The race to represent Prior Lake and southern Scott County in the Minnesota House has begun more than a year before the November 2020 election.

Dr. Andrea Nelsen, a Prior Lake psychiatrist, Democrat and political newcomer, is running for District 55B with a focus on making it easier for Minnesotans to get health care, she announced earlier this month.

Rep. Tony Albright, a Spring Lake Republican, has represented the district since the 2012 election and said this week he intends to run again next year. He won in 2018 with 61% of around 21,000 votes cast.

The challenger

Nelsen, 46, works as an emergency room psychiatrist at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis and grew up in Willmar, a small, lake-dominated town west of the Twin Cities. She has lived in Prior Lake for about a year and was in Jordan for a year before that, she said Monday.

Her firsthand experience with the health care system pushed her to run for political office for her first time, Nelsen said.

People without health coverage or with too little to cover their needs often spiral into worse health and bigger costs they can’t cover, for instance. And she thinks the health care system is inefficient in several ways, adding costs for everyone involved.

“We need more people in the legislature with the experience and who can relate to the priorities that we need,” Nelsen said. “There are many, many ways we could make changes in our system to save money.”

The Legislature could push to make more residents eligible for MinnesotaCare, the state’s coverage for low-income people, or make it easier to refill medications outside of an ER, she said. She’d also like more mental health clinic beds around the state so that they’re closer to people in need.

“People go from Rochester to Fargo” by ambulance in search of those beds, Nelsen said. “That’s a huge expense.”

Nelsen said Albright hasn’t voted to increase health care access or properly fund school districts and hasn’t stayed in close contact with constituents. Her career will help with that last point, she added.

“I talk with people every single day,” Nelsen said. “I have learned how to compassionately listen to people and appreciate their problems, and then have a conversation with people that is productive and civilized without getting into endless, polarized bickering.”

Nelsen’s holding a meet-and-greet event to hear voters’ thoughts and ideas 6:30-8 p.m. Thursday, July 18, in Prior Lake’s Memorial Park with games and treats for kids.

The incumbent

Albright, 57, brushed off Nelsen’s criticisms, saying he’s always had an open-door policy at the Capitol and in the district and pointing to his vote this year for a measure boosting district and special education money.

“That’s a very, very high-priority item for both the Prior Lake-Savage district as well as Jordan,” he said of the special education measure.

Albright is a member of several House committees, including Ways and Means, which focuses on state spending and taxes, and Health and Human Services Policy. He said his goal during his tenure has been to make sure the state provides its services to people who need them in an effective and cost-efficient way.

Albright said he has worked in financial services for about 25 years and is president of Hansen Engine Corporation in Plymouth. He’s lived in the Prior Lake area for 20 years.

Like his opponent, Albright has focused on health care, authoring or co-authoring several health-related proposals in this year’s session that are still in committee.

He signed onto a bill banning abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected except in medical emergencies, for example, and authored a bill allowing people eligible for MinnesotaCare to get coverage instead from the MNsure marketplace for private plans.

“The private sector is fully capable of providing a health care system in the state of Minnesota that provides for choice, that provides for access and provides for transparency,” Albright said.

Albright said he wants to allow more variety in health coverage rather than requiring a set of covered services as the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, does. That and other changes could help patients and providers focus more on what patients get out of a service instead of what insurance will pay.

Community editor

Dan Holtmeyer is the community editor for the Prior Lake and Savage papers. He grew up in Nebraska and worked as a journalist in Oklahoma, Missouri and Arkansas before coming to Minnesota in 2018.

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