Q&A with Senate District 23 candidates

Published 5:33 pm Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Gene Dornink

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

Gene Dornink

I have lived in southern Minnesota my entire life, growing up on a dairy farm. I grew up, went to vocational school right here in Austin, raised a family and built a business right here in our communities. I’m running for office to give back and stand up for our way of life. My life experience and relationship with the local communities are my biggest assets.

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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?

Right now, in Minnesota, we have individuals and businesses fleeing because of rising violent crime, burdensome taxes and over-regulation. If we want to pass along the opportunities we’ve had here to our children and attract new people to the state, those are the issues that need addressed. I have sought to address public safety concerns by holding violent criminals accountable and supporting our law enforcement. Further, I’ve proposed cutting middle income and Social Security taxes while reigning in agency overreach to address over-regulation.

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

Building relationships is how you get work done across the aisle in St. Paul. We have to listen and show respect for one another as we’re working toward solutions. I have garnered support from leaders and community members across the political spectrum. I recognize that I don’t have all the answers, but the people do. I will listen to my constituents and local community leaders, not just toe the party line. Our community deserves a senator who represents them.

 

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?

I will continue to work with Freeborn County leaders and push for appropriate road funding. The state has passed and allocated record funding for new roads and infrastructure. I will continue to be supportive, broadly, of this funding. In addition to general transportation funding, we can propose individual projects for bonding fund consideration. 

 

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?

One thing we can do to address the childcare shortage is support small at-home centers. Right now, there are so many nickel and dime regulations that it simply isn’t an option worth exploring for a lot of qualified people. We should encourage safe, at-home day care operations to open up, not put up significant roadblocks.

 

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

We need to make Minnesota a desirable place to work and raise a family. By reducing burdensome regulations and taxes on small businesses and the middle class, we can attract labor from surrounding states. We can also encourage more people to join the workforce by supporting the trades and making skill training more accessible.

 

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. I believe that life begins at conception, and I will never shy away from that. That being said, the issue of abortion is settled law in Minnesota. The Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Minnesota Constitution is above legislative authority. Beyond that, we need to encourage adoption. The state can help streamline the process and make it easier. We also need to do more to support women in crisis pregnancies. There are a variety of ways we can do this, and I’m receptive to any and all ideas.

 

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? 

It is important to note that this year was not a budget year. We passed a biennium budget in 2021 that fully funded the state for two years. That funding included things like Local Government Aid and a record increase in school funding. This year, we did pass legislation to address the Unemployment Trust Fund, provide worker bonuses and to address mental health. This year was supposed to be a bonding year where we fund large infrastructure projects. That funding must originate in the Democrat-controlled House, which never took it up for a vote. I have every bit of confidence that we will get those projects done in the upcoming session. 

 

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

This is something I hear a lot about from the community via calls, emails and texts. The answer is simple: Give it back! The massive surplus is indicative of over taxation. We need to cut income taxes for the lower and middle class, eliminate the Social Security tax and provide relief to those hard-working families whose money created the surplus. We want to provide Minnesotans with meaningful tax relief so that they have more money in their pockets, month after month, year after year. 

 

Q: Any other issues you would like to address?

For the last few years we’ve had a crisis developing in the long-term care industry. An influx of demand with a diminishing workforce has left our elderly vulnerable. I’ve toured and met with some of the facilities in our district. They need help from the state on a few basic things: wage increases, employee retention and workforce training. The Senate Republicans passed a $1 billion package to deliver these things, but it was turned down by the House. I stand ready with my Senate colleagues to pass it again next session and solve this looming crisis.

 

Brandon Lawhead

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

Brandon Lawhead

My 25 years’ experience as a lawyer, applying legislative statutes to legal issues. It provides me with a unique understanding of how legislative action will actually be interpreted and enforced in the court system. 

I have represented people in a variety of areas, including criminal matters; family law; small business issues; employment matters; worker’s compensation/injury issues; and other matters that affect us.

I have also represented landlords, and I have rental property, myself. So, I am intimately familiar with issues regarding housing, property (over-taxation); and how government intervention can actually make matters worse. 

The solution to our housing problem starts with the fact that government is oftentimes the biggest landlord in the community, so it is directly competing against the private sector. Nobody wants to compete against their own tax dollar, which means that business in housing is stifled. I would like to explore creative ideas for working with locally-based Capitalists to solve the housing issues. 

 

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

There is a pervasive sense of lawlessness in America (and the state of Minnesota). This is dangerous to democracy and Capitalism, for the fundamental tenet of a capitalist society, according to Adam Smith, is a fair and impartial judiciary in order to protect private property. People argue politics regarding Jan. 6 or the Minneapolis riots, but from my perspective the nexus of our problem is that we don’t have confidence in the judiciary. 

Of course, the issue confronting us right now is the economy and economic development. In southern Minnesota, we have been sliding for decades. I plan on working with congressional hopeful, Jeff Ettinger, a former CEO of Hormel Foods. In coordinating his vision, at the state level, to bring a dynamic plan for dramatic economic development in southern Minnesota. I spoke to Jeff before deciding to run, and we are serious about this. 

Time and events have given us a historic opportunity, which we may never see, again. We need to seize it. I plan to address it by: (1) rebuilding our infrastructure, including water treatment, roads, bridges and highways; (2) funding law enforcement, so we offer a safe community; (3) fully funding public education, so there are no disadvantages to living out-state; (4) improving upon our strengths, which is low population and thus access to an outdoors life in nature, like hunting and fishing; and (5) building a tax base, so property owners and farmers don’t carry the burdens. 

My mantra is: “Southern, Minnesota, first!”

 

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

I’m a fiscal conservative and a social liberal. About half of my supporters are Republicans.I support the Second Amendment, and I support the rule of law, including the enforcement of illegal immigration. 

My campaign slogan is “Let’s Meet In The Middle.” My campaign color is purple (red + blue). My campaign symbol isn’t a donkey or an elephant, but, rather, a Bull Moose (a harkening to Teddy Roosevelt). About half of my supporters are Republicans. I’m a fiscal conservative and a social liberal. I support the Second Amendment, and I support the rule of law, including the enforcement of illegal immigration. 

Juxtapose me with my opponent, who walked away from a budget surplus deal, which he’s on record stating he supports. That’s the ultimate in partisan politics that has no place in this district. 

 

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?

Stop playing political games (that benefit big city Republicans) and take the money that’s on the table. 

 

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?

My wife is the director of community education, which handles child care through the public school in Austin. Pre-kindergarten education is the best educational bargain for better long-term scholastic aptitude. Further funding in that regard is one solution. I would also like to invigorate the private sector with tax incentives to start up dynamic and innovative child care solutions. 

 

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

Stop giving handouts, so people have no incentive to work. 

America is the land of opportunity, not handouts. 

Similarly, stop illegal immigration. Work to create an immigration system that’s more responsive to societal need. 

 

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 strongly support the holding of Roe v Wade. That is, I strongly endorse a woman’s right to choose. Women’s reproductive health care is in great peril. Of course, it’s really about power and control. 

The economic consequences of banning abortion will be catastrophic. Look at what’s happening in Indiana, which passed legislation making abortion illegal. In response, Elly Lilly, one of the top employers in the state, said it will not undertake any further economic expansion in Indiana. Do we want to attract business or do we want to lose it? 

Please remember that Roe v Wade was influenced by the Mayo Clinic. Justice Blackmun frequently visited the Mayo Clinic, when he authored Roe v Wade. 

What is southern Minnesota without the Mayo Clinic? 

The implications of Roe v Wade stretch far beyond abortion, however. The root of Roe v Wade turned on a person’s right to privacy. In the digital age, the right to privacy is paramount, and it is all that protects us from complete government intrusion and control. 

As a lawyer, who has argued before the Minnesota Supreme Court, I appreciate that courts use deductive reasoning to make decisions in other areas of the law. Roe v Wade, in 1975, was preceded, in 1965, by Griswold v. Connecticut, where the US Supreme Court upheld the right of married people to use contraception. It did so by finding a constitutional right to privacy, which was the foundation on which Roe v Wade (and subsequent privacy issues) relied to thwart government intrusion. 

With Roe v Wade and the right to privacy eviscerated, birth control will be eliminated, as well. You can count on it. 

This means that the government will regulate whether or not you can use birth control. I think individuals, not the government, should choose contraceptive practice. 

Please note that my opponent has proposed banning abortion (even in cases of rape or incest), and attaching criminal penalties onto it. 

Are we ready to start giving people life sentences over this? 

 

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? 

The Senate is split 50/50 with a governor who is from southern Minnesota. We have an amazing opportunity to fundamentally re-shape southern Minnesota. 

I hope people will consider casting their vote for me, which will be a vote for themselves and their families. 

I implore people to stop being distracted by the national political fights, which have nothing to do with southern Minnesota. They aren’t coming down here. We need to take our future into our own hands. 

 

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

Exactly what was agreed upon by both Democrats and Republicans at the last session. Even my opponent, Gene Dornink, agreed with the allocation already agreed upon. Failure to get this completed was the epitome of political game-playing.

What’s the result? Suffering by our constituents. 

For example, Austin Public Schools has been forced to seek a referendum, because Austin didn’t receive the state funding from the budget surplus. The school now has a budget shortfall, and either the kids will be affected by cuts or there will be increased property taxes. Teachers tell me they’re worried about being cut, if the referendum fails, and they can’t sleep at night. 

All this agony over a political game? 

Mr. Gene Dornink is entirely at fault for this, in my opinion. 

#TheDorninkTaxHike

#TaxationWithoutCompetentRepresentation 

 

Q: Any other issues you would like to discuss?

I think the electorate needs to know my opponent’s record vs my positions:

(1) Mr. Dornink authored SF 3679, which seeks to bring religious ceremonies into the public schools. As written, the legislation would allow any religious group to influence your kids at school — even a Taliban radical Islam religion. 

I believe religion is a family matter, where the government should be absent. I think the public schools have enough challenges. Let’s focus on a normal curriculum, like reading, writing and arithmetic, without this craziness. 

(2) Mr. Dornink refused to secure a funding initiative by the Hormel Institute, even when the Hormel Foundation agreed to contribute to this project. Our district lost jobs as a result of this. 

(3) Dornink stated he wants to cut worker’s compensation benefits for injured workers; (10-14-16 candidate forum)

 

I disagree:

As an attorney, who has fought for 25 years to get injured workers benefits, workers should get disability benefits, verified by doctors, so they can pay for food and shelter as they heal from accidents over which they had no control. 

(4)  Mr. Dornink was made famous in Minnesota during his primary, when his residency was challenged by Lisa Hanson, a restaurant owner who Mr. Dornink failed to help during the pandemic. 

Dornink attacked his challenger, including her character, but on Aug. 19, 2019, Mr. Dornink admitted that a major reason why he wanted to run was so he could control redistricting. 

Lisa Hanson had presented significant evidence that Mr. Dornink wasn’t living in the district, as required by Minnesota law. 

This is important because a representative’s job is to represent the hearts and minds of his district. The residency requirement is intended to insure a direct connection with the constituents. I was born and raised in our district. I have lived here for virtually my entire life. I know what southern Minnesota was, and I know what we need.                                                                               

“Let’s Meet In The Middle” is a new political movement, which rejects our current political partisanship. It’s time the middle take back our country from radicals. I hope you’ll join me. 

We need to come together and get southern Minnesota moving again.