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Area lawmakers decry 'mob rule' of Legislature

The four Republican legislators representing parts of Douglas County held a town hall-style meeting at Traveler’s Inn restaurant in Alexandria Tuesday. They included (left to right) Paul Anderson, Bill Ingebrigtsen, Torrey Westrom and Mary Franson. Photo by Lori Mork, Forum News Service

Local Republican legislators couldn’t find many positive things to say about the recently completed session of the DFL-controlled Legislature.

At a town hall meeting at Traveler’s Inn in Alexandria Tuesday, District 8 Senator Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, said the session was, at least, quick, finishing before the Constitutional deadline.

But he blasted many of the accomplishments DFL leaders have been hailing. He said an anti-bullying bill, for example, wasn’t needed and forces another state directive on local school districts.

Ingebrigtsen said the bonding bill of more than $1 billion borrows too much money and is skewed to the metro area. “Rural Minnesota should be treated better,” he said.

The three other Republican legislators at the meeting – District 12 Senator Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, District 8B Representative Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, and District 12B Representative Paul Anderson, R-Starbuck – also expressed frustration.

Perhaps their biggest complaint was the approved funding for a new $76 million Senate office building, which received just one Republican vote. They said the money should have been used for higher priorities, such as nursing homes.

Franson said metro DFL interests also prevailed in transportation funding, leaving rural areas with “scraps.”

She said that one bright spot of the session, her bill to help fund a project to redevelop the Jefferson High School property in Alexandria, wasn’t included in the bonding bill until the last day of the session. Of the $2.9 million requested, the bill that was approved provides only about half that amount, yet, Franson said, metro legislators were able to find $21 million for improvements at Nicollet Mall.

Westrom said the bonding bill contained “very few Republican projects.” He added that having the Senate, House and governor’s office all controlled by the DFL amounted to “mob rule.”

Westrom was also critical of the decision to spend $21 million to bail-out teacher pension shortfalls in St. Paul and Duluth. He said the money should have been used elsewhere. Westrom listed a highlight – his bill to increase the speed limit on some two-way highways to 60 miles per hour was enacted.

Anderson said that the Legislature missed an opportunity to address the propane shortage, which caused prices to skyrocket last winter.

Local lawmakers also opposed the move to increase the minimum wage. They said it went too far, raising the rate from $6.15 an hour to $9.50 with built-in inflationary increases, making it among the highest in the nation.

They’re worried about the impact on small businesses and nursing homes.

After commenting on the session, the legislators asked for questions from the 50 or so people who crowded into the restaurant.

A woman asked why legislators don’t pursue “free, green energy,” such as solar and wind, to provide more jobs in rural Minnesota. Anderson noted that green energy isn’t free and that creating the infrastructure for it is an expense that everyone pays for.

Ingebrigtsen said he doesn’t support green energy initiatives that end up costing taxpayers more money but added he wouldn’t stand in the way of people pursuing it on their own. He’s not convinced that global warming is caused by humans.

On the topic of legalizing medical marijuana, all four lawmakers opposed the bill.

Anderson said it could be a stepping stone to completely legalizing the drug, which could put the state at risk to liability claims.

Ingebrigtsen said the Legislature succumbed to emotional pleas from those who want the drug for medical purposes even though it hasn’t been FDA-approved. He said that researchers are only about a year and a half away from pulling the compound out of marijuana that provides medical benefits.

Franson said that approving certain forms of marijuana sends a wrong message to children and adds to the state’s drug epidemic.

Other issues raised at the meeting included fairer reimbursement rates for rural nursing homes; informing the public on how legislators vote; the need to convince voters that Republicans are the “common-sense” party and not the “rich party;” education funding; health care; making college tuition more affordable; income tax increases; and prioritizing government spending.