Question 1: Why are you running for election or re-election, and what sets you apart from the other candidates?
Judy Lee: Serving in the North Dakota Senate is a privilege, and my experience will be valuable in dealing with the issues facing the state during the next few years. As chair of the Senate Human Services committee, I know what challenges N.D. faces in providing services to vulnerable citizens. My years in business as well as my involvement with many not-for-profit groups has given me a broad base from which to draw when considering legislation affecting N.D. citizens.
Sylvan Loegering: I want to represent people who can't testify during legislative sessions. I will consider what each bill will do to the unheard citizens back home. The most obvious difference between me and my opponent is that I don't have years of partisan involvement and will bring a fresh view to the Senate. I will be like the "citizen legislators" of our country's early years. There are major policy differences between me and my opponent on reforming workers compensation.
Michael Halverson: West Fargo has been my home for 29 years and I have a good pulse on what the community expects from its leaders. It's a growing and changing community, but West Fargo still prides itself on the values on which it was founded. That is why my wife and I chose to buy a home in West Fargo. My ability to communicate effectively has provided me success in my professional career, and would easily translate to working in our state government.
Kim Koppelman: We need to do more, to keep North Dakota and West Fargo booming. We've seen North Dakota rise from a little known state to the envy of the nation. America knows about North Dakota's stability, growth, and prosperity. West Fargo is leading the way, as our fastest-growing city. My experience and leadership on the Judiciary (past Vice Chairman), Political Subdivisions, Constitutional Revision (Chairman), Appropriations, and Administrative Rules (Vice Chairman) Committees have benefited our district, our community, and our state. The opportunity to Chair the Council of State Governments two years ago was very important for North Dakota. We brought public officials from all corners of America to North Dakota for the First National Interbranch Summit of the States and legislators from 11 states to West Fargo. Leaders in all three branches of state government throughout the nation are now far more aware of North Dakota and look to us for leadership.
Mary Tintes: I'm running for the N.D. House of Representatives because I believe in a North Dakota where everyone has a chance for a better life, with opportunities for quality education, good-paying jobs, affordable health care and a safe and healthy environment. I understand the issues facing working families and small businesses because I've experienced those issues firsthand. I've been a farmer, small business owner, single parent, and a community leader. My life and work experience have given me the tools to be a common sense decision-maker and I'm prepared to put these skills to work for the citizens of my district and across the state.
Alon Wieland: I am running for the office because I believe that I have the best qualifications to represent both our district and our state. I have 20 years experience as a County Commissioner, and 8 years experience as a Legislator. I want to continue to help keep North Dakota on the path to solid growth with a balanced budget and limited government. I want to eliminate unnecessary regulation to help create good jobs for all North Dakotans as well. I have the life experience, the work experience, the education, and the common sense, along with the record to help provide good government for all of North Dakota.
Question 2: What is one legislative topic important to your constituency that you plan on impacting in the upcoming session?
Lee: Health care will be particularly important to me, because of my work on the Senate Human Services Committee, the past nine years as chair. North Dakota is working hard at providing access to health care for citizens throughout the state. More services are available to help the elderly and disabled remain in their homes. More children than ever have health insurance. We will have to address the new federal mandates in a fair and responsible manner.
Loegering: I will work to positively impact local taxes, flood control, infrastructure and health care. My greatest impact will probably be on workers compensation reform. I know the bills that have been already prepared and I have earned respect from current legislators, injured workers and WSI leadership. I want to make sure that employers paying premiums to care for injured workers get their money's worth. I will fight against fraud of all kinds in the system.
Halverson: If I am given the opportunity to represent West Fargo's District 13, I look forward to working tirelessly to help secure funding from the state to help pay for the massive cost of the permanent flood protection. The federal government has vowed to help, but it is not enough to pay for the project in its entirety.
Koppelman: Our political subdivisions make our district unique and I'll continue to work hard on their behalf. Our city (now the state's fifth largest) is next door to the state's largest city. That brings challenges, but we must also cooperate with our neighbors. I was pleased to recently guarantee faster ambulance response times for West Fargo, although they were proposed only for Fargo, because when it comes to life-saving services like these, our community should be second to none and city boundaries shouldn't endanger people. Our school district is one of the few which is growing. This is a good "problem" to have, but it resulted in an unfair loss in state funding, which I was pleased to minimize last session by securing additional funds for West Fargo schools. Because of our unique political subdivisions and their unique challenges, I've chosen to serve for many years on the Political Subdivisions Committee, and I'm pleased with our many accomplishments there. We must also work to reform the property tax system. Property taxes are too high and, while we have $300 million of property tax relief in place, a permanent solution is necessary.
Tintes: Public Education - encompassing a wide range of issues from adequate state funding for early childhood and K-12 education to control property taxes, investment in higher ed with incentives for graduates to live and work in North Dakota, to ensuring that educators have a secure compensation and benefit plan. Investing in our state's future is the No. 1 priority - education being just one of the most important investments we can make, along with flood protection, infrastructure improvements and long-term job creation.
Wieland: There are many topics that are important to our district, but I'll touch on just one. That topic is the water in the Devils Lake Basin that could come down the Sheyenne River. We are still in a wet cycle, and planning and action must be done for the strong possibility that Devils Lake water could come down the Sheyenne River uncontrolled. It is only five feet from happening, and we must not let the uncontrolled water out of the basin. Coupled with the Fargo Diversion, both study and action must be taken.
Question 3: What is your stance on the half-cent sales tax being proposed to help fund a Red River diversion as permanent Cass County flood protection?
Lee: I support the sales tax, because the flood protection will extend far beyond the limits of our current Sheyenne Diversion, and West Fargo will benefit from it, too. Over 60% of West Fargo residents work in Fargo, so even though our homes might not be flooded, our ability to earn a living could be affected. There is an economic impact to closed businesses also. I am particularly pleased that Cass County is implementing it, rather than the city of Fargo, because citizens from throughout the county will be affected in many ways by the project, no matter what form it takes. It is much better to implement a sales tax and begin raising the money needed at this time, rather than borrowing through bonding and having to pay interest on that money which later would be paid through special assessments.
Loegering: Cass County needs permanent flood protection. Uses for proposed sales tax revenue are not limited to diversion. It could provide a cushion for potential flood reduction and recovery until permanent protection is available. It could also be accumulated until permanent protection is finally accomplished and, potentially, avoid interest costs on bonds. Released studies indicate the typical annual cost per household is under $50. I will vote "yes" on the sales tax.
Halverson: I support the half-cent increase, because the region is facing a very extensive and expensive project. I think it's very important that we start the process of securing funds to pay for this highly needed protection. I do not want the hardworking residents of West Fargo and Cass County to be burdened with special assessments to pay for the project.
Koppelman: It's not my place, as a State Legislator, to tell voters how to vote on a local tax. That's their decision. On the broader issue of flood control, West Fargo certainly understands the benefit and importance of a diversion. We've paid for our local flood protection without help from Fargo. As I stated earlier, however, we must cooperate with neighbors and we certainly understand the devastation Fargo has recently suffered from Red River flooding. In fact, many of our residents have been on the front lines, helping their Fargo neighbors sandbag to protect their homes and businesses. Perhaps a more appropriate issue, at the state level, will be state funding to assist Fargo in a flood protection project. Just as it helped West Fargo pay for its diversion, the state must step forward to help Fargo, which will benefit our region. Flood protection is the type of infrastructure -- much like roads, highways and bridges -- which is a legitimate and important government function. We must work to ensure that the solution is effective and cost-
efficient, to maximize results and minimize the cost burden on taxpayers.
Tintes: While I understand some concerns about the vague language of the proposal, I believe the sales tax is a fair way to achieve a comprehensive water management plan. It's certainly better than the less desirable alternative of special assessments.
Wieland: I have talked to several West Fargo residents and they have expressed the opinion that since Fargo did not help pay for the West Fargo Diversion, they feel that they should not have to pay for the Fargo Diversion. That is a good point. However, there is a need for flood control on the Red River. Many places that can flood, such as hospitals, stores, places of employment, will impact West Fargo citizens as well. Special assessments are cumbersome, and while attempting to assess benefits, they are not always fair. It does seem reasonable to use a sales tax, and I understand that there is a cap on any single transaction.
Question 4: How are you going to help ensure that there is continued fiscal responsibility in preparing for the future of North Dakota's residents?
Lee: North Dakota citizens have already benefited from a significant reduction in property taxes because of added support provided by the last legislature to schools, cities, and counties. Income tax reductions were passed, too. Establishing the Legacy Fund through Measure #1 on the November ballot will preserve some of the funds coming from oil to provide for the future, reducing the tax burden on individuals and businesses. It is important, however, to understand that it will take more money next session just to maintain what is currently in place this year, so citizens need to be well informed about what is actually in the budgets.
Loegering: We need accountability for results from our investments. For example, companies receiving start-up or expansion incentives should be required to produce an appropriate quantity of quality, good-paying jobs. I favor investing wisely in permanent things such as flood control, education and infrastructure while maintaining a healthy reserve. Research programs should be based on reasonable expectation of positive results. I will encourage enhancing proven programs that reduce the overall cost of Social Services. I will encourage development of better paying jobs to reduce the need for assistance among the working poor.
Halverson: Staying fiscally responsible is paramount to the success of our state's future. I think it's important that the legislature does not go on a "spending spree," but rather invest in the important projects within the state that will promote growth and prosperity.
Koppelman: North Dakota's economy is the nation's strongest. We're #1 in job and income growth and have America's lowest unemployment rate. While other states struggle to balance their budgets, we've not only done that, but have also sustained budget surpluses unequalled anywhere.
Good public policy decisions have helped pave the way to our prosperity. We understand that government should be limited, taxes should be low, and our greatest priority should be freedom and opportunity.
I'll continue to exercise fiscal responsibility and always remember that I represent taxpayers and it's their money we're dealing with.
Tintes: North Dakota is faring better than other states largely because of its vast wealth of natural resources. North Dakota's leaders must plan wisely to invest in infrastructure needs today and encourage responsible growth into the future. We must not squander our opportunities nor should we hoard our wealth and stifle our development. We have the ability and the opportunity to become a state where all citizens are economically strong, where rural and urban entrepreneurship is valued and encouraged, where all of our children are afforded equal opportunities to prosper and where we can be proud of the way we treat those among us who are in need.
Wieland: I will continue to do as I have in the past. Find and reduce wasteful spending, keep lower taxes, work toward a balanced budget which includes a rainy day fund, and a surplus. We must continue to reduce government regulation to help create jobs for our young folks as well.
Question 5: How important will the health care topic be facing the upcoming biennium of the legislature?
Lee: Health care reform will be an extremely big issue, because of the long list of mandates that the new federal law places on states, requiring additional expenditures just to be compliant. Where does that money come from? Do we take it from other budgets, such as K-12, infrastructure, human services, or corrections, or do we spend additional money to meet the requirements? Currently,we have 62,200 people served by Medicaid. Health care reform will add another 32-35,000 people, which will require additional state funding. Are state programs that are currently working well going to be forced to change in order to comply? How can we be sure that N.D. citizens benefit from the changes being made? These and many other questions will be faced.
Loegering: Health care is critical to our citizens and there are important healthcare issues to be resolved on the state level. However, out of the hundreds of bills considered in this session, a relative handful will deal with healthcare. The legislature has the need and the ability to pass laws on healthcare and on other vital issues. The legislative committee structure will enable the legislature to deal effectively with a multitude of important issues.
Halverson: Health care reform will be one of many important issues the legislature will have to face in the upcoming biennium. The legislature will be responsible for the establishment of the administration process with the new law, as it has done with previous federal legislation changes.
Koppelman: Very important. States will have to deal with what Washington has done to us. North Dakota is one of 20 states which have sued the federal government, on Constitutional grounds, over the health care bill. The outcome of that lawsuit will have a major impact upon how the Legislature must respond. You may have heard that few in Congress actually read the voluminous bill before they voted on it. What's even worse is that, had the read it, they still wouldn't know what it will actually do. That's because much of the actual policy-making was left to federal bureaucrats to decide, by regulation. I met with officials from the federal Department of Health and Human Services at CSG's Washington, DC office to help ascertain, on behalf of the states, what they were doing and how we must respond. The HHS officials confirmed that they had not even begun to write most of those regulations.That means that Legislatures in states like ours, which meet only every two years, will have to attempt to enact laws to deal with issues the federal government wants to dictate, but hasn't even begun to define. Without a crystal ball, that's difficult, but I'm confident that the North Dakota Legislature will act responsibly on behalf of our citizens.
Tintes: Health care will be an important topic, as will be the topics of infrastructure improvements, water management, education, resource development, jobs creation, and the list goes on. As for health care, most other states are already moving forward, having already created commissions or task forces to begin implementing federal reforms, much like they did when Medicare Part D was put into law during the Bush Administration. Many states are not only implementing the basic provisions of the Affordable Care Act, but are also planning how to build on its framework to further expand coverage and rein in costs for their residents. Efforts to undermine the law at the state level through bills supposedly opting out of parts of the federal law have failed across the nation, including here in North Dakota. Instead of wasting valuable time, why not get on with the business of making N.D. a great place to live and work with affordable health care choices for all?
Wieland: With the passing of this legislation by the federal government, we are not only facing huge tax increases, but as a minimum, we are forced to hire a minimum of 60 people in state government and paid for by state tax dollars to help implement the bill. While there are some good things in the bill, the cost is astronomical. I believe we will see a large increase in health care insurance rates, and the bill calls for 16,000 new auditors to check on the citizens of all states to see if we are being honest. All of this will create a situation that will require the state to help balance the costs to the citizens and the state with the benefits.
Question 6: What issue or topic would you like to address or elaborate on that is key to your platform and has not already been discussed?
Lee: State policies should encourage business development which will create good jobs. Responsible tax reform, education excellence, and high quality health care will continue to make North Dakota a great place to be!
Loegering: I have a history of bringing people together and making a difference. Examples of working together are leading educators to a statewide science curriculum revision and working with members of another faith in co-building Lutheran and Catholic churches. Co-founding of a local chapter of The Compassionate Friends that meets at Faith Lutheran is an example of making a difference. My varied background (farming, teaching, manufacturing, business, sales, community and family) allows me to understand many viewpoints. I am not burdened by partisan political history so I believe I can deal effectively with legislators of all persuasions.
Halverson: I am very passionate about the North Dakota outdoors. I am an active hunter and sportsman. I feel it's very important to protect our great tradition of hunting and trapping in our great state. I will work to protect property owner's rights, while working to maintain a positive relationship between the property owners and the state.
Koppelman: People realize that our nation is on the wrong track and that we need to change directions in Washington. If only that federal city had the common sense of North Dakota! While America languishes in recession, overregulation, government bailouts and takeovers of some of our largest companies and industries, North Dakota has it right. Our growth and prosperity are rooted in common sense, limited government, low taxes, freedom and opportunity. We must continue to advance these public policy values and demonstrate, by example, the jobs and prosperity they produce. If we do, our future will be even brighter. In North Dakota, we practice the kind of Constitutional government our Founders intended. We elect neighbors to represent us at the Capitol for a few months every two years. Our citizen legislators then return to their businesses, jobs, farms, and homes and live among those they represent, under the laws they've passed. It's an honor and a great responsibility to serve as one of those citizen legislators. I believe that one should run for office to do something, not to be something. That's why, as I ask for our neighbors' votes, I pledge to continue to work tirelessly to represent them well and to serve their interests and those of our legislative district and our community.
Tintes: Because of its vast rural expanses, more attention needs to be paid to economic diversification as a central component of both rural and urban development. Urban demands for locally-grown foods, school nutrition programs incorporating locally-produced products could spur investment in producer-owned, value-added rural co-ops, revitalize rural businesses and rejuvenate the populations in rural communities. Improved technology to all North Dakota will help link rural and urban populations and increase opportunities in both sectors, thus creating a win/win solution for a healthier future in all parts of our state.
Wieland: The economy is so important, and to help keep our economy strong, taxes must be held to a minimum, spending must be curbed, waste in government eliminated, and strong reserves must be set aside to assist in future years when the economy in North Dakota may not be so strong.