by Logan Gruber
A first-term Republican hopes to defeat a senior at the College of St. Benedict endorsed by the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party in the House District 13A race this Nov. 4. Jeff Howe – the incumbent – of Rockville, is seeking his second term, while Emily Jensen of St. Joseph is running for public office for the first time.
At a public forum on Oct. 23, hosted by the League of Women Voters, Howe and Jensen faced questions directed at them from residents of 13A, which includes the cities of St. Joseph, Avon, Cold Spring, Eden Valley, Kimball, Paynesville, Richmond, Rockville and Roscoe. About 30 residents of 13A attended the LWV forum. Each candidate was given two minutes to answer each question, and the order the questions were answered rotated between the two of them.
A variety of questions were asked of the two candidates. Ashley Bukoski, St. Joseph, asked the candidates their thoughts on refugees coming to Minnesota.
Howe expressed the refugees unfairly burden school districts, and that while the federal government pays to bring refugees into states, there is no support for them once they are here.
During her speaking time, Jensen said she thought refugees are great, and school funding to help them should be increased.
“We should expand ESL and intercultural programs . . . I’d like to see 13A be a shining star in Minnesota,” Jensen commented.
Derek Larson, St. Joseph, asked how the candidates would improve renewable energy during their term.
Howe spoke about reforming our energy system by moving to smaller electrical grids with nuclear power plants.
After his time was up, Jensen said she was apprehensive about nuclear energy being a ‘magic’ solution. She said we need to look at other means, because the cheapest solution isn’t always the best.
Jim Gray, St. Joseph, asked how the candidates would stay in touch with district 13A’s citizens.
Howe said legislators send out email updates and try to write letters to the editor to local papers. He also mentioned that, in his case, he and two other legislators share one legislative assistant, which makes it hard to respond to everyone who contacts his office.
Jensen stated legislators can’t put all of the responsibility of contact on the people and said legislators need to go to meetings and school.
The St. Benedict senior said, “We’ve gotta meet kids before they’re confused as adults,” which drew laughter from the crowd.
Dr. Jim Read, a professor of political science at CSB/St. John’s University and Avon resident, asked the candidates about the college job market, and what they would do to improve it.
Howe admitted the business climate has changed.
“I don’t think we’ve concentrated enough on preparing our students for the job market,” he said.
Jensen suggested identifying students’ skills and implementing more job training or incentivizing apprenticeships. She also supports refinancing student loans.
Cliff Johnson, Wakefield Township, asked the two what should be done regarding bullying in schools.
Jensen said she felt things are moving in the right direction.
Her Republican challenger, however, did not support the recent ‘bullying bill’ or the Safe and Supportive Schools Act that passed last spring. Howe said the bill contained $20 million for a ‘bullying center,’ whereas, in his opinion, that money could be going into our schools.
Eunice Antony, OSB, St. Joseph, asked the candidates their thoughts on sex trafficking in Minnesota.
Howe said those who are trafficked need to be made aware they can come to the police, and that, possibly, a task force needs to be funded to crack down on trafficking. He also said rural areas need help on this issue.
Jensen said she wrote a lot about sex trafficking in her career and that it’s not easy to find the traffickers. She said both domestic and international trafficking takes place in Minnesota and that one of the issues that needs to be addressed to help stop trafficking is income.
An Avon woman asked about MNsure and whether the candidates felt the program was working or not.
Jensen said that while 95 percent of Minnesotans are now insured, a lot of people did get dropped from their insurance. She said government needs to help those people find a good insurance plan inside the MNsure system.
Howe pointed out before MNsure, Minnesota had the fourth lowest cost of insurance and the highest quality of insurance in the nation.
“I think it was right to have our own exchange, but . . . we created something that has no legislative oversight,” he said.
“I truly think all of you are the experts,” Jensen said in her closing statement, ” . . . and I think that’s what having a representative government means.”
In his closing statement, Howe said that he as a freshman legislator, of the more than 30 bills he chief authored, four were signed into law.
After the forum, as people milled about and spoke with the candidates, Howe told the Newsleader he was a bit tired going into the forum, as he had another event earlier that night and had been working more lately but still felt the forum went well. He would, however, like to see the time limit for answering questions extended to three minutes rather than two.
Jensen said she has a good team to work with and that she’s finally “feeling good about politics again.”
photo by Logan Gruber
Republican candidate for Minnesota House District 13A, Jeff Howe, answers a question from the audience during the League of Women Voter’s debate on Oct. 23.
photo by Logan Gruber
An audience of about 30 people from across Minnesota House District 13A came to ask questions of Jeff Howe and Emily Jensen during the League of Women Voter’s forum held Oct. 23.
photo by Logan Gruber
Emily Jensen, DFL candidate for Minnesota House District 13A and a College of St. Benedict senior, speaks with area residents after the forum.