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Where local state house candidates stand on healthcare, wages, state spending

(From left) Kelly Fenton, Steve Sandell, Andy Turonie and Tou Xiong

Four candidates for state representative, two for District 53A and two for District 53B, participated in a forum hosted by the Woodbury Area Chamber of Commerce, where they sounded off on a variety of issues from small businesses to education.

Andy Turonie and Tou Xiong are running to fill the District 53A seat, which covers more than 22,000 Woodbury residents, as well as Landfall and parts of Maplewood and Oakdale. Rep. Kelly Fenton is running for her third term against newcomer Steve Sandell in District 53B, which covers nearly 40,000 Woodbury residents.

Here's a snapshot of the positions candidates voiced at the Oct. 3 forum:

What steps would you take to engage other legislators in collaboration and compromise as you develop and present your proposals or bills?

Turonie: When somebody comes to him with an issue, he answers, 'What does that mean to you?' "As a legislator, you need to listen to people who are impacted" by policies, he said. "If you combine the numbers and the stories, that's a pretty good way to do it."

Xiong: One of key things he said he's learned working in state legislature as a staffer is the importance of good communication, setting reasonable expectations and being clear about what you're pushing for. He encouraged people to contact him at any time and ask questions.

Fenton: "When I was elected four years ago, one of the first goals that I set for myself was to listen to ideas from everybody, regardless of what party they were from and to work across the aisle." She knows everyone is not going to agree on all issues, but said there are many things they do agree on. She said she has earned a reputation of working across the aisle, noting that Gov. Mark Dayton signed four of her bills in past year that have wide bipartisan support.

Sandell: When he worked as the head of education at the Minnesota Historical Society, he had to learn about communication and collaboration through writing a history of the state for children. He said that during the process he met with teachers across the state, talked to parents and had conversations with people who had been involved in that history.

Do you support legislation prohibiting local governments from mandating private sector employers paying certain wages and benefits? Why or why not?

Turonie: "I don't like a lot of legislation that prohibits anything, but in general, I'll phrase it this way: Would I oppose any legislation that mandated a certain wage or certain benefits? Yes, I would."

Xiong: As a current Maplewood City Council member, he said they don't like getting mandates from the state — different cities have different needs, so it should be left to local governments to decide for themselves.

Fenton: "If we place too many mandates on our small and large businesses, many of which already have a very small margin of profit, then that's damaging." She said she advocates for tax relief for small businesses so they can keep more of their profits and pay employees higher wages.

Sandell: Noting the recent news about Amazon raising warehouse workers' wages to $15 per hour, he said that local and state governments should work with private companies to create better wages and benefits for employees.

In your opinion, what are the top issues facing businesses today, and how would you propose to elevate some of those challenges?

Turonie: During his day job selling software to colleges, this is an issue he hears every day from instructors. He said the private sector can't get enough of kids from technical colleges. "We have to stop stigmatizing two-year degrees. We need a labor force that has skills." He also noted health care costs, which he said are becoming a larger part of business owners' expenses.

Xiong: With three sisters and three brother-in-laws who are small-business owners, he said he thinks finding enough skilled workers to fill positions, financing for businesses, and support for things like accounting, bookkeeping and licensing are the biggest issues at the moment.

Fenton: Top issues include more jobs available than job seekers, the cost of health care and mandates to employers, and high taxes. She wants to encourage options other than four-year college degrees, such as trade schools and other training, especially in current areas of need in the job market. She also said she wants to increase innovation in the long term for problems we don't even know exist yet.

Sandell: Top issues include workforce development and having enough skilled workers for employers like nursing homes, solid education and health care for employees, and the development of technology, including the need to invest in research and development that will help small businesses.

What are your top three initiatives, should you win?

Turonie:

• A responsible state budget: spending is higher than growth, could be more responsible by focusing on roads and bridges rather than light rail, for example

• Keeping state government accountable

• Making government local: for example, the state should stay out of health care

Xiong:

• Education, especially higher education: working with labor unions to get more trade jobs and more opportunities other than four-year degrees

• A long-term solution for health care

• Economic opportunities for all Minnesotans: helping small businesses start up, supporting women- and minority-owned businesses

Fenton:

• Working with the new governor on tax conformity and reducing the state income tax

• Continuing to lower the cost of health care in the state

• Strengthening the 3M settlement bill for the East Metro

Sandell:

• Returning government to the people and make sure state representatives recognize that constituents are their most important audience

• Need to make sure that adequate education and health care is accessible to all Minnesotans

• Encouraging entrepreneurship in small businesses and corporations in Woodbury and the East Metro

Hannah Black

Hannah Black is a graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism interested in the intersection of politics and the everyday lives of citizens. Outside of reporting, she enjoys running, going to museums and concerts, and trying new coffee shops and breweries. Her favorite thing to do is spend time with her dog, Wendell.

(651) 319-4502
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