Several candidates running for office in Minnesota's District 1 cite a desire to preserve rural Minnesota interests if elected to the state Legislature.
Overall, six candidates are running for three spots in the district. Noteworthy is the absence of Dan Fabien, a Republican from Roseau who has held a House seat for the past decade is not running for reelection this year.
In the Senate, incumbent Mark Johnson, R-East Grand Forks, is seeking his second term in the district, which covers Polk, Red Lake, Pennington, Marshall, Kittson and Roseau counties. It will be a two-year term for the victor, as Minnesota senators serve that long in election years ending in zero to allow for the redistricting process that comes about from the United States Census. Johnson is defending his Senate seat against fellow East Grand Forks resident Reed Perkins, DFL.
District 1 also has two separate House races. In District 1A, John Burkel, a Republican from Badger, is facing Connie Lindstrom, DFL-Hallock. Both are newcomers, hoping to fill the seat left open by Fabien.
In District 1B, Cindy Ansbacher, DFL-Crookston, is hoping to unseat Republican incumbent Debra Kiel, of rural Crookston.
Following is a look at the candidates and their platforms, in alphabetical order.
Johnson, a Republican, first elected to the senate in 2016, is a UND-educated lawyer who runs a law firm in East Grand Forks with his wife, Skyler. They focus on estate planning and working with small businesses. The Mentor, Minn., native also works with his father’s concrete business. The Johnsons have three children.
For Johnson, the biggest issue is an upcoming budget shortfall in the state because of the coronavirus pandemic. Rural and metro areas, he said, have “vastly different ideas” on how to fund education, transportation, courts and law enforcement.
“This year more than ever, you see the difference between the metro agenda and the rural agenda,” Johnson said, adding that he feels he can speak well for his district since he has spent most of his life there. He said he is “steeped” in the values of the region, from agriculture to industry.
Johnson doesn’t feel he is representing constituents as much as families and fellow community members. He said he has developed a relationship of trust with people in the district and he considers that to be his biggest accomplishment, along with previous bonding bills and legislation aimed at fostering industry in northwest Minnesota. To that end, Johnson said he will advocate for the Enbridge Line 3 replacement project.
That relationship of trust, Johnson says, is why people should re-elect him to the state Senate. He refers to himself as a “regular Joe” who has developed relationships across the district with agricultural and industry groups, and he said people should feel comfortable calling on him.
“It's really been a very good dialogue between me and them, so I've really enjoyed the fruits of those relationships,” Johnson said.
Perkins, DFL, grew up south of Minneapolis in the Farmington/Apple Valley area. He is a science teacher who holds a bachelor’s degree in biology and a master’s degree in teaching. His wife, Betsy, also from Minnesota, is a captain in the U.S. Air Force, finishing her military career at Grand Forks Air Force Base. Together they have two children.
Perkins told the Herald he is running for the Senate seat in order to give back to the state that he believes set him up for success in his life. This will be the first time he has sought to hold elected office.
“I really feel like I got a leg up because of what Minnesota offered me,” Perkins said. “Now that I'm back, I want to try to make certain that everybody, including my own two girls, gets that same sort of boost that I feel I got.”
Perkins said that if he is elected, he will make rural health care issues a priority, including access and affordability to services. He is campaigning to make sure rural voices are heard in the health care conversation.
Also, Perkins said rural areas are lacking child care facilities, which means some couples are forced to delay having children. Doing so, he said, can mean giving up a career.
With agricultural policy, Perkins said there is plenty of assistance for farmers, but it mostly is going to multinational companies, rather than to family farms. When an independent farmer applies for assistance, the programs are often overly complicated and burdensome, he said.
If elected, Perkins said he will look to expert advice on policy decisions. He told the Herald he has been a full-time candidate since June, though the pandemic has disrupted going door to door. One of his strengths, he said, is reaching out to people, even if they don't agree with him.
“If I happen to win this race and I've only talked to people who are for sure going to vote for me, I've set myself up for failure,” he said. “There's no way that you can be a successful representative if you only talk to people who already agree with you.”
Two challengers are vying for the House seat after incumbent Rep. Dan Fabian, R-Roseau, announced in March he would not seek re-election. Fabian has held the seat since 2010.
Originally from Greenbush, Minn., Republican John Burkel lives in Badger, where his family has raised turkeys for four generations. Burkel serves on the Northern Pride Board of Directors, the turkey processing plant in Thief River Falls, with the last five years as chairman. He has served on the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association and on the National Turkey Federation. This is his first run for elected office. He and his wife, Joni, have five children.
Burkel, who said he was approached to run by Fabian, is campaigning on a platform of restoring economic growth to the district, as well as loosening regulations that he says “strangle” farmers. Those issues include buffer strips – vegetative swaths up to 50 feet wide required to be along lakes and rivers – and farm predation issues.
“My initial reason for running was getting the government out of the way so people can be empowered to grow,” Burkel said.
Burkel said he is a “strong” anti-abortion candidate who wants to protect the Second Amendment. Declining enrollment at rural schools is also an issue Burkel said he wants to address, as well as preserving the rural way of life. He also wants to address rural property taxes.
Like other GOP candidates, Burkel is in favor of advancing work on the Enbridge Line 3 replacement project, something he said has been “needlessly delayed” by Gov. Tim Walz.
And Burkel said he wants to look closely at the law that gives the governor expanded authority when a peacetime emergency has been declared.
“Obviously, it's flawed, and it has left the Senate and the House in Minnesota neutered,” Burkel said.
Lindstrom, DFL, is a business analyst in the biofuels industry. She works with corn farmers, livestock producers and ethanol plants to improve their financial performance. She holds a master’s degree in business administration from UND. Lindstrom is from Austin, Minn., and lives in Hallock with her husband. This is her first time running for the Legislature.
Lindstrom said she is running to advocate for northwest Minnesota because of upcoming budget concerns that could affect the area.
“I think we're in danger of losing a lot of the services and schools and transportation infrastructure that we have here, and I'm concerned about that,” Lindstrom said. “I decided the best thing to do would be to throw my hat in the ring.”
Lindstrom is focusing her campaign around funding issues related to local governments and schools, which she said is necessary to keep smaller towns vital. Also, there are several road and bridge infrastructure projects that have been delayed to the point where she said they have become dangerous, or require farmers to drive out of their way to deliver crops or conduct business.
Lindstrom said she is “realistic” about her chances in the election, but noted she is not running against an incumbent, and prior to the last decade the area tended to vote Democratic.
If elected, Lindstrom said she will work on farm legislation that has not been successful in the past, including “right to repair” legislation.
“We need to ensure that independent repair shops and independent people are able to repair their own equipment,” she said. “They can't right now.”
Additionally, Lindstrom said she would work to address veteran’s issues, including an alternate judicial procedure for veterans who have had problems with the law due substance abuse connected to their service. Minnesota has a system for this already, Lindstrom said, but it hasn’t always been fully funded, and is not available in all judicial districts.
Ansbacher, DFL, is a retired nurse who since 2015 has been active in the Polk County DFL, where she has chaired precinct caucuses for the last two sessions. Originally from Minneapolis, she moved to Florida after getting married, and she worked there in nursing for 20 years. She returned to Minnesota in 2006 and lives in Crookston.
Ansbacher said she wants to bring her expertise as a surgical intensive care nurse to address issues in rural health care, including accessibility. In conversations with people in the district, Ansbacher said virtual health care meetings, which have become more common during the pandemic, have left some people behind. She also wants to focus on preventive care to help eliminate large hospital bills for people who have had a major medical problem.
“I want to make it possible for people to have access to health care that is affordable and accessible, because I know in our rural communities it's not always accessible,” Ansbacher said.
Ansbacher also said that in some communities, the demand for affordable childcare exceeds the available spaces, which is something she would like to address.
If elected, Ansbacher said she wants to pursue legislation to eliminate for-profit prisons, as well as Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centers. The Polk County Jail is listed by ICE as one of its detention centers.
“So many people have felonies and they're usually drug-related or DUI-related,” Ansbacher said. “I think there's a lot of incarceration of people (and) I asked, 'is that necessary?' Are we trying to fill up the prisons, or are we trying to get people off the street who are dangerous.”
Kiel, a Republican, has a family farm south of Crookston, where she farms with her husband, son and grandson. Kiel was first elected to the House seat in 2010. Previously, she served on the Crookston School Board. She and her husband have four children.
Kiel’s decade-long tenure in the Legislature has placed her in a leadership position, which she said would likely continue if she is reelected. She is running again, she said, because of her belief that it is important for people to serve in any capacity, whether that be state or local government.
“I really like to assess what I'm doing each time,” Kiel said. “It’s not just ‘Oh well, I can just run again, so I'll run again.’ I really want to make sure that I'm thinking about what it is that I'm trying to be effective with.”
Kiel said she has built up experience and knowledge on committees she serves, including agriculture, health and human services, and long-term care.
“I have really worked hard at making sure we protect our senior citizens, but in general just making sure that we are protecting people that are vulnerable,” Kiel said.
Kiel said the issue of protecting citizens has recently become a “lightning rod” in the state, after recent demonstrations at the capitol that resulted in extensive property damage. There is a feeling of fear in the state, she said, and added the role of government is not only to provide safe roads, but safety for state residents. Kiel said she will support law enforcement offices in providing that safety.