The League of Women Voters and the Greater Wayzata Area Chamber of Commerce hosted a virtual forum Sept. 24 with the candidates running for election to Minnesota House District 33A.
Incumbent GOP Rep. Jerry Hertaus will face DFL challenger Caitlin Cahill in the Tuesday, Nov. 3, General Election.
The following is a selection of answers from the candidates, in the order they were given, to questions submitted by voters. Visit wayzata.org/368 to watch the full forum online.
Answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Question: Public health and COVID have become politicized. What should we do going forward?
Hertaus: Having some background in health, there are three things that really come to mind when you’re dealing with a crisis: The emergency response, the management response and the recovery response. In the beginning, on March 13, everybody was overwhelmed by the information that was being provided to us, and there was broad bipartisan support in the legislature to work with the governor to do whatever was necessary because we were told we needed 14 days minimum to flatten the curve and to be able to be prepared. There was no question that our health care industry was not prepared for 850,000 hospitalizations and 74,000 deaths as was forecast. As we progressed ... it certainly became that [those numbers] weren’t really quite coming to fruition. And so, we now believe that we need to end the emergency powers and bring the legislature back together to develop and have a cohesive plan for recovery in the management phase of this crisis.
Cahill: It has unfortunately become very polarized, but I think our job as elected leaders is to always make decisions that are data-driven and based on fact, regardless of how unpopular those decisions may be. With that same thought, there’s this concept in education called differentiation, where a teacher may need to present a lesson in multiple different forms before the entire class gets it. I think that’s true of polarized topics such as the pandemic – that this opposition comes from misunderstanding. And so, while we continue to make good decisions for health and public safety, regardless of how popular they are as elected officials, I think we should also work on making sure that we are informing the public so they understand where these decisions are coming from. And I think presenting them in multiple different forms with multiple different values will help people come around to the same values of helping one another.
Question: How do you plan to address racial equity in areas such as health care, housing, employment opportunities and education?
Cahill: I think one of the most important parts of equity is communication. It is also important to look at funding because often funding, for example in education, is based on property values. The quality of a child’s education should not be dependent on the value of my neighbor’s home or our tax base. This is a huge disadvantage to our rural areas, and our farmers especially feel a huge impact with these property taxes when they have large lots of lands for just one family. I think in order to address the equity issue, we need to first address the funding issue and look at how we can have more equitable funding based on our general fund and other resources. I also think it’s a means of communication, making sure people know what resources are available to them, making sure people have affordable health care, but also that they can access it through safe transit and that they know where resources are available.
Hertaus: Having served on the education finance committee for a number of years, there’s no easy solution to the education funding problem because it really is not necessarily just about the money or the funding. If that strictly were the case, we would have some of the best graduating students and results coming out of Minneapolis and St. Paul because we’re spending nearly $21,000 per pupil unit compared to $8,900 out in rural and some suburban areas such as some of the school districts in our own district. There’s quite a disparity and I think everybody agrees that regardless of what your ZIP code is, a student should get a good education and that fundamentally is where it begins in terms of helping to solve the primary question which is about racial equity and about opportunities and growth. So, one of the biggest problems of actually having minorities do that is a problem that’s been growing over the last several decades and that’s family fragmentation within the inner city. And so, we know that two parents and two-income households certainly help to provide the means and the resources to get the education that gets you the jobs and gets you to the places where we want to go.
Question: What are the top three issues facing our state and how do you plan to address those issues?
Hertaus: I think the top three things right now are seeing our way clear of this pandemic, COVID-19. I think public safety has become forefront as part of that issue and probably the third thing is the looming fiscal crisis that is facing the state. They’re all somewhat related. Obviously, to solve the fiscal crisis we need to see clear of this epidemic and pandemic that is plaguing the country and that probably will be with us for a few more months if not several months until we actually have a treatment for COVID-19 or a safe vaccine in which people can feel okay to start to be not social distancing anymore and start to resume our way of life as we used to know it. We’re a contact sport in our economy. Every time we meet each other we exchange dollars and that adds to the revenue of the state of Minnesota, so that’s an important thing to get going.
Cahill: I agree that definitely the pandemic is probably the most important issue we’re facing right now. It affects every aspect of our lives, from our health to our work to our school. And as part of that, I think that our economic security is also probably the second issue that’s most important for us to deal with right now – not only because a lot of people are unemployed. Businesses are struggling to stay open with some of the health restrictions that are well-needed. ... And related to both of those, I think having access to reliable broadband is probably the third issue that we should prioritize. Statewide, many of our rural communities are begging us for reliable access to high-speed internet because it’s critical to our students’ education and it also helps with small business development not only in a pandemic but any year in this modern society.
Follow the Sun Sailor on Facebook at facebook.com/mnsunsailor.