MOORHEAD — The two candidates in the Minnesota DFL's upcoming District 4A primary stated their cases Thursday night, Aug. 6, at the League of Women Voters of the Red River Valley's candidate forum, and their priorities were nearly identical.
The candidates, party-endorsed Heather Keeler and Moorhead City Council member Chuck Hendrickson, had similar answers to questions on the COVID-19 pandemic, infrastructure, higher education, police reform, housing and MNsure in advance of the Aug. 11 primary.
"Moorhead is on a momentous roll right now," Hendrickson said. "I can continue that momentum in the state capitol."
Hendrickson, whose daughter contracted the coronavirus, advocated to continue keeping citizens safe and healthy during the pandemic while also improving on state testing efforts. Minnesota ranks 27th nationally in per-capita testing, according to John's Hopkins University's Coronavirus Resource Center.
Keeler said she would push for eviction freezes and continuing no-cost testing. she also proposed a single-payer health care system, saying it would provide citizens with bargaining power when purchasing pharmaceuticals. Hendrickson later agreed that single-payer health care should be the state's "end goal."
To deal with the economic fallout of the pandemic, Keeler called upon Moorhead citizens to support small businesses in the city.
"A lot of our community tends to go across the river, and we lose a lot of economic development," she said.
Hendrickson echoed Keeler's call for Moorhead residents to patronize small businesses while also stating his desire to extend the Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses and work with the state's federal delegation to make small business loans available at a low interest rate.
Hendrickson and Keeler agreed that Moorhead is in dire need of improvements to its transfer station, a facility Hendrickson said is 40 years old.
"We need to get that transfer station taken care of," he said. "I've been preaching that for seven years on the city council."
The two also agreed further improvements should be made to Moorhead's bike paths for cyclists' safety and enjoyment. Keeler listed ADA accessibility in all aspects of Moorhead's infrastructure as a key focus.
On the subject of higher education, Keeler said a college degree "should be an opportunity for everybody. I would really push to make sure that stays a priority in our line items and we stick to our budgets we have committed to our universities."
"We need to fully fund our schools," Hendrickson said. He also called for lower in-state tuition.
Hendrickson came out against the movement to defund police, suggesting more resources such as counseling and translators be available to law enforcement.
Keeler said her approach would be to "re-fund" law enforcement with a focus on investing in mental health specialists, accountability and examining implicit bias.
Hendrickson and Keeler both stated their support for prioritizing affordable housing for those over the age of 55, and Keeler recommended an increase in transportation resources for those who rely on public transit.
Hendrickson outlined his plan to eliminate income limits in MNsure, the state's health insurance marketplace. The two agreed all Minnesotans should have the option to buy in to MNsure.
The primary victor will advance to face unopposed Republican nominee Edwin Hahn in the general election on Tuesday, Nov. 3.
Keeler and Hendrickson are seeking to keep retiring Rep. Ben Lien's seat in DFL hands. A Moorhead native, Lien originally won election to the Minnesota House of Representatives in 2012 and was successful in three subsequent reelection bids in 2014, 2016 and 2018.
The DFL holds a 75-59 advantage over Republicans in the House, though the GOP has a slim 35-32 edge in the Senate.
Watch the forum: