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House 54A candidates debate issues

Anne Claflin, DFL candidate for House Seat 54A, debated Republican incumbent, Rep. Keith Franke, at a Sept. 13 forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters. William Loeffler / RiverTown Multimedia

COTTAGE GROVE — Two candidates for House District 54A debated the issues at a Thursday, Sept. 13 forum hosted by the League of Women Voters at Cottage Grove City Hall.

Democrat Anne Claflin is challenging Republican incumbent Keith Franke in November for the House District 54A seat, which includes western Cottage Grove, Newport, St. Paul Park and the southern end of South St. Paul.

The candidates answered 16 questions submitted by the audience. Comments have been edited for clarity.

What do you see as the 3 top needs of District 54A?

Keith Franke: First and foremost, clean water. We need to make sure that the situation with the 3M pollution that that money stays here that that money is used for our area that it is not frittered away. Secondly we need to make sure we're funding our education and giving our teachers the tools and technology they need. Another thing I think we're lacking in this area is transit. We need to get more buses to the area to allow people to get around and to get back and forth from work.

Anne Claflin: I agree that clean water is at the top of my list. When I'm out talking to folks, door knocking, it's at the top of everyone else's list too. ... They're concerned about their drinking water quality, about the cost that having a new drinking water facility will bring to the area. They're concerned that the $700 million settlement left for the drinking water facility isn't going to be enough. And what do we do then? What do we do when we find there's another problem? We need to watch this problem very closely. We need to make sure we are funding the science to study the effects of these pollutants in our groundwater. ... This is broader than just the district. This problem affects much of the East Metro and beyond. We also need to have good jobs in our neighborhoods that provide family-sustaining wages and we do need to fully fund our education so that our schools in our district are the still the best schools in the metro.

What will you do to ensure healthcare for all Minnesotans?

KF: We were proud to give some relief to people on individual insurance policies. Some of the things I think we can do to reduce the cost of health care for people is to work in tandem. We need to bring in the insurance companies, we need to bring in the providers, and see where we're not hitting the beat. We need to open up the market. We need to bring in more opportunities. We've done things like allow for co-ops. Transparency in billing is another one that we need to have. We need to figure out what's being billed and what isn't and why it's being billed.

AC: The Republican plan was to allow insurance companies to sell junk plans. Bare bones that barely cover anything. I would want to see Minnesotacare expanded so anyone who wants to can buy into that program. And at the same time that the Republicans were saying that Minnesotans could not buy into Minnesotacare, they were giving the insurance companies $400 million, no strings attached, no reassurance that it would actually lower premiums. So we need to have programs that will let Minnesotans access the health care they're looking for. When I hear from people when I'm out door-knocking, they want to be able to buy into Minnesotacare.

KF: In 2005 it was a DFL-bipartisan to allow flexible plans. And now it's not, because we're keeping up that rhetoric of keep us divided, not actually getting to the table and doing the work. As for giving the insurance companies money, that was Governor Dayton's plan. We wanted to give it to the individuals and Governor Dayton said that the agencies did not have the capability to handle that process. We were nation-leading prior to the federal system. I'm more than happy to take on and take a look at all options.

What are the needs of education for the next biennium? Please include early childhood education in your answer.

AC: I am the mother of a toddler. I've been thrilled with the education programs that we have for early childhood (learning). The early childhood education program is a star in Minnesota. My friends who live in other states don't have anything like that. We need to keep funding for pre-K programs. We need to have all-day kindergarten funded so we can give our students the right stuff they need to be ready when they hit full-on elementary school. We see that it really helps our students. That gets them prepared. To get all of that done we have to fully fund education. We can't cut cut back and expect teachers to just pick it up. The teachers are already picking up more than their fare share. We need to have mental health practitioners in the schools. We need to have counselors and social workers. We need to have support for the special education programs to make sure students are not harmed in schools.

KF: In my first term, I think we're starting to pick up the slack that we haven't seen before. We passed the largest funding increase per pupil in over 12 years. ... I am a big supporter of our teachers. ... I also want to be able to give parents the choice to do what they want, though, and be able provide for those who can't make the payment should we have to go that route. I believe in allowing the parents to make that parental choice for what's right or best for their situation or their kids. I also agree with Ann that we have to make sure we have to have the mental health facilities and people in place. One of the bills I proposed, the School Safety Threat Assessment Team, put some of the people in those places, gave money for education to teach people how to deal with kids who are having troubling times.

AC: The largest increase is great. It's only because of the trend of underfunding education. Even having the largest increase in the past 10 years we are still underfunding education. When you hear Republican priorities including education remember that they cut education funding to give tax cuts back to wealthy folks. That's where their education priorities really lie.

KF: I'm not sure who you're talking about but I wasn't there for that. My priority is moving forward and taking care of our schools, taking care of our children and giving them the tools and technology that they need. And I think I've proven that time and time again.

William Loeffler

William Loeffler is a playwright and journalist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He worked 15 years writing features for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He has also written travel stories based on his trips to all seven continents. He and his wife, Michelle, ran the Boston Marathon in 2009. 

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