My Point of View: Get involved at the caucuses and help solve state’s problems

Published 8:45 pm Tuesday, February 20, 2024

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My Point of View by Jennifer Vogt-Erickson

Precinct caucuses are coming up next Tuesday, Feb. 27. You are welcome to attend the DFL precinct caucuses at 7 p.m. at the Eagles Club on 205 W. William St. in downtown Albert Lea. This is the DFL location for all of Freeborn County. Registration starts at 6:30 p.m. It’s the first step — the grassroots — in building the party platform and choosing candidates for the 2024 election.

Jennifer Vogt-Erickson

In the Legislature, the DFL has gone right to work on building upon its pro-worker, pro-student and pro-small business agenda during this year’s session.

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The state is still in a budget surplus this year, and some adjustments are likely to be made due to a projected budget deficit next year. Some of the unanticipated cost overruns are due to a larger than expected number of children eating free lunch and breakfast at our schools. It’s not a waste of money that more kids are being fed.

The DFL is working to implement the public option buy-in to Minnesota Care for an estimated 150,000 workers who lack employer-sponsored health insurance. This would provide a more affordable option with premiums on a sliding scale and lower out-of-pocket costs. It would also be available to small employers for covering their employees. Currently people in this situation are often stuck with high-premium, high deductible choices, which are effectively a tax on being small and independent, and it’s a drag on our local rural economy.

Gov. Walz is promoting a nearly $1 billion infrastructure bill backed by trade unions. I hope that our local representatives can secure funds for a substantial share of Albert Lea’s new wastewater treatment plant. The city is requesting $40 million.

Local Republicans continually gripe about the cost of updating the 90-year-old state office building which needs major improvements to accommodate representatives, other leaders and workers who do the people’s business and citizens who come to lobby and testify. If you have visited senators and representatives in St. Paul lately, you may have observed that our representatives have cramped quarters that are difficult to navigate when the narrow corridors are busy, even if you’re able-bodied. It’s easier to access senators’ new offices.

The state office building is public space, and it should accommodate public participation. It should also be beautiful and inviting. Can you imagine what our grand state Capitol would have looked like if our current Republicans who curl their lip at every flourish that gives us pride had been in charge of financing it? Good thing the people who approved it had faith in the uplifting virtue and enduring value of public architecture. Yes, Aaron Farris, the common people of this state do deserve excellent accommodations at our state capitol complex. It’s not just a “palace” for the politicians, it belongs to all of us.

The Legislature is also working on clarified language for the school resource officer (SRO) legislation that passed last year to protect students from being held in positions that cut off their airways. Numerous police departments in the state had knee-jerk reactions to the legislation and pulled their SROs. Albert Lea’s police department took a measured approach to the changes and kept its SROs in place in Albert Lea schools.

Another issue I would like to see gain traction is holding “nonprofit” hospitals accountable for providing community-based patient care. Large hospital systems get major breaks on property taxes yet they turn around and spend freely on advertising (like the “Mayo Clinic Health System Event Center” in Mankato) while shrinking local services in places like Albert Lea.

As for immigration, we need immigrants. Numerous immigrants live on my block and at least five languages are spoken fluently. Getting our legal immigration system working again will help us solve workforce shortages in sectors like nursing home care. We live in an aging community, and aging with dignity is a top priority. Nevertheless, U.S. Speaker of the House Mike Johnson blocked bipartisan immigration legislation that would have passed and been signed into law. He spurned the majority to please presidential candidate Trump, and the blame for inaction lies at their feet.

In Burnsville, police officers Matthew Ruge and Paul Elmstrand and firefighter/medic Adam Finseth died on Sunday trying to rescue seven children and a woman from an extremely dangerous situation involving domestic violence and a heavily-armed perpetrator. Domestic violence combined with guns is not just a deadly threat for victims, it’s a deadly threat for law enforcement officers and first responders. I am heartsick.

Our greatest protection has never been guns, or any other product we can buy. It’s civil society, public trust, strong democratic institutions and rule of law.

Attending precinct caucuses is one way any citizen can get involved in the process of how we solve our problems and set our priorities together. Let’s do democracy.

Jennifer Vogt-Erickson is a member of the Freeborn County DFL Party.