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Patrick Rosenquist, candidate for GF County Commission

Interview with Patrick Rosenquist, one of eight candidates for two seats on the Grand Forks County Commission. Q. Tell us about yourself. A. I'm from Grand Forks. I went to Grand Forks Central High School, graduated in 2000. I grew up in Rye Town...

Interview with Patrick Rosenquist, one of eight candidates for two seats on the Grand Forks County Commission.

Q. Tell us about yourself.

A. I'm from Grand Forks. I went to Grand Forks Central High School, graduated in 2000. I grew up in Rye Township off of County Road 5 up by the airport there. Before that, my family lived on 12th Avenue North over by Lake Agassiz Elementary School.

Q. Did you get flooded out?

A. No, actually, we moved out into the country after my dad graduated from law school. During the 1997 flood, my dad used to be a police officer here, and we had a handful of police officers staying with us. So, it was pretty interesting times. We didn't get flooded out, but I was definitely moving furniture out of my aunt's basement apartment and sandbagging until the wee hours of the morning.

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Q. Your father was a Grand Forks police officer?

A. Yes, I believe he was a police officer here for about a year and a half before he went to law school. He practices here in town; he's right over there on North 3rd with Joel Arneson.

Q. You're just finishing up your first year at UND Law School. How did your own interest in law come about?

A. I went to the University of St. Thomas for college, and got involved in political science. There were very interesting things going on over there: Jesse Ventura, Paul Wellstone, Walter Mondale, Tim Pawlenty and Norm Coleman came to campus: It was just a very politically active area.

So, I got involved in politics. I graduated in 2004, then came back here and did some work with some campaigns. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee was kind enough to let me go down to Watertown, S.D., to work for Stephanie Herseth during her campaign for the House.

Then I came back up here. I worked with my dad; after awhile, I worked over at Grand Forks County Juvenile Detention for a time until they gave me a full-time position as an adult corrections officer at the Grand Forks County Jail. I worked there for about a year.

Q. As a guard? What was that like?

A. It was by far the most interesting job I've ever had.

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After working there, there is not a single, solitary doubt in my mind that we needed a new jail. We were in the old facility. It was extraordinarily overcrowded. It was easier for the inmates to get into trouble -- you know, flood things ... There wasn't enough room to move about or keep active; that's kind of important when you're incarcerated, to keep your mind active so that -- well, so that things don't brew.

Q. One argument against the new jail, besides its being expensive, was that jail is supposed to be unpleasant in those kinds of ways. You know, "They shouldn't have broken the law in the first place. Lock 'em up, who cares." What do you think?

A. To a point. If someone needs to be incarcerated, they need to be incarcerated. However, there were some units that were no bigger than somebody's bedroom, and at a given time, there were six or seven people in there.

And we had to keep it that way. The sad reality of a jail environment is that you have to keep certain populations segregated from others. You couldn't keep sexual offenders in with your run-of-the-mill misdemeanors, bail jumpers, didn't-pay-my-fines people. Sometimes, you can't put Native Americans with Caucasian people. I mean, it's just the sad reality of the situation.

We definitely needed more room. I just think that the way they went about it could have been handled better.

Q. You must have been there at about the time the new jail was being discussed.

A. Yes. You'd see the commissioners walk through the jail with Gary Gardner, the administrator, from time to time. You kind of just wanted to be a fly on the wall to hear what they were saying.

But given that situation, if you point a finger at someone (for the money problems at the new jail), there are three pointing back at yourself. I can't sit here and speculate or make accusations; but, if there's validity to the rumor that the federal government offered to build us a facility after the flood for the low, low price of $1, then maybe we should have taken them up on that offer rather than spend $16 million on a facility, even if we had to house inmates for free for five years. I can't sit here and say that actually happened, but somebody would have to have had pretty extreme malice just to generate that rumor out of thin air.

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It's great now that the jail is generating some sort of revenue. We have a new opportunity here with the new jail administrator, who I think is doing a phenomenal job, to procure funds from those federal agencies that are sending their prisoners to our jail so that we can relieve the burden on Grand Forks County homeowners.

I was talking to a corrections officer the other day, and the good news is that not only is revenue coming in, but also morale is at a high. That's a good trend and something that we need to continue.

I know Linda Wagner -- Capt. Wagner -- over there is doing a phenomenal job. The lieutenants and sergeants whom I worked for are phenomenal people and are doing a great job. The whole staff -- they work hard and they do deserve the best facility. But we need to have some fiscal responsibility in how we pay for it.

Q. So, if you were elected, what would be your proposal for how to do that?

A. I'm not sure we're going to get a home-rule charter. That's going to be up to the voters of Grand Forks County.

But I do believe it's something that we need.

However: If the county is going to use it as an excuse to introduce a 1 percent sales tax, then at the same time, you've got to say, OK. We're going to have the jail paid for in four years. Now, is it going to be a situation where it's bought and paid for after those years, but we keep the tax? Or are we going to make sure we do away with it?

If we do introduce the tax, then after four years, in my view, it's got to be pulled back. I'm still not a fan of it; but if the vote does go in favor of the tax, then at the end of four years, it's got to go.

Lloyd Omdahl says that the home-rule charter and the sales tax are not connected; but the reality of the situation is that they are, whether he likes to think so or not.

Q. Why are you running for office now rather than, say, when you graduate from law school? And why the County Commission?

A. Well, I am taking three classes this summer to make sure that I'll have the time available.

The reason I'm running is that the decisions that will be made are going to affect me; they're going to affect my family; they're going to affect my friends. And over the next 20 years, I'm going to be here and I'm going to be paying for the decisions by the county, the city and the other entities.

And when I look at the County Commission right now, they don't have any sort of diversity to them. It seems to be a general demographic there; it's kind of always been the same people.

It couldn't hurt to inject some new blood, new life and new people into the County Commission. And give somebody else an opportunity to say, "Hey, I have a new way of looking at things. I'm going to be looking at it from the view of someone in that demographic of their late 20s or early 30s, who's looking to buy a house and stay here. There are not a lot of people in government who are in my situation right now, and I'd like to change that.

Grand Forks doesn't have to be a place where people migrate away from -- especially young people. I think we need to repair that relationship between UND and the surrounding community. I think we need to strengthen it and we need to keep young people from leaving.

It's great that we have LM Glasfiber here. It's great that we have Cirrus. But at the same time, where are the young professional jobs for our young people? There are plenty of industrial jobs, but we have a top-notch research university here. There should be a stronger employment base for young professionals, too.

Q. How could the County Commission go about doing that?

A. The only way I could see it happening is if we took a stronger look at how we spend our money. If the state Legislature says we can use close to $700,000 for economic and job development, then we should figure out how to make that happen. But when we're maxing out our mill levy to house inmates, that's not the best way to do it.

I was trying to look at the budget on the county's Web site, and I couldn't really interpret what I saw. So, we need to open up the county's books in a way that's easy for people to understand and see if there are changes that can be made.

Q. Getting back for a minute to your prison work: Did you go into that position with one philosophy of criminal justice and then come out with another one? How did your thinking change while you were there?

A. You kind of go in to a job like that with the mindset of, "Hey, I'm going to make a difference. I'm going to generate a little rapport with the inmates, but still keep my distance, keep myself safe." Unfortunately, it doesn't necessarily work that way. You do develop a certain degree of cynicism about the way the world works and the human condition.

Q. A jail that size probably doesn't engage in too much in the way of rehabilitation. Your thoughts on the old question of rehabilitation vs. punishment?

A. I hope it has changed in the new facility. But in the old one, there was very little counseling going on. The ministers, pastors and priests who are supposed to be there on a Sunday, I might have seen once or twice on a Sunday during the whole time I was there -- and once was over Christmas.

The thing people need to realize is that these inmates are the same people who are going to be out in the community once again. When you work there, you do develop that certain degree of cynicism that says, "Hey. These people are here to be punished, not rehabilitated." But when they're bound up that tightly and there's no opportunity for them to better themselves ... I like to think that certain people can be rehabilitated, and we should provide programs and opportunities for them to do so.

Q. Did you go in conservative and come out liberal or anything like that?

A. I guess I subscribe to more of a left-moderate viewpoint in general ... and it might have been a little bit left of left-moderate when I went in. It had moved more toward the center when I was done. It's kind of like the old adage, "If you're not a liberal when you're in college, you don't have a heart; if you're not conservative when you own a house, you don't have a brain." (Laughs).

I'm a Democrat, pretty moderate and pretty happy where I'm at.

Q. One other county item that's of interest these days is the city's four-mile extraterritorial zoning jurisdiction. Any thoughts on the complaints of residents that they don't have any say in city issues?

A. I was not a city resident for most of my life. We lived in Rye Township. Now, I'm a city resident, but the rural area is still important to me.

So, it's important that the city doesn't run roughshod over the county. There needs to be a little forceful advocacy on the county's part for residents whose issues come before the city.

That being said, we need a place to put our garbage, which is what the landfill issue is all about. There are people who are going to be affected if they wind up with a landfill close to their property. Should they be compensated? I think we should work out an agreement with them. I think we should reach out to our out-of-city residents, talk to them and see if we can come to terms.

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