On the eve of elections, candidates discuss the issues


District 67 candidates participated in a League of Women Voters forum on Oct. 24, moderated by Sarah Risser. Candidates participating were, left to right, Foung Hawj, Sheldon Johnson, Andrew Livingston, Joseph Weverka and Tim Mahoney.

Voting rights, public transit and educational disparities were among some of the questions posed at the League of Women Voters District 67 legislative candidate forum on Monday, Oct. 24. 

The forum included DFL incumbents Foung Hawj, running for re-election of state Senate District 67; Sheldon Johnson, seeking re-election in state House District 67B and Tim Mahoney, running for re-election in House District 67A. They were joined by Republican-endorsed Andrew Livingston, running for state House District 67A , and Libertarian Party-endorsed Joseph Weverka, running for state House District 67B. 

Hawj’s Republican challenger, Krysia Weidell, in Senate District 67, and Johnson’s Republican opponent, Lisa Thompson, in House District 67B were not in attendance.

The forum, which was co-sponsored by the District 1 Community Council and Merrick Community Services, was held at the East Side Learning Hub, attached to Harding High School. 

The questions, which candidates were given one minute to answer, consisted of those from the League of Women Voters and written questions from the audience. 

The candidates were asked about restoring voting rights to convicted felons, mass transit in relation to the East Side, policies to address economic disparities in schools, spending priorities, policies to address racial disparities, the legalization of cannabis, guns and violence in state Senate District 67, mining on the Iron Range and maintaining water quality, the rising cost of college and free community college, renaming Columbus Day to “Indigenous People’s Day” and changing the Minnesota state seal, and using rank choice voting for state elections.

When asked about restoring voting rights and whether candidates saw a problem with the current law, all but one candidate said they would support restoring voting rights to convicted felons who have been released from prison.

Currently, Minnesota law states that felons who are out of prison but still on probation are not allowed to vote until they completely finish parole and probation.

Hawj said it is important to give parolees a second chance.

Livingston said he did not believe the law needed to be changed, adding that, “It is just a part of the punishment you have to accept for committing a crime.”

Weverka said that “people make mistakes,” and that if they can have taxes collected from them then they should have a voice in elections.

Johnson added that, through his over 30 years of experience in Ramsey County Corrections, the best thing for former inmates was to keep them engaged in the community, and voting is one way to do it. 

Mahoney said that he would be willing to carry the bill in the state House of Representatives to restore felons’ voting rights next year, and that it is fiscally smarter to reintegrate felons as early as possible to dissuade them from re-committing crimes later. 

 

Disparities

Candidates were asked about both educational and racial/economic disparities and how to close those gaps. 

Weverka answered that he supports the voucher system in order to give parents more options when deciding where to send their kids to school.

Hawj said smaller class sizes as well as funding after-school programs at area recreation centers would help bridge the education gap.

Mahoney said funding all-day kindergarten is a good start, but that thinking outside of the box is important to solve the academic achievement gap.

Livingston said that while it is the Legislature’s job to fund the schools, it is up to the school district and school board to solve the issue of disparities. 

Johnson said the state needs to fully fund early-childhood education programs and to bring in more teachers of color. In addition he said it may come down to the state requiring school districts to create plans for addressing educational disparities. 

When it comes to economic disparities, Livingston said it is not “the state’s purview to determine which group earns what,” and that it isn’t the state’s business to know which particular group has more income than any other group.

Hawj said, “’Bringing people together’ is my motto,” to strengthen the East Side. He said he works hard on addressing racial and economic disparities.

Johnson said he sees workforce training and supporting businesses of color as ways to address racial/economic disparities. 

Weverka added, “Racism is alive and real,” and that “it’s not something the government can regulate and make it go away.” He said government can’t just boost one group up because that is not equality. Weverka said he has a small-business plan where owners, if they buy a place that has been vacant, could operate tax-free for a year to develop their business. 

Mahoney said “racial and economic inequality is something that we’re going to have to keep in the forefront of our mind for public policy for the next 25 to 30 years.”

He said the state could get started immediately by helping people of color start their small businesses by connecting them with banks that offer micro-loans. Regarding racial inequity, he said there needs to be more police training and better de-escalation techniques taught to officers. 

 

A thorough forum

• When asked about transit, Livingston said he would not support the Rush Line Corridor Rapid Transit project as it would turn the district into a “commuter lane.” Weverka also opposed the idea of light rail in the district because it would hurt small businesses, citing the effects of the Green Line on University Avenue businesses. Hawj, Johnson and Mahoney said they would support any type of mass transit option, citing lack of car ownership in the district, the inclusion of bike infrastructure, and clearing up congested streets.

• Candidates were asked about their stance on the legalization of cannabis for recreational use and how it could be taxed for increased tax revenue. Johnson said he would like to see more research completed before he would vote for legalizing marijuana for recreational use, hence why he was a co-author for the legalization of medical use in Minnesota. He said he would also support legalizing industrial hemp. Hawj also said he would need to see more research. Mahoney he would support legalization, but would want any tax revenue to go towards drug treatment programs. Weverka said he would support legalization, adding that marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol. Livingston said he would not support legalization.

• Candidates were asked if they would support the use of rank-choice voting for state elections. Weverka said he would support it. The other candidates said they supported it for local elections, but not for state elections, explaining the process and ballots would be too confusing for voters to understand. 

 

Election Day is Nov. 8. To find your polling place go to http://pollfinder.sos.state.mn.us.

 

Marjorie Otto can be reached at 651-748-7816 or at eastside@lillienews.com. Follow her on Twitter at @EastSideM_Otto.

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