Rep. Zachary Dorholt is a speck of blue in the sea of red that is Congresswoman Michele Bachmann’s district. He is the only Democrat in Minnesota’s legislature from that conservative area. He was elected in 2012, which was a bad year for Minnesota Republicans. However, he did win by 13 percentage points — which was better than President Barack Obama, who outpolled Mitt Romney by just 10 percentage points among the same voters.
Despite numbers that seem to favor Dorholt, Republicans would like Minnesota’s most conservative congressional district to be all red again; several groups have targeted the race hoping to boost his Republican challenger Jim Knoblach to victory in 14B. Knoblach is a former legislator. He served from 1995 to 2006 and has been working in the private sector since then.
The two debated this past week on business-friendly turf — a meeting of the St. Cloud Area Chamber of Commerce. They were on a four-person panel that also included Rep. Tama Theis, the Republican candidate in 14A, and her DFL challenger Dan Wolgamott. Chamber President Teresa Bohnen moderated and chose topics that were mostly of interest to the business community.
Dorholt and Knoblach found agreement on a few issues. Neither wants the state to mandate nurse-to-patient ratios at hospitals. And both agree that state regulations should not be “one size fits all” when it comes to dealing with businesses. Both thought transportation was an important issue. But beyond that, the two were on opposite sides of nearly every other topic discussed.
The Chamber’s question about taxes was preceded with the statement, “businesses and people with wealth are reportedly leaving the state in search of better tax climate.” Dorholdt took issue with the premise.
“I hear the frustrations of creating that fourth tier tax bracket income in that question. And we say ‘reportedly’ leaving the state. But we’ve gained over 160,000 new jobs since Governor Dayton took office. Forbes Magazine rated us 8th best in the nation for the economy. And CNBC, the sixth best in the country for business. We’ve taken these investments and done wise things with them.
“I think we’re doing wise things with the tax structures that we created in the past. Yes, there obviously are more efficiencies. I can rattle off a bunch with owning a bar and restaurant and there’s no big clean answer. But I support the changes we’ve made, and I think we’ve done an incredible job making those investments show.”
Knobloch said taxes and spending are linked and state spending increased 12 percent during the last legislature. “Were there some good investments in there? Yes, there were. And there should have been some good investments because we went into the session with a $600 million surplus, but then we promptly increased taxes by $2 billion. We increased taxes far more than really was needed.”
Knobloch called Minnesota’s health care insurance exchange “a big failure”. He said people have been helped by it. But most people who signed up for it were eligible for other programs. Knobloch says some people have been forced off their current insurance plans and now have high deductibles. He rattled off a list of complaints. “We spent $100 million on a website that doesn’t work.” He says the state gave bonuses to people who didn’t deserve it and premiums are likely to go up this year.
“You can’t have change without anxiety,” Dorholt responded. Several years ago under Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty, a Republican majority legislature took General Assistance Medical Care away. Dorholt said people died because of that change. Under MNsure, he says, people are getting quality care who had no care before.
“This is a huge change. You can’t have change without anxiety, even if it’s for the better. It’s going to be complicated and frustrating for awhile. I think MNsure took the best of this really complicated awkward Obamacare situation, and yes, we were doing better than most states before and now we’re doing better than all of them.”
Indexing Minimum Wage For Inflation
Minnesota’s new minimum wage law includes raises for inflation, something that Knobloch opposes having written into the law. “We don’t know what the economy is going to be like, we don’t know what labor conditions are going to be like, we don’t know what situations are out there. This is something that should be done on a case-by-case basis, as has been, and not be put on automatic pilot.” Kobloch said he also supports what restaurant owners call a “tip credit” that reduces wages paid to tipped workers.
Dorholt defended indexing the minimum wage. He said the inflationary factor is capped is at 2%. He said that needs to be done for two reasons. People need to be able to plan, and if there is no automatic adjustment, “we’ll be having this conversation over and over.”
Dorholt then explained why he voted for raising the minimum wage. He said many college grads in the St. Cloud area work two or three part-time jobs. This includes workers at his business. Because more of St. Cloud’s economy is now service based instead of manufacturing based, an increase in the minimum wage was needed because people need to be able to afford to make a living wage without having to work two or three part-time jobs. Now that the minimum wage has gone up, Dorholt says more of his employees are able to work full-time.
Dorholt defended his votes increasing spending for education. He said companies come to Minnesota for the educated workforce. “It’s what put us on the map”. He said Minnesota historically has invested in education but took a “break” from making that investment “for about ten years in my opinion” when Pawlenty and Jesse Ventura were governor and education spending was cut. “Now we’re playing catchup.”
Knoblach agreed that historically Minnesota has had a good education system, but the state has the largest “achievement gap” between minorities and whites. To fix that problem, Knoblach says he supports “increasing the tax credits that are available for people that have children in public and private schools to foster more school choice would be something that would help all people, and particularly those that are disadvantaged.”