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WITH VIDEO: Duluth House candidates spar at forum

Opinions varied on what the state should do with a surplus of over $9 billion.

Five people sit behind microphones at a table on stage
News Tribune Editorial Page Editor Chuck Frederick, from left, moderates as candidates Becky Hall, Alicia Kozlowski, Rep. Liz Olson and Art Johnston participate in a forum in Duluth on Tuesday.
Wyatt Buckner / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — A slate of candidates looking to represent the city in the Minnesota House took the stage together Tuesday morning at a forum organized by the local Chamber of Commerce and the News Tribune.

DFL incumbent Rep. Liz Olson touted her record: “I spearheaded nation-leading legislation on the opioid epidemic, which has brought millions of dollars into our own community to combat that crisis.”

She also took credit for helping to bring forward state funding for important local projects, such as seawall repairs that she said “are putting people to work and making our community better.

However, Art Johnston, her Republican challenger for the District 8A seat, expressed concern about the state’s current path.

“We all know that inflation is hyper, and we have to do something. And why is there inflation? Because of the DFL policies on energy and mining,” he said.

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Johnston went on to say: “I think the Democratic Party has lost their way. They went from pro-choice to pro-abortion. And I think when the Democratic party can’t even define what a woman is, we have problems. It’s time to change.”
Becky Hall, who is running for the open House 8B seat currently held by Jen Schultz, suggested state spending is out of control.

“My question to you is: How much more in your family budget do you have to send to the state for unnecessary programs that make it difficult for us to be able to afford to live in Minnesota and Duluth?” she said to the audience.

Hall said: “State government is and should be pretty simple. It should help you and me, as citizens, lead better, safer, healthier lives. It should provide roads and other infrastructure. And it should do so while taking as few of our tax dollars as possible.”

Alicia Kozlowski, who is running for 8B on the DFL ticket, said: “Against all odds, I’m here as a dealer of hope, as a Latinx, Ojibwe, gender-nonconforming person, it is that ember that burns inside of me that knows that not just one person can rise, that we all can rise together.”

Kozlowski said the pending election represents an important decision for voters.

“The stakes are really high, and we know that affordable housing, infrastructure and jobs, an inclusive economy, reproductive freedom, LGBTQ rights, these things are what’s at stake and on the ballot,” she said.

Speaking of the over $9 billion surplus the state of Minnesota has accumulated, Olson said the House had hoped to put much of that money to work.

“It was clear, with the surplus, that this was a great time to invest in our communities,” she said. But the House was unable to get the Republican-led Senate to agree to a bonding bill.

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“We fought to get those bills across the finish line, because we know Minnesotans care deeply about how we invest in each other,” Olson said, noting that she did, however, help to negotiate a $96 million package to address mental health needs.

Johnston blamed the gridlock on Gov. Tim Walz’s refusal to negotiate on COVID-19 masking rules and other pandemic policies.

“We have a $9 billion surplus out of about a $70 billion budget. So, clearly our taxes are too high. We have to look at that,” he said.

Hall expressed a similar sentiment.

“I look at that $9 billion tax surplus and that tells me that Minnesotans are overtaxed," she said. "We are already one of the highest-taxed states in the union. When I look at that $9 billion, I think it should go back to the taxpayers.”

Kozlowski said she would try to work across party lines to make vital investments.

“The reality is that we had a more-than-$9 billion surplus, and we didn’t come out with housing, a bonding bill and so many other critical things … that people need desperately,” she said.

Peter Passi covers city government for the Duluth News Tribune. He joined the paper in April 2000, initially as a business reporter but has worked a number of beats through the years.
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