Q&A with House District 23B candidates

Published 5:10 pm Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Patricia Mueller

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

Patricia Mueller

Your elected officials are public servants. We are citizen legislators, which means we are to work and live amongst the people we represent. We must learn from people with firsthand knowledge. When I was a teacher, I learned from my students as much as my students learned from me. The representative-constituent partnership is similar. Ultimately, I try my best to vote in a way that best serves my constituents and stays true to conservative values.

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Because of my almost two decades of experience as an educator, I know how to collaborate with others and examine complex issues. Your representative needs to think critically and listen to others so the best solution is created — one that limits unintended consequences. I have been able to work with our job providers, our child care providers, teachers and our housing providers, along with local government leaders, to address issues that prevent our citizens from thriving.

Your only currency is the relationships you build with others on both sides of the aisle in the House. No one representative can pass legislation alone, so he or she must discuss and demonstrate the merit of bills. I am proud of the relationships that I have built that will only benefit my constituents.

 

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

Hard-working citizens are watching their paychecks buy less and less. With record inflation and gas prices, Minnesotans are feeling the strain on their family budget. It is important to pass permanent and meaningful tax relief so more Minnesotans can keep their hard-earned money. Minnesota is the fifth highest-taxed state in our union, which drives people and businesses out of our beautiful state. The Social Security tax is a perfect example of taxing our citizens out of Minnesota. We need our senior citizens to stay as they have institutional wisdom and make our communities stronger. But they will move if they cannot afford to stay in Minnesota.

In addition to tax reform, we need to audit our agencies. In 2021, legislators passed a 52 billion dollar budget. And yet, we continue to hear that programs are underfunded and hear reports of millions in fraud. We need to focus our resources on the core functions of government and local communities where local leaders can use the funds for their specific needs. More local control will be more effective and more transparent than large government programs that only offer one solution to complex issues and are ripe for fraud.

 

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

As I have stated in other answers, the only currency you have as a public servant is your relationships. This includes relationships with staff at the House, legislators on the other side of the aisle, lobbyists, local government officials in your district and citizens who share their stories. No one person can know everything. So, your representative must be willing to ask a lot of questions. When debating a bill, it is important not only to listen to the lobbyists or the party activists but also to your constituents who would be most affected. When people are willing to listen, learn and collaborate on important issues, politics become less important. During these past two years, I have collaborated with legislators of all political affiliations on child care, sex trafficking identification training for police, criminal sex statutes update, literacy and substitute teaching reform. I place a high value on learning from one another because that is what I tried to foster in my classroom as a teacher for almost 20 years. Remember, even when people disagree on a certain policy or provisions, we normally have the same goal of creating a thriving Minnesota.

Q: It is no secret that Freeborn County and much of the state are 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?

Safe and effective infrastructure is a core function of government. This means that we need to have balanced and targeted funding. First, legislators can hold MnDOT accountable to stop using matrixes that unfairly prioritize the metro area. I did this in Austin when citizens wanted a noise study completed before the update of the I-90 bridge. After much investigation and many conversations, I learned Austin would have never qualified for a noise study because of how the standards and requirements were written. Second, we need funds that are targeted toward actual infrastructure rather than agendas. The state has spent billions of dollars on light rail tracks and stations that were moderately used before the pandemic and now are almost empty. Governor Walz proposed a costly gas tax and pushed through the California Clean Car standards while also putting millions of dollars into green energy. The funds that are directed towards artificially moving us towards mass transit and green energy take money away from our roads and bridges. The Legislature needs to be focused on providing balanced and targeted funding that ensures safe roads along with reliable energy that fuels our transportation needs.

 

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?

We lose valuable voices in our workforce when families are not able to find quality and affordable child care. First, we need our legislators to follow the 2019 Childcare Taskforce recommendations by streamlining the licensing process and examining how inspections are completed. Second, local communities need to provide workshops or classes about how to complete the licensing process so that more families have a chance to provide child care. This is especially true for our ethnic families who want a chance to have child care that honors their culture. We hosted a workshop like this in Austin last January and 17 individuals came from five different ethnic backgrounds. This workshop was funded by the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation. I was proud to collaborate with leaders and felt this was just the start of something that could really benefit the community. Finally, we need to maintain robust options for child care. Some families will choose to send their child to preschool while others want a home child care provider. The Legislature can expand the early childhood scholarships so that parents can make decisions for their families. We need both communities and government to work together to solve our child care crisis. 

 

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

First, we can promote apprenticeships by allowing schools to partner with local businesses. This provides education choices and offers students experience in fields that could be their future careers. Employers are often willing to train students, which could help them receive certifications and allow them to be employed sooner with less college debt. Second, we need to remove unnecessary barriers for individuals who are considering a career change. Excessive schooling or extensive practicum hours are often an overwhelming hurdle. We can utilize Grow Your Own programs and funds that utilize alternative programs to traditional education and often provide a paycheck while gaining experiences. By honoring past experiences and education, we can provide multiple pathways to graduate in fields that are in demand.

 

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 am pro-life and believe that life begins at conception. At that point, I believe that life should be protected. However, as a person who was unable to have children and was classified as high risk for an unsafe pregnancy, I understand how vital it is to protect the life of the mother as well. This is why I have been staunchly against abortion with the exception of physically saving the life of the mother. In this political climate, I find it appalling that stories of pain are used to score points or to shame the other side. Both sides are guilty of this. Abortion is a choice that has long-lasting effects. Many people do support some limitations on abortions. I have supported initiatives that would prohibit abortion after 12 weeks (except to physically save the life of the mother), which is when the majority of abortions take place. I have also supported bills that would prohibit government-funded abortions. I would also like to add that my pro-life stance includes working to support foster care, adoption and families. I want communities to have resources to help families thrive so that children have the best opportunity to thrive.

 

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? 

Representatives are elected to a two-year term. During the first year, legislators are tasked with setting the state budget for the next two years. In 2021, lawmakers passed a 52 billion dollar budget. The second year is dedicated to emergency funding, examining policy and passing a bonding bill. One of the reasons the Legislature did not pass many bills during the 2022 term is that many legislators were fighting over how to spend the nine billion dollar surplus and holding the bonding bill as a pawn. It is important for your lawmakers to honor the purpose of each year and continually advocate for their district’s needs. It is also necessary for your representative to be transparent about how the state is spending your money. Concentrating on transparency and education will help the public know what is happening in St. Paul so they can hold lawmakers accountable.

 

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

The state surplus is indicative of over-taxing. In 2021, despite people trying to recover from COVID and reeling from increasing inflation, Governor Walz proposed tax increases on hard-working Minnesotans and their businesses. That is on top of a gas tax. We are the fifth-highest taxed state in the union with Minnesota being one of 13 states who continue to tax Social Security. Both job providers and seniors have other options in states with lower taxes. We need to create a business-friendly environment so hard-working Minnesotans can get good-paying jobs and keep more of their money so their employees are able to thrive. The principle is the same for senior citizens. We need our seniors to stay as they are foundational to the success of our communities and their families. 

In 2022, Governor Walz suggested simply returning the state surplus by dividing it “equally” among Minnesotans. This is not tax relief, this is redistribution. I support not only completely eliminating the tax on Social Security, but also permanent and meaningful tax relief that is proportionate to what an individual pays in taxes. This would result in people keeping more of their money so they can invest in their communities.

 

Q: Any other issues you would like to address?

As a teacher for almost 20 years, I know that education is a priority for families and vital for a strong society. Parents want their children to have a rigorous education that will prepare them for the demands of the future. This requires funding and choice. 

First, education funding is complex and favors metro schools. During my first term in office, I witnessed how funding was stipulated for certain programs or initiatives. Rather than the state mandating how money should be spent by all schools, funds should be directed to local school districts. Special education also needs to be more appropriately funded while also analyzing cost drivers and streamlining paperwork.

Second, education choice is more than allowing parents to choose the best school for their students. It means providing more pathways to graduation. Allowing authentic experiences that count towards high school and college credit not only provides individualization but also lowers college tuition.

Legislators need to understand the complexities of education and prevent writing policies or mandates that have unintended consequences. As an experienced educator, I know how important it is to provide balanced and accountable funding along with more flexibility and choice for our students.

 

Tom Stiehm

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

Tom Stiehm

Experience. I was the mayor of Austin for 14 years; I was also an Austin police officer for 30 years. I spent three years in the Marine Corps.

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

I think the major issues depends on who you ask.

We must still deal with what to do with the surplus, to many abortion rights are the issue. During my time as mayor, we dealt with many divisive issues including immigrants moving to Austin, and how was the city to respond. I am proud to say, with the hard work of many of our citizens, we are now known as a welcoming city. 

 

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

As mayor I worked with anyone, regardless of party affiliation who had the best interest of Austin at heart. As a state representative I would do the same.

 

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?

We can not keep funding the way we are now. We are obviously underfunding infrastructure, including roads. We need a bipartisan formula that will survive the next time the other party gets a majority. I do not favor an increase in the gas tax.

 

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?

Child tax credits go a long way to help address this issue. We talk a lot about deregulation, and it should be looked at. But we have to be careful. As a detective in Austin, one of my first cases was a day care where the lady running it had obtained credit cards in all of the children’s names that she had in day care. The previous year she had been named day care provider of the year for our area. We have to see that providers, who are taking care of our children, are properly vetted.

 

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

We have many programs now that are not properly funded. We need technical schools to address the issue by offering the appropriate training programs, and potential state help for young people to help them go into these areas.

 

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 we are guaranteed the right to abortion.

Some Republicans are pushing to get the majorities in both houses so that they can ban abortions in Minnesota. I believe abortion is a health care issue between a woman and her doctor.

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? 

Bipartisanism appears dead in Minnesota. The people are the ones paying for this. I believe we are elected to office to do the will of our people, and most want us to work together.we have to overcome this. We need to build bipartisan coalitions, such as in public safety.

 

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

We should first address some of the shortfall created by not passing the surplus bill. We would still have great needs such as education and infrastructure.

 

Q: Any other issues you would like to address?

Law Enforcement feels that they are in a crisis mode. Their every action is videoed and criticized. No one wants to go into law enforcement now, and who can blame them. In the aftermath of the George Floyd killing, all police in Minnesota were blamed by many.

We in rural Minnesota like our police and sheriff depts. We must not be guided and judged by the misdeeds of a very few.

Austin used to get 80 to 100 applicants for our positions, the last time we hired when I was mayor we had one. This must change.