Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen is seeking another term to the House 18B seat this November, and will be facing DFL challenger Heather Bakke on the ballot.

Gruenhagen grew up on a dairy farm in Glencoe and enlisted in the Marine Corps after high school. He and wife, Emily, raised three children and have five grandchildren. Gruenhagen also runs an independent insurance agency, served on the Glencoe-Silver Lake School Board for 16 years, and participated in jail ministry for 13 years.

Bakke grew up in Buffalo, Minnesota. Her dad worked as a social studies teacher and her mom worked at a house for adults with developmental disabilities. Bakke said they taught her the values of education, compassion, and patience. While she does not have any children of her own, she does have many, as she has been employed as a special education teacher with Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop Schools for the past 11 years.

The two candidates weighed in on a number of issues for the Henderson Independent. Below are their responses.

1. Why are you running for office?

Bakke: For years I have gone to St. Paul to lobby for more funding for schools in Minnesota, especially schools in 18B. When meeting with my representative, my concerns were noted, but it always ended up that the Republicans in the Legislature didn’t want to make the financial commitment to our schools. They will complain that we are getting the largest increases to date, but the truth is that this historic funding has not kept up with inflation.

When the schools in our area don’t get the funding we desperately need, schools like GFW have to cut programs, spend state dollars to fix our older buildings, and pay skyrocketing transportation costs. We keep getting told that there is no more money for schools.

I am running to get the Legislature to fully fund our schools. Working in a school, I see up close and personal the way that lack of funding hurts our kids. I am running to help the students of Minnesota in whatever way I can.

Gruenhagen: My desire is to preserve freedom and economic opportunities for our children. Our nation is the most free and prosperous nation in the history of the world, but we are sliding towards socialism, which is primarily being promoted by the Democrat Party. I have a deep concern about the direction of our state and nation, and we must decide if we want to continue to be a land of opportunity or a land of government entitlements. I hope to continue to fight for those values that made America great.

2. If elected, what will be your top priority for the 2021 Legislature?

Bakke: In greater Minnesota, education and agriculture go hand in hand. The tax base of our communities falls largely in the agriculture sector. I think that we need to take the burden of running our schools away from local property taxes and have them spread out amongst the people of Minnesota. I support biofuels and believe that they offer cleaner energy and a much needed market for our farmers.

I also believe that it is time for Minnesota to continue the work of social and racial justice. We can no longer deny that systematic racism isn’t at play in our state. Many people say that all lives matter, but until statistically a person of color isn’t going to be treated differently in the eyes of the law, schools, banking, housing, and generational wealth, I will shout again and again that Black Lives Matter.

Gruenhagen: 1. Initiate school choice. Minnesota has one of the worst academic achievement gaps for minorities in the nation. We can dramatically reduce that gap by creating competition between all schools versus Democrats continuing to spend billions more tax dollars on failed inner-city schools. Much of our social unrest in Democrat-controlled cities is connected to the achievement gap. I support equal funding for rural school districts.

2. Support law enforcement and oppose any Democrat-led defunding initiative.

3. Healthcare reform. A study by MDH in 2017 reported that 1.2 million Minnesotans did not seek health care due to skyrocketing premiums and deductibles under Obamacare. We need private sector reforms!

4. Complete Highway 212 from Norwood to Cologne as a four-lane highway. The section of Highway 212 from Chaska to Cologne is already scheduled to expand to four lanes in 2022. I was the chief author of that bill. I was also instrumental in having Highway 212 named as a corridor of commerce, which now makes it eligible for matching federal funds.

3. Minnesota’s response to the pandemic has been contentious at best. How do you think it should be handled? What can the state do differently to balance public health and economic stability?

Bakke: The most simple and cheapest solution to the pandemic is wearing masks. Once masks were readily available to the public, people should have started wearing them. If wearing a mask makes me a snowflake, so be it. I appreciate that Governor Walz listened to medical health experts.

Because of these decisions, Minnesota has not had the higher rates of transmission like the states surrounding us. Now we have options for in-person and hybrid learning as numbers allow. I look at the generation of WWII who was willing to ration and make sacrifices for their fellow Americans. This generation of Americans should be willing to make sacrifices to keep their fellow Minnesotans safe. Wearing a mask is the American way!

Gruenhagen: The most urgent issue is to get Minnesota’s economy reopened. The governor’s executive order has been extremely arbitrary and subjective and has crippled Minnesota’s economy. Minnesota has higher unemployment, higher death rate, and greater economic damage than neighboring states.

We need to secure and protect the most vulnerable, such as seniors living in long term care. The governor should never have allowed infectious COVID patients to be placed in nursing homes, especially when our hospitals, who had prepared for COVID patients, were substantially empty and laying off medical staff.

The overwhelming number of deaths from COVID-19 has been in nursing homes and assisted living. With that in mind, it is time to trust our local schools to reopen and allow our children to attend school full time for more effective learning. We can protect those who are vulnerable without damaging our children’s academic and emotional well-being. According to the latest medical data, if you are 50 or younger, your chance of recovery from COVID is 99.5%.

4. Affordable health care is still a big concern, especially as our health facilities have seen increased demand due to the pandemic. Do you think the state should expand government run health plans? Why or why not? Are there other things the state can do to help make health care more affordable?

Bakke: Government run health plans are a great idea because they increase the size of the pool, bringing down the costs for everyone. I am president of the teachers' union at my school and I know that our district with 60 teachers would be impossible to self insure because the size of the pool is so small.

Our group is part of a regional co-op to help keep the increases to a smaller percentage. A state run pool would give farmers and other self-employed folks a fighting chance for affordable coverage. The only thing that these plans would hurt is the insurance companies who would like to keep their record profits.

Gruenhagen: No, Obamacare has resulted in skyrocketing premiums and deductibles. We need private health care reform, not more government run health care.

Obamacare incentivized states to expand Medicaid, which reimburses doctors and hospitals at a financial loss. The result is that 30 hospitals in Minnesota are currently listed as financially distressed and 12 rural hospitals had negative operating margins and are in danger of closing.

Democrats support a single-payer health insurance plan in Minnesota which is estimated to cost $35 billion per year. It will result in higher taxes, less access to health care, and a two-tier health care system -  one for the rich who will have immediate access and another second-rate healthcare system for the rest of us.

Having a competitive health care system that reimburses doctors and hospitals at a more reasonable rate is possible here in Minnesota; however, we must vote out politicians who promise free health care for all (including illegal immigrants) and then tell us the lie that we will receive excellent health care access. This is not possible without bankrupting our state and implementing a second-rate rationed health care system for the majority of Minnesotans.

5. In years when the state has a budget surplus, how do you think it should be spent?

Bakke: When there is a budget surplus, it is important for the state to make sure that the commitment to education, health care, and the infrastructure of our state are keeping up with inflation. It is also important for the state to take care of long term projects that have kept being deferred. Major building projects will save Minnesotans in the long run and they will provide good paying jobs so less people have to rely on unemployment.

Gruenhagen: Even though we began the previous biennium with a surplus, I think the chance of us having a surplus in the near future is highly unlikely. If there was a surplus, I believe we should return the money to the people of Minnesota in the form of tax relief, especially property taxes.

However, according to the MN Management & Budget, Minnesota is facing a $4.7 billion deficit this biennium and it’s growing. Republicans will attempt to reform government and live within our means, especially since Minnesota’s private sector will be recovering from the COVID-19 shutdown of our economy. Democrats' solutions always include huge tax increases and more regulations on Minnesota’s private sector with very little reform of government.

Keep in mind that Governor Walz and the DFL wanted to raise taxes by $13 billion even when we had a $1.3 billion surplus in 2019. President Trump proved to us that reducing taxes and cutting regulations stimulates the economy, creates more jobs, and puts more money in the pockets of our citizens, which, in turn, creates more tax revenues.

6. Compromise and collaboration are important to a successful Legislative process. Provide an example of how you have worked with someone from a different background, political view, etc. to accomplish a task.

Bakke: As a member of Education Minnesota, we work to support strong public schools in Minnesota. Many people think that all teachers are Democrats, but that simply isn’t true. Many teachers in our state organization and especially in my local teachers' union are Republicans. When I am working on political issues with my members, I try to remain cognizant to focus on the things that we have in common - students and education. I know that we won’t get anything done if we can’t work together.

To bring unity to Minnesota politics, politicians need to hold themselves to a higher standard of conduct and honesty. Less junk science and more trust in our accredited scientists. I will always focus on the things our two parties have in common, which is making Minnesota better for future generations. We all believe that our kids deserve strong public schools, that we need to continue to make our state a shining star in the world of agriculture, and continue to be on the cutting edge of science and technology. As Paul Wellstone said, “We all do better when we all do better.”

Gruenhagen: The recently passed bonding bill is a good example of bipartisan work. I would like to thank Senator Newman and House Democrats for including the funding for Henderson to address flood mitigation.

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