The local state representatives, along with county commission candidates and sheriff candidates participated in voter forums last Thursday at the Moorhead library.
House District 4A Rep. Ben Lien and House District 4B Rep. Paul Marquart, both DFLers, shared their views at the forum, which was sponsored by the League of Women Voters of the Red River Valley, a non-partisan, non-profit organization.
Later, District 4 Commission candidates Kevin Campbell, a four-term incumbent, faced off against Mari Dailey, a one-term Ward 1 Moorhead city council member and DGF seventh grade history teacher. Although she is running unopposed in District 3, one-term commission incumbent and county commission chairwoman Jenny Mongeau also participated.
At the same forum, sheriff candidates Lt. Mark Empting, a 16-year veteran of the department and Dilworth Fire Chief, and Deputy Scott Steffes, who has been with the sheriff’s department for 25 years and also serves as chairman of the Moorhead School Board, fielded questions submitted by the audience.
State legislators’ races
Neither Lien’s Republican opponent Jordan Idso, who said he was home ill, nor Marquart’s Republican opponent Jason Peterson participated in the voter forum.
Idso had his campaign manager Amanda Brandenburger read a statement on his behalf.
“Moorhead is our first priority,” she said. “Before the state and even before the party, there’s Moorhead.”
Too many officials, she said, put party before policies that benefit their districts.
“We must restore common sense and reorganize our priorities,” she said.
Peterson did not provide a statement.
Lien, who is running for a fourth term and represents Moorhead and Oakport Township, pointed to his success securing the 20/21 Street underpass project funding, flood mitigation and border cities legislation.
“My goal is to make Moorhead as strong as possible and to put Moorhead in the best position possible for future growth.”
Marquart, who is running for his 10th term and represents the rest of Clay County, Norman County and Detroit Lakes, said the state needs to focus on education, infrastructure, reducing taxes, providing affordable health care and taking care of veterans and senior citizens.
“My commitment has always been putting rural Minnesota first,” he said.
Both candidates said they support legislation that would extend property tax relief for veterans to surviving spouses and both said prison system reform starts with making sure the mental health needs of inmates is addressed.
Lien and Marquart said the updated F-M Diversion plan is much improved from the original.
“I think it’s moving in the right direction,” Lien said. “The bottom line is, the diversion is going to be the best thing to provide long-term flood protection.”
Marquart said “plan B, although not perfect, is a much better plan,” adding those impacted upstream need to have fair and just compensation.
Next year, Marquart and Lien said, the state should pass a robust bonding bill that includes money for local higher education needs and a Clay County waste transfer facility.
“I think we really need to prioritize any spending in the next year on building Minnesota’s economy,” Lien said.
Marquart said next year’s projected budget surplus should go to education, higher education, healthcare, increased local government aid and tax cuts.
“We need to take a balanced approach,” he said.
County sheriff’s race
At the beginning of the forum, Empting and Steffes were asked about disciplinary action during their careers.
Though he declined to get into specifics, Empting, who received the endorsement of outgoing Sheriff Bill Bergquist, has previously admitted to having sex with a woman while on duty 20 years ago as a Dilworth cop.
“I learned my lessons from it,” he said. “My mistakes don’t define who I am, how I handle my mistakes define who I am. It’s made me a better person … I hope that doesn’t weigh on anybody’s mind at this point.”
Steffes received a two-day suspension in 2004 from Bergquist due to what has been described as productivity concerns.
At the forum, Steffes described that time as a stressful and busy period of his life.
“Every single evaluation I’ve had since the time of my suspension has been perfect,” he said.
One audience member asked about how the sheriff candidates would ensure schools are safe.
Steffes and Empting said they would make sure schools had safe entrances and would hire more school resource officers.
“I think it’s vitally important that we expand our program,” Empting said.
Steffes said he’d like to add another canine unit the department to tackle the opioid crisis, while Empting said parole officers, corrections officers, deputies, county attorneys, commissioners and others need to team up for a comprehensive approach to address the issue.
When it comes to priorities once taking office, Empting said he the first goal would be to reshuffle administrative staff. He said he would also focus on reducing drug and gang violence in the county.
Steffes said he would sit down with administrative staff and other sheriff’s department employees to identify goals and other things that need improvement.
County commission races
All three candidates agreed that the opioid epidemic needs to be addressed at a county level.
“This is a very serious and difficult problem to fight,” said Campbell, whose District 4 includes north Moorhead, a slice of south Moorhead, Oakport and Kragnes Township. He added that the county needs to maintain a robust gang task force.
Dailey said she supported expanding the DARE program to bring it into the middle schools.
“We need to help the addicts and get the dealers out of here,” she said.
The candidates said the county needs to do what it can to improve mental health services.
“We need to be more accepting of those with mental health problems, we need to support them … We need to help them,” Campbell said.
The county needs to help break the cycle and intervene at a younger age, Dailey said.
“We’ve got some great resources in Clay County, we need to make sure people are aware of them,” she said.
Mongeau, whose district includes part of south Moorhead and most of southern Clay County, said the county does a lot for those with mental health, but it could still improve services.
“We need to advocate for more state funding,” she said. “It’s a crisis statewide.”
Dailey said her top priority would be to develop a sustainable budget. She said she’d also work to expand mental health services.
The top priority for Mongeau would be to address the tax burden for county residents, she said. She said she’d also work on the county worker crisis.
“We need to look critically at how we recruit people to work in Clay County,” she said.
Campbell said he’d continue to prioritize keeping property taxes low and would work on permanent flood protection.