Q&A: House District 23A candidates

Published 11:03 am Wednesday, October 26, 2022

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Peggy Bennett

Q: What is the biggest asset you could bring to the position if elected?

Peggy Bennett

I was a problem solver when helping my struggling students in my classroom, and I’ve now carried that problem-solving tenacity into the Legislature.  That’s why, when I entered office, I made it my goal to make sure we fixed the huge nursing home funding deficit that our state was experiencing. During my first year in office, I was part of a successful legislative effort that made significant reforms in how the state reimburses senior care facilities. Those reforms helped to boost employee pay and keep nursing home doors open. 

Since then, I have developed solid working relationships with colleagues on both sides of the aisle, which has enabled me to continue my problem-solving efforts in other areas as well.  This includes bringing in more state dollars for roads and bridges without raising taxes; making it possible for foster kids to be a part of their siblings’ lives; and seeing my evidence-based government bill successfully passed to make sure that the tax dollars being spent on education grant programs is going toward programs that are effective and work — not on those that don’t work. I want to carry this principle to all government spending.

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Q: What do you think is the largest issue right now facing the state, and how do you plan to address it?

I think this is a three-way tie between the economy, crime and education.  Since I am a former teacher, I will touch on one of my passions:  education.  

Minnesota test scores have been on a downward trend for years. Currently, just half of our students are proficient in reading and math — and this is significantly worse for students of color.  I am not OK with this.  Are you? 

This is about more than just putting more money into education — it’s about smart spending. We can’t just keep throwing money at things that are not working. In my classroom, if something wasn’t working, I didn’t keep doing it over and over. Government shouldn’t do that either.

Some of my plans: Return the focus of education to equipping students with basic foundations like reading, writing and math –– not on pushing controversial political propaganda into classrooms; reduce paperwork and mandates for teachers and schools so teachers have more time to teach; encourage strong partnership bonds between parents and teachers; and innovate and diversify educational opportunity to better meet student and family needs — including more educational alternatives for students and more local control for public schools to innovate and meet student needs.  


Q: How will you be able to work beyond party lines to reach compromise in your work as a representative?

It has been my pleasure to have developed quality, mutually respectful relationships with colleagues on both sides of the aisle in the Legislature. Even more than that relational ability, however, working together is going to take another change…

I believe the biggest barrier in getting things accomplished at the Capitol is the omnibus bill — those giant bills containing a huge number of smaller bills. They are the reason we get so much junk legislation passed and the cause of the huge end-of-session impasses. Omnibus bills poison the ability of legislators to work together on the things they can agree upon. They are not a way to compromise — they are legislative blackmail. “If you don’t vote for this big bill, we will tell everyone back home that you voted against such-in-such in the bill.”

I have offered omnibus bill reform legislation multiple times in the past and will continue to push on this issue. There is more than one way to solve a problem, and I am open to new ideas. I have been collaborating over the interim with fellow like-minded legislators to find new ways to reform this process. I won’t give up until it’s done!  


Q: It is no secret that Freeborn County and much of the state is in major need of road funding to fix our aging roads. What can be done at the state level to address this deficit of funding for roads?

Funding transportation infrastructure is an important core function of government.  

I have supported robust funding for transportation infrastructure and will continue to support that. However, it is also important that we find new funding streams to supplement the gas tax, which just isn’t producing enough due to high efficiency and electric vehicles.

I worked with other legislators a few years ago to reprioritize current auto-related taxes like vehicle parts to a road and bridge account. We need to finish that work and use 100% of those tax dollars for roads and bridges and make that permanent so that our transportation planners have some certainty in funding.

In addition, let’s return bonding bills to prioritizing “needs” over “wants.” Currently, things like city art sculptures, amphitheaters, aquatic centers and even snowmaking machines for ski trails are absorbing bonding dollars that should be going for core needs like roads and bridges, upkeep of government buildings, upgrading wastewater treatment plants and clean water initiatives like our Fountain Lake dredging project. I understand that the “wants” are nice.  However, we should be prioritizing state bonding dollars for core needs — including roads and bridges — and let local communities fund their wants.


Q: What can be done at the state level to address the growing child care shortage that has become a large issue in Freeborn County and in other areas around the state?

I am a member of the Governor’s Great Start for All Minnesota Children Task Force, where we have been discussing this very issue in depth. I have also spoke at length with many child care providers in our area and throughout the state. This is a multilayered issue, and there is no one “silver-bullet” fix.

One big key to this issue is empowering parents with early learning scholarships. This is a means-tested program that gives families the option to choose the child care setting that best fits the child’s and family’s needs.  

We should also make family child care (home care) a workable solution. The neighbor down the street can often be an excellent choice for families in need of child care, especially for those who don’t want to drive miles to a child care center.  We should also create opportunities and reduce barriers for businesses to offer child care settings.

Regulatory reform is huge. Child care providers are experiencing an out-of-control, burdensome and punitive regulatory atmosphere. I have worked with colleagues to successfully enact some regulatory reform in this area, but we need much more. This regulatory overkill is greatly inhibiting the industry.


Q: Similar to the childcare shortage, what can be done at the state level to address the growing workforce shortage? 

Unfortunately, federal and state government pandemic management created huge incentives for people to stay home and not work. A significant number of those people have decided to stay home permanently. We have gone from having a workforce shortage in key areas like health care and the trades, to a full out workforce shortage in almost every area. Employers are greatly struggling.

I have worked with my colleagues in the Legislature to produce grants to provide career education, wraparound support services and job skills training in high-demand health care fields to low-income parents, nonnative speakers of English and other individuals who struggle with job training. We need more programs like this that help bring people who are on government assistance back into the workforce and give families a secure pathway out of poverty.

Education is a huge workforce key. We need more opportunities in secondary schools for students to explore and start on pathways to careers like the trades and health care.

We need to work on reforming post-secondary education — make it more affordable, accountable and cost effective; align course offerings to better match current workforce needs; and create incentives to get workers trained in the skills where the open careers are.  


Q: Abortion issues have been top of mind for many after the recent decision regarding Roe v. Wade. What is your opinion on the issue and what do you think should be done about it in Minnesota?

To have serious discussions about an important issue like abortion — and it’s imperative we do — we must use correct words. Words matter.

We are not debating “reproductive rights” or “women’s right to health care.”  I think most everyone supports these things. We are discussing the termination of a preborn baby’s life in the womb. Whatever your stance, let’s be real with each other so we can have productive discussions and understand each other’s perspectives.

As a former teacher, I don’t know how I can be anything but pro-life. How could I look into the eyes of my first graders and wonder which of them would choose not to be here? All would choose life.  

I support saving as many lives as possible. I cannot fathom that there are some who would consider killing a baby in the womb to the moment it’s born — even after! All human life has value and potential, from conception to natural death.

I want to help women. Every woman who walks into an abortion clinic should know there are options available… adoption, life assistance, etc. I will work to make those options possible and work to have honest discussions and find agreement to save as many babies as possible. 


Q: The Legislature finished the last session with many bills not passed. How will you make sure the area’s needs are addressed in the coming session? 

I will always fight for a responsible state budget that addresses core government priorities like education, roads and bridges and caring for the most vulnerable — and for a government that serves the people. That’s highly important to me!

As for the lack of surplus spending last session…

In 2021, the Legislature passed a fully funded $52 billion two-year budget — an over 9% increase from the previous biennium. Obviously, the large budget surplus at issue last session had many legislators vying over how to spend all that extra money.

This budget surplus is projected —  it’s not in the bank. Last session, the state agency that manages our state budget told us that already $4 billion of that surplus would be gone next year.  

Much of the proposed spending last session would have the state locked in for at least twice as much spending in the future. With this volatile economy, it is just not responsible to set our state up for a huge deficit like that.

I felt that the fiscally wise action last session was to address specific time sensitive critical needs, like the looming potential nursing home/group home closures.  Then wait until next session to address the remaining surplus when we have a better handle on this unstable economy.  


Q: What do you think should be done with the state’s surplus?

Is this extra surplus something the state worked hard to produce, and so legislators should roll up their sleeves and fight for their “fair share?” Or is it an overpayment in taxes paid by all the hardworking people of this state? 

If you made an overpayment to Amazon, you wouldn’t just let Amazon keep it, would you? No, you would ask for your money back.

The state budget is fully funded. This surplus is above-and-beyond and belongs to all the hard-working people in this state. Many of these people are hurting with the high inflation, struggling to buy just the basics like food and gasoline. They need a tax break.

Once we have a handle on the real surplus balance next session, we should address a few highly critical needs like our nursing homes, group homes and Direct Support Professionals programs that are on the verge of closing. We can’t keep kicking that can down the road and abandon our elderly and disabled. Then, let’s give workers back the rest of this surplus in the form of smart tax breaks — and the first tax break we pass should be to get rid of the Social Security tax.  


Q: Any other issues you would like to address?

There’s the economy…  high prices driven by inflation are causing people to struggle greatly.  Smart tax relief is necessary so people can keep more money in their pockets. Let’s set a goal for how much we want to lower the income tax brackets and then phase that reduction in over a few years. This will protect our state from the typical wild swings between surplus and deficit.  

There’s crime… No one should have to worry about getting hit by a stray bullet while barbecuing in their backyard or getting carjacked while visiting a friend. Supporting law enforcement and our police officers is extremely important to me. This includes properly funded police departments, meaningful law enforcement training and holding criminals accountable for bad behavior. We need to return Minnesota to a safe, law-abiding state.

Lastly, I just want to say this… When I meet with people, we may not always end up agreeing on everything, but it’s important to me that they walk away knowing that I’m willing to listen, I treated them respectfully, and that I care — because I do!

I sure would appreciate your vote this election. Thank you!


Mary Hinnenkamp

Q: What is the biggest asset you could bring to the position if elected?

Mary Hinnenkamp

I have led a life of public service as a VISTA volunteer, a group home counselor, a job coach, a teacher, an Area Learning Center director and finally as a volunteer in the Albert Lea schools.  In my adult work life, I have always worked with others as part of a team. I know how to negotiate to get things done.   

And I understand that people’s lives are complicated, that we need a government that understands our needs and has programs in place to help when things go wrong. Your kids get sick, you lose a job, the car fails, hail wipes out a whole field or your mom has a bad fall. I have experienced all of these things, so I understand the importance of the government helping people in hardship and crisis. It may be child care credits or protecting consumers from predatory lending. These are the bread and butter things that make a difference in people’s lives. I think I have the life experiences that will help me to make good decisions on policy to help the citizens of southern Minnesota.  


Q: What do you think is the largest issue right now facing the state, and how do you plan to address it?

My mother completed eighth grade, and my father did not. They taught us that our ticket to a better life was hard work and a good public school education. They were right. I am passionate that kids in southern Minnesota continue to have access to good public schools.  

The last two years have been hard on kids, parents and teachers. Kids have fallen behind academically and have struggled emotionally. With a $9 billion projected surplus, we have a prime opportunity to reallocate part of the surplus to addressing these needs. The Minnesota House passed a great bill this spring to provide schools with money to help kids get caught up. It had the added benefit of not raising property taxes. Unfortunately, the Senate left before a compromise bill was finalized and refused to come back to get it done.

Legislators who prioritize good public schools in their districts are willing to work across party lines to get the schools the funding they need. With a $9 billion surplus, it’s clear we should help kids without putting the squeeze on seniors and people on tight budgets.


Q: How will you be able to work beyond party lines to reach compromise in your work as a representative?

I learned the art of compromise early as one of 11 children growing up on a farm. And I improved on this skill over my 51 year marriage to my husband, Ted.

In every job I’ve held, I’ve worked as part of a team. It takes a team effort to get big things done. I know how to build relationships and understand that negotiation is essential to overcoming obstacles. I understand that people in my district are counting on me to act and lead on their behalf, not on behalf of a party or ideology.  

I have really enjoyed door knocking on 15,000 doors, all over this district. I value listening to people to find out what is important to them, what they find challenging in their lives, and what they want their leadership to do. 

I believe that to be effective, a legislator needs to present their case, listen, negotiate and compromise. I will do that. It’s messier than we would like it to be, but this process must get done in order for the government to work for people and fund essential projects. I won’t shy away from that. I will work for you.


Q: It is no secret that Freeborn County and much of the state is in major need of road funding to fix our aging roads. What can be done at the state level to address this deficit of funding for roads?

Minnesota has a projected $9 billion surplus and these needs should have been met last legislative session. The Minnesota legislature was poised to fund our aging roads system but that effort fell apart when the Senate went home. This leaves counties and townships in the lurch for repairs that can’t wait.   

While door knocking across the district, elected leaders in several small towns expressed frustration with the Legislature’s failure to get this done. At the recent Freeborn County Commissioners debate on KATE Radio, present commissioners and candidates bemoaned the lack of state funding. If state funding fails to materialize, commissioner candidates said they would be forced to prioritize some projects, cut funding for others, delay some or raise taxes.    

I grew up in the country on a dairy farm. Even as a kid, I knew we needed good roads for the milk truck and so we could get to school, church and the grocery store. As a rural Democratic legislator, I would be in a unique position to reach across the aisle, work with Democrats and rural Republicans alike to reach a compromise, so we get the funding we so badly need. 


Q: What can be done at the state level to address the growing child care shortage that has become a large issue in Freeborn County and in other areas around the state?

When my husband and I first moved to Albert Lea over 40 years ago, we had a hard time finding day care for our two toddler sons. The problem has only gotten worse. As I knocked on the doors across the district, I talked to grandparents providing day care. I talked with a young man in Albert Lea who said his wife recently started home day care, and every day she has to tell a family needing day care that she is full. 

This shortage exacerbates the worker shortage problem. Accessible day care is a necessary component of economic development. 

I will work to provide start-up costs for home daycare so that interested people could get assistance to meet the necessary regulations. I would assess those regulations. I would work for greater reimbursement rates to increase pre-K worker pay, and for tuition forgiveness  to get and keep good providers in the field. I would work for innovative programs such as the pod model where multiple providers can use the same building to provide care. 

Access to affordable, quality day care is essential and our state needs to help our rural communities to solve this problem.  


Q: Similar to the child care shortage, what can be done at the state level to address the growing workforce shortage?

The workforce shortage is related to the child care shortage. If a family cannot find day care, or if daycare is too expensive, one parent may opt to stay home. The state Legislature needs to act to address this need.  

Some worker shortages are more serious than others, and the state must act. Public safety is a priority. Law enforcement for the city of Albert Lea is currently at full staff but the county is not. If elected, I would seek input from city and county law enforcement leaders on how to best support their efforts to recruit and retain personnel, particularly with financial support for tuition and training.  

Education is another priority. I would work to ensure that more education funding be shifted to the state so that salaries are more competitive with metro or suburban salaries to recruit and keep good teachers. I support Riverland Community College’s programs here in Albert Lea to work with local employers to address worker shortages in our area. 

Health care shortages likewise could be addressed by providing workers incentives, such as tuition support and opportunities for advancement. The state should increase the Medicaid reimbursement so that health support professionals stay in the field.


Q: Abortion issues have been top of mind for many after the recent decision regarding Roe v. Wade. What is your opinion on the issue and what do you think should be done about it in Minnesota?

I support reproductive rights. I’m a woman who has given birth to twin sons, had a miscarriage and adopted a daughter. All of these experiences affected me profoundly. 

When I had my miscarriage, Dr. Saul told me that I could have stood on my head the whole pregnancy and I would still have miscarried. Then he ordered a D & C, a procedure to remove any remaining material from my body so I wouldn’t risk infection and further complications. The authorities weren’t called, and I got the support and medical care I needed. 

I fear that if Minnesota government is in Republican control, and abortion is made illegal, any women suffering a miscarriage would face questioning instead of receiving the prompt, compassionate medical care she needs.

If the goal is to reduce the number of abortions, which I think is an admirable goal, then let’s support women and their families: make contraception more accessible and affordable, pay parents a living wage, make day care affordable and accessible, and provide family leave.  

I trust women, I support women and I will make sure that they retain the most fundamental of liberties: control of their own bodies.


Q: The Legislature finished the last session with many bills not passed. How will you make sure the area’s needs are addressed in the coming session?

I grew up in rural Minnesota, lived in rural Kentucky for several years working on rural issues there and have lived in Freeborn County for the past 42  years. I have a deep appreciation for rural values.  

It can be difficult for people having differences of opinion to come to an agreement, but I have led such efforts. People who disagreed with me remained friends. I can disagree without being disagreeable and keep my sense of humor, which goes a long way when working with others. I am a person who can talk,  listen, remain flexible, and I relish working with others.

I am committed to working with other legislators to fully fund public education. The state should foot more of the bill for public education, so we rely less on property taxes which hit seniors and working families hardest. If we rural legislators want to make sure that our schools are competitive in recruiting and retaining quality teachers, this is an area for collaboration. 

I will advocate relentlessly for our district’s needs in road and bridge repairs and wastewater treatment upgrades. Being a Democrat in Greater Minnesota will be an asset in getting things done for our district.


Q: What do you think should be done with the state’s surplus?

We should fully fund education so our schools are the best in the nation. Not only do we owe this to our kids, an educated workforce is the economic engine which will keep our state and local economy strong. 

Likewise, we need to dedicate more attention and resources to early childhood education. Research indicates that money spent early on kids when their brains are rapidly developing pays dividends in their later success. That is both humane and smart.

I want to ensure our seniors get the resources they need, whether aging in place or in a care facility. Raise the Medicaid reimbursement so seniors in their homes have good quality in-home support, and care facilities can raise pay and incentives to recruit and retain staff.

I would allocate funding so our counties and townships get the money they need to keep our roads and bridges safe, and our cities can fund public safety and upgrade waste treatment facilities.

I support the DFL House’s plan to use the surplus to provide targeted tax relief to seniors and working families, rather than the Republican plan of using the surplus for tax giveaways to the wealthy.  


Q: Any other issues you would like to address?

I have knocked on more than 15,000 doors all across this huge district of ours. The effort entailed 4-6 hours of walking each day, 6 or 7 days a week since the first of May. A lot of work. Why? Why do this? I want people to know who I am and why I am running, and to hear from people at the doors about their concerns and challenges. I think this is what democracy is all about. I am a first-time candidate. I’ve never run for anything before. I won’t have money for lots of radio ads or mailers. I have me, my husband and a group of dedicated volunteers. We have worked tirelessly on behalf of my campaign because of what we value: healthy democracy, good public education, opportunity with a level playing field, support for working families, support for small local businesses, women’s rights, public safety,  affordable health care for all, racial justice, support for veterans, free and fair elections. This is why we all work so hard.

So I ask for your vote on or before Nov. 8, so that the Minnesota I grew up in and gave me so much, stays true to its motto  “The Star of the North.”