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WITH VIDEO: House 3B challenger questions value of Hermantown lawmaker's lengthy tenure

Candidates disagreed during a forum Tuesday about whether term limits are a good idea.

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Natalie Zeleznikar, left, and District 3B Rep. Mary Murphy.
Wyatt Buckner / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — Minnesota House District 3B Rep. Mary Murphy, DFL-Hermantown, is the longest-serving legislator still in office, and her Republican challenger, Natalie Zeleznikar, of Duluth, doesn’t view that as much of a plus.

“Last election cycle, Mary asked for your vote one more time, and it has led to 46 years,” Zeleznikar said at candidate forum Tuesday hosted by the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce and Duluth News Tribune. “I’m all for term limits,” she said, pledging to serve no longer than 10 years if elected to office.

Murphy questioned Zeliznikar’s assertion that she had sought only one more term last election and defended her decision to run again, noting that Northeastern Minnesota already was losing 76 years of legislative experience with the departures of Rep. Jen Schultz, Sen. Tom Bakk, Mike Sundin and the death of Sen. David Tomassoni.

“Do we want to add another 46 years of experience to that?” she asked. “Let me tell you, experience counts and seniority counts in the Legislature.”

“I love the job. I do a good job, and I’m willing to work for every single minute of each day that’s necessary to get the right answers," said Murphy, a retired teacher of 36 years.

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Zeleznikar talked up her qualifications as a nursing home administrator and owner of an assisted living facility.

“I want to serve the people. I built a business. I’ve been an entrepreneur," she said. “I want to make a difference. I’ve led, and I can lead for Minnesota."

To improve election security, Zeleznikar continues to call for the creation of a voter photo identification card, saying: “Voter ID solves the problem.”

Murphy questioned whether there really is a problem with the status quo with elections. “I think Minnesota has a record of reliability and good government. The local election judges are our friends and neighbors, and I’m comfortable with the leadership of Secretary of State Steve Simon,” she said.

Zeleznikar called for closer oversight of government spending, citing the recent alleged recent $250 million fraud involving a group called Feeding our Future that purported to use government aid to feed hungry schoolchildren.

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“We all feel the pain and the gas pump, buying groceries, heating our homes, paying higher rents, lack of child care, skyrocketing home values. And our kids deserve programs to close the gap in learning, following a loss of in-school learning,” Zeleznikar said, noting that $250 million could have gone a long way toward meeting that pandemic need.

Murphy said her faith in the ability of the state to address residents’ needs remains strong, tracing that conviction back to the days of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal, which led to the construction of the Hermantown home she has lived in all her life.

“I grew up being told and believing that government is a good thing. Government helps people,” 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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