On Monday, voters go to the polls to replace Vernon Center Republican Tony Cornish, who resigned from the House District 23B seat in November after being accused of several incidents of sexual harassment.
Republican Lake Crystal businessman Jeremy Munson has been active in local Republican politics for a decade and was elected chair of the 1st Congressional District GOP in April. He said his education in business, education, finance, and agriculture have given him the skills needed to represent the rural district, and those would be among his main areas of focus in St. Paul. Munson added that, “Health care is a very important issue in our district. The health care costs alone represent, for many people, over half their annual budget.”
Munson also claimed he would be a spending watchdog in St. Paul and said, “We need to make sure we’re responsible in what we take from the taxpayers, and that’s by reigning in spending. We need to make sure that government is doing only what’s necessary and required of government.”
Democrat Lake Crystal school social worker Melissa Wagner is a relative newcomer to politics and said she is, “Frustrated with the deadlock and the lack of forward momentum that we’re seeing in both our state and federal government. We need to start working together instead of picking sides and standing in our line in the sand and not being willing to put a toe over.”
Given the reason Munson’s possible predecessor stepped down, he said sexual impropriety at the Capitol is a problem that needs to be addressed. “Sexual harassment is a very serious issue, and we need to make sure it doesn’t have a place in the legislature,” he stated.
Wagner said during her time as a school social worker, it has been her responsibility to train students and staff in avoiding harassing behavior, and the state needs to do the same in the Capitol. She believes lawmakers need to realize that they are in a position of power, “And give more space and more respect to people that are dependent upon them for jobs and for getting their needs met. I think it really is a matter of holding one another accountable and until someone with equal power steps up and said, ‘This behavior is not acceptable,’ it’s not going to change.”
There is also a special election Monday in Senate District 54, which includes parts of southern Washington and northeastern Dakota counties. Dan Schoen also stepped down late last year amid claims of sexual harassment.
Wagner said she grew up on the family farm and continues to live there today, with her brother-in-law working the land. “Rural issues are very important for me,” she said, “I have good feedback for what it takes for a farm to be profitable.”
Having worked on his in-law’s farm, Munson said he would bring experience in agriculture to St. Paul. “Farmers face enormous regulations; they put themselves in financial risk every year. We need to ensure farmers can go about their business without the burdensome regulations put on by the state government,” he said.
Munson said healthcare coverage is only one aspect of spiraling medical costs, and he would advocate for price transparency in health care as well. He said, “When you go into the doctor for an office visit or a test they don’t tell you what things cost, and when you as the question they either say, ‘Well, you have insurance,’ or, ‘We don’t know. You’ll find out in a month.’”
Wagner would call for more transparency in the Minnesota budgeting process overall and to see the state reveal, “Who is truly getting tax breaks? Is it our middle class and our working class that are benefiting from that? Or are we creating banks that are really going to benefit corporations, that are going to take too much money out of the things we really need to spend money on, such as roads, our local towns and Local Government Aid?”
When it comes to education funding in Minnesota, Wagner said it is falling short and money to pay for mental health and other supportive services needs to be increased. She explained, “I have a real passion for helping kids be successful in school and I’ve just seen how we’ve slowly stripped away funding to schools, and so a lot of those supportive services have really disappeared off the table.”
However, Munson believes that it should not be up to state lawmakers to decide how local schools deliver a quality education to their students and he, “Would like to empower the local school boards and the parents to decide the curriculum for the students in their school. Every school has unique needs, and I don’t believe in a state mandate on a program which the school should follow.”
Polling places will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Monday.