Senate 25: The state's education gap, conversion therapy and ranked choice voting

Senate District 25: GOP Sen. Dave Senjem and DFL challenger Sara Flick

Dave Senjem and Sara Flick.jpg
Sen. Dave Senjem and Sara Flick

GOP Sen. Dave Senjem and DFL challenger Sara Flick, candidate for Minnesota Senate District 25, clashed on a range of issues and offered different prescriptions on various issues, from solving its educational ills to ranked choice voting and the banning of conversion therapy, during a forum Wednesday.

Ranked choice voting

Flick, a working mom making her first bid for the state Senate, said she supported a bill that would allow municipalities to use ranked choice voting.

"What ranked choice voting allows for is a more democratic process," Flick said," because a candidate can't just appeal to their base. I think it makes for more substantive campaigning."

But Senjem, a five-term state Senator, said he opposed ranked choice voting because it violated a fundamental democratic principle: If an elected official is going to tax or regulate a community, "you ought to be elected by 50 percent plus one."


"I also think it's confusing," Senjem said, noting that there are scenarios in which the third-place winner of first-choice votes can end up the winner. "In the procedures of voting, I think ranked choice voting is terribly overcomplicated."

Ranked-choice voting is a system that allows people to vote for multiple candidates in order of their preference, first, second, and third. The candidate with the majority (more than 50 percent) of first-choice votes wins outright. But if no candidates hits that majority, a new counting process is triggered. The candidate who did the worst is eliminated, and that candidate's voters' ballots are redistributed to their second-pick.

The process is repeated until a candidate reaches the majority of votes.

Flick disagreed with Senjem's critique, saying ranked choice voting's objective is "50 percent plus." Under the current system, Flick noted, a primary race in which four candidates run can lead to a winner with less than 50 percent of the vote.

Education gap

Senjem called the state's education gap in terms of academic performance and graduations a "moral crisis of our state." Inner-city schools with graduation rates of 40 percent is "just deplorable, and it's on us." One idea that has proven successful in improving student engagement is apprenticeship programs, which are popular in Germany.

Students divide their week between school and working in a business or trade that interests them. Senjem noted that a group of visiting German parliamentarians met with local school officials last fall. When one school official asked the Germans about their graduation rates, "they couldn't understand it, because every student graduated."

Flick said more needs to be done in terms of funding schools. The state no longer funds public schools at levels that once put Minnesota "at the top of the country," pointing to a 13 percent drop in funding in real dollars since 2003. Flick said that more also needs to be done to raise the ratio between psychologists and students.


And programs that incentivize people of color to become teachers need to be prioritized. "We know that students do better when they have teachers that look like them.

Conversion therapy

The DFL has sought to ban conversion therapy, the practice of attempting to convert a gay person into a straight person.

Flick said she supported a ban, saying that experts "consider it barbaric."

"I don't think it has any place in our state," Flick said. "It's not reflective of who we are. Experts have shown us this is a harmful practice."

Senjem said that he voted against the ban in a floor amendment. He said he doesn't necessarily agree with the practice. On the other hand, the Legislature should not guide medical decisions.

"I think we need to stay out of the doctor's office as much as possible," he said.

All 134 state House and 67 Senate seats are up for grabs this November. The election is set for Nov. 3, but early voting began Sept. 18.

Matthew Stolle has been a Post Bulletin reporter since 2000 and covered many of the beats that make up a newsroom. In his first several years, he covered K-12 education and higher education in Rochester before shifting to politics. He has also been a features writer. Today, Matt jumps from beat to beat, depending on what his editor and the Rochester area are producing in terms of news. Readers can reach Matthew at 507-281-7415 or
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