Our debates with the candidates for MN Senate
Fourteen forums, 16 races, 32 candidates — it all Came to an end Thursday evening, with the last two installments of Med City Beat’s online forum series. The three-week lineup concluded with the candidates for Minnesota State Senate, pitting two sitting GOP Senators against ascendant DFL challengers — David Senjem vs. Sara Flick in District 25, and Carla Nelson vs. Aleta Borrud in District 26.
Both debates were packed with discussion on the top issues of the day, though for this story, let’s focus on a couple of the key topics from each debate.
First, let’s touch on District 25, where incumbent Dave Senjem has served since 2003. Even before then, Senjem was well-known in Rochester, as a city council member for 10 years.
During the debate we asked both candidates to introduce themselves by making a pitch to voters who may not typically vote for their respective parties — this was Sen. Senjem’s response.
“I’m Dave Senjem, I’m not Donald Trump, I’ve been involved long before Donald Trump decided to get involved,” said Senjem. “I think people have to judge me for who I am as a state senator, for who I was as a city councilman, for who I am, frankly, as I walk the streets of Rochester and talk to people. I’m just a regular guy that cares a lot about people and my community, and i want the best for both of them.”
Flick, a first-time candidate, responded by making the case she was uniquely positioned to listen to voices from all ends of the political spectrum.
“I grew up a Republican. A lot of my family’s still very conservative. I enjoy those conversations so much, and I feel like I can meet people where they are,” said Flick. “If you talk to people who know me on both sides, you’ll hear that I’m very pragmatic, that I meet people where they are and find solutions, and that’s what I intend to do in the Minnesota Senate.”
The two candidates spent a large part of the back half of this debate talking about the future of Destination Medical Center, something that Senjem had to consider quite often as the original author of the bill that created the initiative. With DMC now heading into its ‘second quarter,’ the senator said the time may be right for the state to check in on the project.
“I think it’s probably time, legislatively, to look at it once more,” said Senjem. “It’s been about eight years now since we’ve adopted it… but I have no qualms about it, I believe in it wholeheartedly. It is the reason — and this is the most important thing to say — it is the reason Rochester, Minnesota is and will remain into the future the flagship city of Mayo Clinic. That’s very important to us.”
Regardless of if the state does end up making some changes or additions to DMC, Flick said she wanted to see the initiative work for more people, spread out over a larger area than the current DMC boundary.
“Rochester’s becoming a very expensive place that some people simply just can’t afford to live in,” said Flick. When we talk about economic prosperity and growth, this is one of the passion areas that I have in terms of economic development — how can we grow our economy in a way that doesn’t just work for downtown Rochester?”
Now to the race in District 26, between Sen. Carla Nelson and Dr. Aleta Borrud. You probably know those names quite well by now, in part because the money pouring in has been unusual for a Rochester state senate race, something Sen. Nelson has noticed and takes some exception to.
“The outside money groups have been very clear. They want to flip the Senate so they have full DFL control for the House, Senate and Governor, and I don’t think that’s good for politics,” said Nelson. “I believe in checks and balances, we need to have compromise, and I think that’s why there’s been so much money thrown in this race.”
The DFL only needs to flip three seats to gain control of the Senate. If Borrud becomes one of those three, she says one of her top priorities will be to change the way health care is provided in Minnesota.
“I have several priorities and I’ve already mentioned health care, because the market has not delivered an answer for affordable healthcare for everyone,” said Borrud. “Thousands have lost their workplace insurance coverage, and I believe in Minnesota, we can deliver a public option that gives people choice of doctors and also provides fair reimbursement to our medical providers. This is essential to small business and our family farms if they’re to thrive.”
Borrud, a public health physician with Mayo Clinic, was most pronounced in her support of Gov. Tim Walz’s emergency powers in relation to Covid-19. She said if elected, she would support the governor’s continued use of those powers, as the state appears to move into a ‘third wave’ of the virus.
“In looking at this next wave, we will perhaps need to again martial our health care resources to preserve hospital and ICU beds,” said Borrud. “I know in Wisconsin, they just had to open a field hospital. This is the kind of emergency power a governor needs to be able to respond to that.”
Nelson has been on the record voting to revoke the governor’s powers and remained steadfast when asked of her position on Thursday, while also coming out in support of loosening restrictions on small businesses.
“One of the things that we must do is balance the risk of opening safely and the risk of further isolation, mental health concerns, economic tsunamis,” said Nelson. “I feel that a little of that balance has been lost, and I hope the governor looks more thoughtfully into how we can re-open safely.”