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Diesslin, Jacob assert policy positions on education, taxes during Monday's District 20B candidate forum

The two candidates, who have both served in elected office prior to running for the Minnesota Legislature, spoke to a wide range of policy issues at the Rochester Public Library Monday evening.

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DFL candidate Elise Diessel, left, and GOP candidate Steven Jacob participate in a Minnesota House District 20B candidate forum at Rochester Public Library on Monday, Sept. 19, 2022.
Dené K. Dryden / Post Bulletin
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ROCHESTER — In an hourlong forum Monday evening, candidates for Minnesota House District 20B fielded 19 questions and made their pitch to voters on why they should be elected come Nov. 8.

During the League of Women Voters' candidate forum in the Rochester Public Library's auditorium, DFL candidate Elise Diesslin and GOP candidate Steven Jacob agreed on one topic — when asked if Social Security payments should be taxed, both said no. But for most other questions, Jacob and Diesslin voiced different political views and priorities.

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"My main objective is I would like to represent and hear from all residents of my district," said Diesslin, who served on the Elgin City Council for four years and now works for the Mayo Clinic. "I would like to work across the aisle and be able to work not just within my own party but outside of my party."

"Once I'm elected to the Minnesota House, citizens of District 20B will have a proven conservative government watchdog in St. Paul," said Jacob, who currently serves on the Winona County Board of Commissioners. "I'm very proud of my work, and my goal is to downsize government and protect your rights."

A significant moment of tension between the candidates came more than halfway through the debate on the question, "What should the legislature's role be, if any, in determining school curriculum?" Diesslin answered first, emphasizing her experience as the child of two K-12 teachers.

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"I think public schools should be held to a certain standard, especially since they're public schools, but it shouldn't necessarily just be based on what the party in power thinks should happen," she said.

Jacob answered the question by referencing a sex education pamphlet that he said was recently given to ninth-grade students at a Winona County school. He did not name the specific school or the title of the pamphlet.

"So how these types of agendas are filtering into our public schools — that's a real problem," he said. "The constituents that I've talked to and the general public, they've made it clear that they want a choice of where their money is going to."

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Steven Jacob
Dené K. Dryden / Post Bulletin

Diesslin rebutted Jacob's response: "I know what you're talking about, and this is a pamphlet about comprehensive sex education. ... I think that's more than fair if you have comprehensive sex education, and it helps in all areas of life."

Jacob then rebutted Diesslin, saying as a county commissioner he voted to defund the organization that introduced the pamphlet and said the information provided on sexual orientation "wasn't appropriate for anyone."

Diesslin and Jacob answered a wide range of questions Monday evening:

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Elise Diesslin
Dené K. Dryden / Post Bulletin

  • When asked how to spend Minnesota's budget surplus, Jacob called for refunding the money to taxpayers and eliminating estate and Social Security taxes. "I see that as an overcollection, and it needs to go back to the people who paid it." Diesslin said the Legislature should look at aiding education and health care, two industries hit hard by COVID burnout and workforce shortages: "We need to give them relief for their years of service that they've done through this pandemic alone, and I think that we could redistribute funds that way."
  • On how the state can attract and retain teachers, Diesslin named fair compensation for educators and hiring extra staff to reduce class sizes as priorities. Jacob said he supports state funding for education to follow students whether they attend public, private, charter or home school.
  • When asked about legislative proposals to combat climate change, Diesslin said she supports updating the power grid in order to expand electric vehicle infrastructure in rural communities. Jacob doubted the notion of human-caused climate change and said, as a farmer, "I don't need a litany of government regulations to do the right thing."
  • On unions and right-to-work laws, Jacob called unions "one of the single biggest frustrations that have been dragging up taxes" during his time as a county commissioner, but he said he is willing to listen to both sides of the issue. Diesslin, who holds some endorsements from unions, said "unions are a huge backbone to our workforce in America, and we need to continue to support them."

The candidates are running to represent the newly redistricted area that wraps around Rochester to the north and east that includes the cities of Plainview, Elgin, Pine Island, Zumbrota, Eyota, St. Charles and Marion. Most of the new District 20B is currently represented by Rep. Steve Drazkowski, who is running for a Minnesota Senate seat .

Dené K. Dryden is the Post Bulletin's region reporter, covering the greater Rochester area. Before joining the Post Bulletin in 2022, she attended Kansas State University and served as an editor for the student newspaper, the Kansas State Collegian, and news director for Wildcat 91.9, K-State's student radio station. Readers can reach Dené at ddryden@postbulletin.com.
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