MOORHEAD-Candidates for Minnesota Senate District 4 and Minnesota House of Representatives Districts 4A and 4B gathered for a forum Tuesday evening, Sept. 27, hosted by the League of Women Voters of the Red River Valley. Dozens attended the forum at the Moorhead Public Library, which was free and open to the public.
Candidates' opening statements outlined their priorities should they be elected.
Incumbent Democrat Kent Eken of Senate District 4 is concluding his first term in the Senate and running for a second. He previously served in the Minnesota House from 2003-13. Eken explained his drive to ensure educational opportunity in rural Minnesota.
"Here in greater Minnesota, we're not second-class citizens," Eken said. "We deserve to have educational opportunity for our children as well. That's going to make our region much better and much stronger because everyone will have an opportunity to succeed and contribute more back to our society."
His challenger, Republican James Leiman, criticized what he called a "one-party control" in the Senate over the past 40 years. Leiman was also critical of tax increases, raised health care costs and declining scores in secondary schools. The need for infrastructural improvement has also largely, been ignored, he said.
Leiman said he deviates from his party primarily because of his stance on education. He'd like to prioritize STEM education and fund pre-K programs through "good governance," he said.
Incumbent Democrat Paul Marquart of House District 4B said by going door to door, he's constructed a five-point plan for rural Minnesota's future called "Putting Rural Minnesota First." Keeping communities safe from crime and terrorism; investing in education and good-paying jobs; cutting taxes for senior citizens, farmers, families and small businesses; ensuring every person in the state has affordable, dependable and high-quality health care; and providing good quality of life and services to senior citizens and veterans are facets.
"If we can do that, and I have a detailed plan, we move into the future," Marquart said. "I want to talk about the future of this great area and how we can make it better."
Marquart's challenger, Ben Grimsley, said his experience as a business owner, financial planner and county commissioner have equipped him for a role in the House.
"I've worked first-hand in government. We're the arm of the state, so we take care of all kinds of things that the state legislates," Grimsley said. "We've done a good job of holding taxes there and improving our infrastructure. That's something I want to work on here."
Most exciting Grimsley said, is the opportunity to reform the welfare system so people are better able "to climb out of poverty and start paying taxes."
He'd like to see welfare benefits more incrementally reduced based on increased income "so people don't fall off their benefits because they make an extra $200 a year," Grimsley said.
He'd also advocate for a means of reporting abuse of the welfare system and a system for drug testing, Grimsley said.
Focusing on local issues in his opening statement, incumbent Democrat Ben Lien of House District 4A said if re-elected to the Legislature, he'll fight for the permanent state funding of Moorhead's border city program and improving railroad and underpass infrastructure.
"I really think if we can get some real, strong improvements to railroad infrastructure and underpasses, I think that will really prepare Moorhead for future growth," Lien said "The underpasses are really the next phase of improved infrastructure for future growth of the city."
His challenger, Republican Jordan Idso, said he's lived in Moorhead the majority of his life and "couldn't picture myself living anywhere else." He went through the school system here, graduating from Moorhead High School in 2014.
"I had an interest that started at a very young age, and the reason I'm here tonight is because I was starting to look for ways to get active. I wanted to make a difference in my community," Idso said. "One night, I was sitting at my computer and my inbox was filling up very fast. They were saying 'We don't have anybody running for the Legislature this session. What are we going to do?' ... I felt I would be very remissed if I didn't because I feel like I can be a difference-maker for this community, one it hasn't had in very many years."
Full video coverage of the forum was to be posted on the League of Women Voters of the Red River Valley Facebook page.