On Wednesday night, students, staff, and St. Cloud community members gathered inside the Miller Center Theatre for the GOP vs DFL debate for Senate and House districts 14 A and B. The candidates traded jabs and discussed hot topic policy issues facing central Minnesota, including police and community relations, bonding bills, and sexual assault on college campuses.
Each party had three contenders including Republican Party of Minnesota members; Jerry Relph, State Senator for district 14; Tama Theis, State House district 14 A; and Jim Knoblach, State House district 14 B. For the Democrats there was Dan Wolgamott from Senate district 14; Aric Putnam, State House district 14 A; and Zach Dorholt of House district 14 B.
The evening started off with Senate district 14 Dan Wolgamott facing against current State Senator Jerry Relph. Their first topic of discussion was systemic issues within the criminal justice system, a similar topic brought up in Monday night’s presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
“Whether service is biased or not, good community relations means good policy”, said Relph. “I salute the efforts of Chief Blair Anderson and Mayor Dave Kleis for implementing appropriate steps to building community relationships.”
Wolgamott responded to Relph’s answer with disbelief, saying that there needs to be an end to discrimination in policing.
“There is no tolerance for discrimination in the state of Minnesota,” Wolgamott said. “I’ve been endorsed by police officers in Minnesota and they believe we need to put more money into world class police training and that everyone gets a good, fair shot at opportunity.”
The second prompt in the debate had to do with bonding bills in the state. For those who are unaware of what that is, a bonding bill would be an investment into more public infrastructure, such as creating new buildings and advancing schools. Both parties believe that public infrastructure is necessary, but they disagree on where it should be spent.
Wolgamott says that a bonding bill must be passed because a large number of central Minnesota infrastructure projects failed this past year because of a lack of state money.
“We need to come up with a solution that works for both sides; we need money to tighten security at the St. Cloud Prison, we need more money to help out our local veterans at the VA, and we need money to remodel Eastman Hall into a health center.”
Relph says that all of those things are ideal, but there are more important things bonding bills need to be spent on.
“We need to have roads and we need to have bridges, why is it not happening? No one can agree on where the money needs to be spent, in order to get things done, we need a change in procedures.”
A topic that has been controversial on all college campuses was brought to the debate stage Wednesday night when the moderator brought up the subject of sexual assault on campuses. The two disagreed on what exactly should be done in order to curb these instances from happening on campuses like St. Cloud State by creating an Affirmative Consent bill.
“I’ve served at Anna Marie’s Women’s Shelter for many years, but we must ask ourselves if an Affirmative Consent law would actually work?” Relph asked. “If a woman says yes, does that permanently mean yes? Do those laws actually make campus safe?”
Wolgamott strongly disagreed with Relph’s statement and said that an Affirmative Consent law would help reduce the number of sexual assaults on college campuses around Minnesota.
“Sometimes the woman doesn’t even have the ability to say no, she locks down and doesn’t know what to do or how to react. We need a law that guarantees people this kind of protection,” Wolgamott said.
The candidates’ final topic of discussion is something that the state of Minnesota has dealt with for years, how to reduce the student achievement gap.
“Education is my top priority, the first years of a child’s education are extremely critical,” Wolgamott said. “There are only a handful of 4-year-olds that attend pre-school which causes kids to not be prepared for Kindergarten; the education system in Minnesota needs more money to help close the achievement gap.”
Relph says that more money is not what’s needed to help close it, but that setting standards for students and more options for privatized schooling will help students reach their full potential.
“Why does the gap exist in the first place?” Relph said. “We need to give the power back to the local school boards so that they have more control over a child’s education and not the federal government. Private schools are equally as valuable as public education.”