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House candidates talk health care, economic development

Questions about health care and rural economic development dominated at a Zumbrota candidate forum Monday night sponsored by Goodhue County veterans groups.

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The Goodhue County United Veterans Organization sponsored a political debate Monday evening at the Stary-Yerka VFW Post 5727 in Zumbrota. Front row, from left: Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, DFL opponent Lynn Schoen of Wabasha, Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Wabasha, and Mark Schneider, DFL-Plainview.

ZUMBROTA — Questions about health care and rural economic development dominated at a Zumbrota candidate forum Monday night sponsored by Goodhue County veterans groups.

More than 50 people turned out at the Stary-Yerka VFW Post to listen to 16 candidates running for federal, state and local offices. Much of the forum ended up focusing on candidates running for the Minnesota House.

They included Red Wing GOP Rep. Tim Kelly and his opponent, Wabasha DFLer Lynn Schoen. Also participating were Mazeppa Republican Rep. Steve Drazkowski and his opponent, Plainview DFLer Mark Schneider.

During the forum, the candidates were asked to weigh in on the state's health-insurance exchange, MNsure, and asked what could be done to keep the insurance rates from climbing after the recent announcement that PreferredOne was pulling out of the exchange.

Kelly told the crowd that it doesn't matter whether people support or oppose the Affordable Care Act. At this point, the state needs to figure out how to comply with it, and MNsure simply is not working.


"In my mind, we have to tear down MNsure," Kelly said.

His opponent disagreed. Schoen said MNsure certainly is not perfect, but it doesn't make sense to completely scrap it.

"When you spend the amount of money that we have spent so far, to throw the baby out with the bathwater would be irresponsible," she said.

Drazkowski said that before Obamacare passed, 93 percent of Minnesotans were already insured. He said this type of government-run health insurance system is the wrong way to go.

"This is not working. We've got to go a different direction. What do we do next? We have to find our way to back to discover the market forces that held things in check like the market does and government just cannot do," he said.

Schneider said the blame for soaring health insurance premiums does not rest with MNsure or the Affordable Care Act. The real culprit is the soaring rates of cancer as more people are exposed to toxic chemicals. He said the goal of the Affordable Care Act was to try cut down on costly emergency room visits.

"We're trying to eliminate the problem of the emergency room bill, which the taxpayer will foot," he said.

Candidates were also asked what could be done to help small businesses struggling to survive in rural Minnesota. Drazkowski said a key step would be reducing their tax burden. Specifically, he said the state needs to get rid of the statewide commercial/industrial property tax that these businesses have to pay.


"We need to stop the oppressive taxation we're placing on small business," he said.

Schneider said he is deeply concerned about the problems farmers and grain elevators are having trying to move their grain via the railroad. The boom in oil from North Dakota's Bakken region has made it more difficult to move Minnesota grain. If that problem isn't solved, he said some grain elevators will go out of business.

"The world of the railroad system is so over burdened with this Bakken oil. It's just a huge problem," Schneider said.

Schoen told the crowd that in order for small businesses to thrive, they have to provide a product that customers want and excellent customer service that sets them apart. It is also important for small communities to market themselves to help support their small businesses.

"We have to learn to market ourselves as an area, not just a business," she said.

Kelly said the best way to help small businesses in the state is to reverse the prevailing philosophy among politicians in St. Paul that raising taxes and spending more money is the best way to help the economy. Instead, he said Minnesota should be trying to improve its business climate by cutting taxes. That, in turn, will attract people to the state.

Kelly added, "The more jobs we create, the more revenue we put in our state coffers, and then we can fund everything we need to fund."

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