Why are you running for election?
Axness: I'm seeking to represent District 16 in the State Senate because I'm passionate about North Dakota and its future. As a fifth generation North Dakotan, I've inherited our great quality of life and am committed to ensuring our children have the same opportunities I did in this state. That quality of life and the traditions we hold so close take work to maintain. I don't believe that work is getting done right now in Bismarck. Instead of being proactive and putting together a long term plan for North Dakota, we have seen short term, reactive fixes to our challenges.
Duff: North Dakota is at a critical stage. We have a booming economy that presents opportunities and challenges. The N.D. State Senate is a key player in creating the future of our state. My children will be directly impacted by decisions made in the Legislature. I want to be a part of creating that future for them.
What sets you apart from the other legislative candidates?
Axness: Working as a Field Representative for U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan out of his Fargo office gave me the opportunity to work on the challenges we face in this state first hand. I worked with both state and federal officials to help resolve those challenges and bring new opportunities to North Dakota. I also have a vast understanding of the legislative process through my Bachelor of Science at NDSU. Currently, I work on public policy on behalf of people living with disabilities to ensure they have independence and self-sufficiency.
Duff: I have a background in many areas that are relevant to what the Legislature will be dealing with in the coming years. Higher education, rural health, emergency management, and small business, are the areas I have been active in. I bring a wealth of experience in those areas to Bismarck. I am passionate about ensuring that my children will have every opportunity to stay in our state and be successful.
Name two legislative topics that you plan on addressing and hopefully impacting in the upcoming session.
Axness: I'm committed to making sure North Dakota has the best education system in the nation. From pre-kindergarten through higher education, our students deserve nothing but the best education that is accessible and affordable. I intend to work on expanding our head start program and working on reducing the burden of student debt.
I will also go to work on alleviating the challenges of our state's infrastructure. In some instances, the state has allowed its infrastructure to be strained by inaction on behalf of the legislature. The cost of this inaction is proving to be more expensive than the cost of solving these challenges with forward looking solutions. Roads, schools, housing, and water management need to be addressed.
Duff: *Creating a tax policy that maximizes incentives that allow business, agriculture, energy, high tech, and retail to succeed, while reducing the tax burden on our citizens. Economic growth is the key to our state's future. Every effort must be made to ensure that North Dakota continue to prosper.
*Developing a rational, yet bold plan to meet the infrastructure needs and demands of our entire state. The needs of Western North Dakota are on the front burner and should be, but all of North Dakota has infrastructure needs. If we are to realize our potential as a leading energy producer, our infrastructure must be able to support that growing sector. The growth of our state is dependent on bringing our roads, sewers, sidewalks, communications facilities, tracks, airports, and other areas into the 21st century.
How and for what do you feel the state surplus can best be utilized?
Axness: The taxpayer's surplus should be utilized to their benefit. We need to solve some of the persistent challenges of rising student debt, crowded schools, and infrastructure needs across the state. I have put forth the "Opportunity Agenda" that addresses ways in which the state can help reduce the increasing cost of earning a degree. We also need to provide relief when it comes to taxes. Our property tax burden needs to be revisited to provide relief to property owners and renters.
Duff: The surplus is the result of good planning, hard work, abundant natural resources, an enlightened state regulatory structure, and risk takers who invest in our future. We need to return as much as possible to the taxpayers of our state, ensure that a growing healthy rainy day fund is maintained, meet one-time expenditures on projects that are vital, and invest in those areas that move our state forward.
What kind of regulatory laws do you think should be enacted for both liquor establishments and drivers to help prevent impaired driving tragedies like the one that took the lives of a West Fargo family earlier this year?
Axness: I believe we need laws strong enough to deter people from getting behind the wheel after consumption of alcohol. Strengthening the penalties of offenders is a step in the right direction. We can no longer allow offenders, especially repeat offenders, to get off with a slap on the wrist. I will work with people from both parties to find real and workable solutions that prevent tragedies like the one our community witnessed this year.
Duff: The first area that needs to be addressed is improving our prevention programs as they apply to impaired driving. That means getting parents, educators, law enforcement, elected officials at every level, and our youth involved and participating.
The next area that must be addressed is to toughen the penalties for impaired driving. That means stiffer fines, mandatory jail time, ensuring that those who licenses are revoked or suspended, not be allowed to drive.
The cost, both emotional and financial, of impaired driving is incalculable. The Legislature has to step up and get this under control.