While Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton had their final standoff before Americans head to the polls, candidates running for Senate districts 14, 14A and House district 14B all participated in a town hall meeting on the campus of St. Cloud State University in the Cascade room in Atwood Memorial Center.
District 14 includes current seat holder Republican Jerry Relph and incumbents Democrat Dan Wolgamot and Democrat Steven Zilberg. Republican Tama Theis and Democrat Aric Putnam are running for Senate district 14, and with House district 14 B, current seat holder, Republican Jim Knoblach and incumbent Democrat Zachary Dorholt.
Instead of moderators asking prepared questions, students and community members were able to craft questions on a notecard and toss it into a pile, which the moderators picked and read.
Topics of discussion were very similar to the debate held a month prior in the Miller Center Auditorium; the issues included public infrastructure, college tuition, and tax rebates for lower income families.
The night started off with discussions about college tuition rates and how the candidates plan to decrease high student debt upon graduating.
Zilberg argued that the University could spend all of this money on switching food service providers, remodeling Atwood, and getting all of these new restaurants, and questioned if the money should be spent more on the students and educators and not just products to sell.
“We should be focusing more on education, not where students and professors favorite places to eat are on campus,” he said.
Jerry Relph said that decreasing debt shouldn’t be the government’s responsibility and that there should be incentives for students to earn money early on so that they can pay off their college debt easier. Relph suggested either giving students work opportunity credits, such as taking a job at places like Menards or Target, so they can train workers for jobs in the tech industry, which is high in demand.
“Appropriation is going up. We have to be careful with our dollars; we need more people in the tech industry with a variety of different skill sets and providing students early work experience can prepare them for those jobs,” Relph said.
With many aspects of public infrastructure becoming old and outdated, especially in the transportation sector, the candidates discussed how money from the bonding bill should be used in order to invest in either roads or improving forms of public transportation such as the light rail and the bussing system.
Tama Theiss says that putting money into transportation is one of her constitutional duties as a legislator and that we need to do a better job at taking care of our roads and bridges.
“Trucks are losing money from just sitting on the highway. Some even have perishable products in them. We have to invest money into rebuilding our roads,” she said.
Aric Putnam says fixing roads are important, but that investing in a light rail style system would benefit the community.
“We save people money on gas if we put them on trains. It also gives people an opportunity to talk to a total stranger; we need that in this community because there is not enough of it,” Putnam responded.
Another topic that was discussed in the town hall meeting, with similar talks happening at the federal level, was families working full-time jobs that live below the poverty line. Another was making changes to the renter’s tax credit.
Zach Dorholt said that the renter’s rebate went away for a while, but when he came to office, they brought them back. Dorholt claims that this way, low-income employees who are working two or three different jobs will be able to pay their bills and provide for their families.
Jim Knoblach agreed with his opponent but said the government should look at giving rebates on income taxes rather than the amount of rent paid.
“The rent doesn’t really account from someone’s income,” Knoblach said. “We also have to realize that not every family is poor.”
You can vote for these candidates at the polls on Nov. 8.