Candidate debates hosted by the Shakopee Chamber of Commerce last week gave local Scott County and Shakopee candidates a last chance to discuss their most important issues.
Many of the talking points revolved around recent headlines: how each office can keep people safe while reopening the economy amid COVID-19, and opinions on defunding the police.
Here is a brief summary from each of the four debates between candidates for Scott County Commissioner, State House District 55A Representative, Senate District 55 and the Shakopee City Council.
The forums, which were held at Shakopee High School Oct. 13, can be viewed in full at https://shakopee.org/events/2020-candidate-debates/.
Scott County Commissioners
Scott County Commission incumbent Barb Weckman-Brekke, who represents District 1, incumbent Tom Wolf, who represents District 2 and candidate Margaret Pleasant, who is challenging Wolf for District 2, debated each other in a non-contentious forum Oct. 13.
Weckman-Brekke’s opponent, Joe Wagner, was not present at the forum, nor was incumbent Chairman Dave Beer, who is running uncontested for his district.
When asked what Scott County’s role is to assist businesses during the coronavirus pandemic, Weckman-Brekke said the county’s role is fairly limited, but she added there have been several businesses that have reached out to Scott County Public Health for assistance in keeping their employees and customers safe, as well as received help obtaining PPE and CARES Act funds from the federal government — all things the county should continue to offer.
Pleasant said “businesses have expressed a lot of concern over being closed down again, and said Scott County helped them, but there’s always more to do.”
Tom Wolf, like the other candidates, emphasized the support the county needs to continue to offer to local businesses.
“If things don’t open up soon we’re going to lose a lot of businesses,” he said.
When asked if any changes are needed in local law enforcement, all three candidates said they believe the Scott County Sheriff’s Office is doing a great job. Wolf said he doesn’t think any changes need to be made, but that the current level of services should be maintained.
Weckman-Brekke said she would support adding “systems and infrastructure so law enforcement doesn’t have to do things they’re not trained to do,” such as a mobile crisis response for mental health services.
Pleasant said she thinks the county should maintain its current mental health services “so the police and sheriff’s departments aren’t expected to respond to all those situations.”
“I think we need to keep up with what we’re doing,” Pleasant said of the Sheriff’s department. “Actually, some people think they (local law enforcement) should be tougher.”
On the topic of providing affordable housing, Wolf said the county has looked at ways to partner and work with Beacon Interfaith Housing, as well as work with the Community Development Agency to put up workforce housing units.
“That does make a difference,” Wolf said. “People need to feel safe and secure.”
Weckman-Brekke said the county’s role is not to provide housing.
“We’re a convener,” Weckman-Brekke said. “We work… to try and eliminate some of those barriers to make housing more affordable… to create a more vibrant economy so people are making more money to afford that housing, and then our recent efforts in working with nonprofits to try and get them to invest in our community.”
Pleasant said keeping property taxes down for landlords and property owners is one way to make sure housing is as affordable as possible in Scott County.
“No one wants homeless people in our community… and it’s our job to make sure people live a safe and healthy life,” Pleasant said.
Minnesota House District 55A Republican candidate Erik Mortenson faced off against incumbent Rep. Brad Tabke, a Democrat, in a contentious debate Oct. 13.
Much of the discussion centered around core differences in how each candidate believes the state government should be responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mortenson repeatedly condemned Gov. Tim Walz’s “illegal” executive orders to curb the spread of COVID-19 by closing or controlling the occupancy of businesses, adding the Legislature should have a say in the emergency responses to the pandemic rather than “consolidating power” to the governor.
Tabke said he is proud of the state’s efforts to keep people safe, adding the state’s budget deficit isn’t as bad as originally anticipated, and emphasizing that Walz’s executive orders “are, in fact, extremely legal.”
“We’ve worked and pushed back on a lot of things (Walz) has been dealing with the COVID crisis,” Tabke said. “If you look at what’s happening in Minnesota versus the surrounding states… we’re doing a good job at keeping people in Minnesota safe.”
“Brad, you haven’t stood up to Tim Walz at all,” Mortenson fired back. “You voted seven times to consolidate all power in the state to one person.”
As far as controlling the spread of COVID-19, Mortenson said “the state refuses to put their trust in the people.”
“Nobody’s interested in death. I’m not interested in dying; I’m not interested in killing other people. So we should put our faith in the people, and when our elected leaders refuse to put their trust in the people, it makes the people no longer trust them,” Mortenson said.
Tabke said the track the state is currently on in response to the spread is working and keeping people safe.
“The people of Shakopee understand that this is a pandemic… we must continue to work together. My opponent has thwarted mask mandates. But masks are scientifically proven to make sure that we are not spreading COVID; that we are keeping our friends and neighbors safe,” Tabke said.
“You talk about masks proven to do something. The CDC... showed that 85% of the new cases over the month of July came from people who always wear their masks. So there’s all this other research that shows that that is simply not a fact,” Mortenson said.
Mortenson and Tabke also clashed on questions about firearm regulations, health insurance, income taxes, minimum wage and other issues.
Tabke said red flag laws focus on preventing suicides, especially among veterans and farmers. Mortenson said red flag laws take away someone’s due process rights.
Tabke voiced support of Medicare for all, while Mortenson said “the heavy hand of government” is part of the reason why health insurance costs are so high.
On the topic of income taxes, Mortenson wants Minnesota to become a “zero income tax state.” Tabke said the legislature is on the right path to reducing income taxes, citing the reduction of income taxes for seniors.
Tabke emphasized that people are “tired of the rhetoric” of people from opposing parties not being able to work together, and pegged Mortenson as a candidate who wouldn’t be able to listen to those with whom he disagrees.
“The absolute inability to work together is really frustrating,” Tabke said.
“What I hear what people in Shakopee are tired of is Tabke’s refusal to listen to anybody,” Mortenson responded. “He just ramrods through whatever it is he thinks is best for us and refuses to listen to the community.”
Senate District 55
Incumbent State District 55 Sen. Eric Pratt, a Republican, debated his DFL opponent Sahra Odowa.
When asked about the state’s response to business occupancy restrictions and closures amid the pandemic, Pratt said he felt there were inequities in the mandates that allowed “big box stores” to remain open, while smaller boutiques and churches remained closed.
Pratt emphasized that protecting the most vulnerable populations and ensuring hospitals aren’t overwhelmed is important, but that he also thinks the government has been “micromanaging our response to the COVID crisis.”
“We need to listen to the experts… but also understand that we can’t afford to shut down the economy,” Pratt said.
Odowa said she thinks it’s important to have a strategic plan for reopening businesses.
“Emergency powers enacted by Walz and the Legislature have exemplified what we need to do... We need to protect ourselves and one another, and take preventative measures in all settings,” Odowa said.
On the topic of closing the achievement gap in Minnesota, Odowa said she would work to reduce class sizes and hire more teachers of color. Pratt said he’ll address literacy issues and tenure reform to help maintain newly-hired teachers of color.
As for taxes, Odowa argued the state needs a “fair tax code that puts people before corporations.”
Pratt responded, “Our lowest tax rate is higher than the tax rate of 23 other states. And we have one of the most progressive tax rates in the country. As my opponent talks about fair… someone talked to me last week and said, ‘What is fair? I’ll pay my taxes; I just need to know what fair means.’”
Odowa also said her main focus, if elected, would be on the expansion of mental health services.
“As a mental health practitioner, I am very strongly advocating on.. increased psychologists, social workers and counselors on school grounds,” she said.
Pratt said his main focus would be the state’s response to the pandemic and “putting as much emphasis on flattening the curve on the economic crisis as we are on flattening the curve of the pandemic.”
Shakopee City Council
City council candidates Jim Dulaney, Nurul Arif Khan, Mike Luce, Tyler Pautsch and incumbents Matt Lehman and Jay Whiting discussed priorities they would tackle if elected.
The six candidates are vying for two open seats.
Dulaney emphasized support for local businesses, maintaining Shakopee’s identity of a “small-town” feel, and “defending, not defunding,” the police. He said he is not a fan of tax increment financing and wants the city to be more cautious about how quickly it’s growing.
“I stepped up to run because I don’t like where our city is going,” Dulaney said. “I think we’re chasing after a St. Paul or Minneapolis with a riverfront park. I see our voices aren’t being heard on the existing city council.”
Khan said he wants to bring more “international pride” to the city, said Shakopee’s police force is worthy of continued funding, supports TIF and believes in continuing to provide all the resources possible to local businesses and individuals struggling due to the pandemic.
“I like to give Shakopee citizens hope. Life without hope is meaningless. Hope is the biggest thing you have to have,” Khan said.
Luce said the role of the city council is to follow state guidelines and be ready to help with a successful outcome of the pandemic. He said he supports TIF dollars to an extent, “in no way” supports defunding the police and said the most pressing issue he’d face if elected will be dealing with the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The vaccine may help, but I don’t see this being a very good 2021,” Luce said. “I think it’s going to be very stressful.”
Pautsch said he believes in advocating to broaden the support for paid federal loans to help small businesses, and said he wants to “grow our base of businesses so we can ultimately keep lowering our taxes.” He said he believes in transformation and reform, but not necessarily defunding of the Shakopee police — meaning more situational awareness training and screening. Pautsch also said he supports TIF in some, but not all, instances.
Incumbent Lehman said he believes the city council’s role would be in continuing to educate residents on state guidelines as related to the pandemic and look for ways to protect businesses while following those guidelines. He supports TIF and tax abatements only to bring in jobs that “pay a wage high enough that the person working is not eligible for additional subsidies.” Lehman also said he is concerned with Shakopee’s development happening at a “record pace” and is not in favor of defunding the Shakopee police, though he added there are sometimes “bad cops” who need to be dealt with.
Whiting said as for the pandemic, the city can create opportunities for progress to help businesses in town. Whiting does not support defunding the city’s police force, adding Shakopee’s police department does “a lot of work on the front end, and we hire good candidates.” Whiting is a proponent of TIF as “one tool in our toolbox for creating opportunities.” He said if reelected, the focus of his next term would be responding to unknowns that will come in the aftermath of COVID-19.