also have growing infrastructure needs as many of our communities expand. We will need to invest in mass transit, roads, bridges, and water infrastructure as well.

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