Legislative candidates in Eden Prairie are offering voters some clear-cut choices on the hot issues of gun laws and transit. Two of the three legislative races in the area are expected to be very close and could hinge on those issues.
Senate Minority Leader David Hann (R) is running against a well-known Eden Prairie High School teacher Steve Cwodzinski. Their differences on many issues was on display when they participated in a League of Women Voters’ forum on September 19.
Cwodzinski supports the Southwest Light Rail project that will serve Eden Prairie and other nearby suburbs. “This is clearly an area where Sen. Hann and I disagree. Southwest Light Rail will increase our attractiveness as a a region. It will create tens of thousands of jobs.”
The driving force behind many of Cwodzinski’s positions on the issues is how it impacts his students. Transit is no different. “We dragged our feet for ten years building light rail and now it’s time to start looking at the next project. And that so the millenials who are moving to Denver and Seattle and San Diego that have light rail lines established for them. So let’s build the Bottineau line next. Let’s get all these other lines built up and not let these kids down that want to just get to work and connect people to the economic opportunities that light rail will bring to the region.”
Hann’s reasons for opposing Southwest Light Rail
Video above: full debate between candidates for the one Senate and the two House seats in district 48.
At end of story: list of questions, time in the video they were asked and time the candidates responded.
Hann has opposed the project, but pointed out he hasn’t voted against it. “Well, I’ve never voted in favor of the Southwest Light rail in the legislature and I’ve never voted against it. We’ve never had a bill. There’s never been hearings on the Southwest Light Rail in the legislature that had votes. It hasn’t had a vote on the floor. It has not been passed through committees.”
Hann didn’t mention that several hearings on funding for the project have been held over the last four years. The Senate Transportation Committee held a hearing as recently as April 10, 2015. Hearings also happened in 2014 and 2013. This year, the rail proposal was part of an omnibus transportation bill. Sen. Ron Latz (DFL) of nearby St. Louis Park says the bill “fell apart” when House Republican leaders refused to move it forward.
Hann expressed concerns about the price and the impact of the rail project. “I think there are questions about what happens to the bus system that we’d like to have out here in Eden Prairie if this comes through. What happens to property taxes in Eden Prairie if this goes through? What happens to the state budget? What does it cost the state budget to ongoing operate it?”
Federal dollars are paying for about half of the $1.8 billion project. This past session Republicans, including Hann, did all they could to prevent the legislature from providing the final $144.5 million dollars to fund the project. Eventually the Met Council and several other government entities provided the money with the expectation that the legislature will reimburse them next year.
The two candidates for the open seat in House district 48A were also on opposite sides of the rail project. DFL candidate Laurie Pryor says she is in favor of it because so many other leaders are. “I know that the city of Minnetonka strongly supports it unanimously. I know that Eden Prairie City Council and Mayor support it unanimously. I know the Twin West Chamber supports it. Why do they all support it? They support it because it’s going to be such a boon to the local economy.”
Pryor says the the rail will encourage businesses to open in the area because employees will be able to take the light rail to work. “And also we know it’s important for the quality of life. No one likes traffic. And when we have 750 thousand more people in the metro area, we will be glad we built light rail.”
Republican Mary Shapiro thinks the project is too expensive compared to roads. “But what I can’t understand is the… what is the cost benefit between the light rail and … what is the benefit of it. I know that it’s hugely expensive. It’s going to cost 1.9 billion dollars. It seems like the roads are much …. would be a lot less expensive to repair. Like for every mile of light rail it will cost 25 to 30 million dollars. For every mile of of road construction costs 2 to 5 million dollars. And it’s estimated that only two to three percent of traffic will be affected at all by the route.”
Partisan divide on gun laws
The candidates were asked about universal background checks for gun sales — a proposal that regularly gets 90% support in public polls. The Democrats endorsed the idea. The Republicans were opposed to it or non-committal.
“Wild-eyed citizens who own guns are not the problem or not the reasons why we have the difficulties we have,” said Hann. “So I think to say that we want to implement a universal requirement to background check every gun sale does raise some practical problems that may be difficult even to implement, much less would have the effect of solving this problem that we see.
“Certainly there are issues with mental health, and we try to make sure we are keeping people with mental health problems from having access to dangerous weapons of any kind is a big part of the problem. We need to do a better job at that. But this is not the thing that is going to solve the problem.”
Shapiro said she is “not quite sure whether universal background checks is something that would really work. I know that law abiding citizens would go along with it. They would go through the background checks if they’re buying a gun from a neighbor or wherever. But I don’t think criminals will do the same thing. If they get a gun from somebody they’re not going to go through the background check. I don’t see how it would really help.”
“Universal background checks work,” said Pryor, pointing to data from other states. “In 18 states there are universal background checks. These background checks do not infringe on Second Amendment rights. Law abiding citizens are buying guns in these 18 states. But what it has done is kept some guns out of the wrong hands. And those hands that they’re keeping those guns away from — lives are being saved. There are 46 percent fewer women shot to death by their intimate partners. There are 48 percent fewer law enforcement officers killed by handguns. We also are reducing illegal gun trafficking. So we have found that universal background checks work because it’s being done in other states. I support it.”
Cwodzinski again looked at the gun issue through the eyes of his students. “As an educator, I can tell you the worst day in a teacher’s life is when they have to walk into the classroom and say we had another Rocori today, another Red Lake or Sandy Hook or Columnbine. And the looks on those students’ faces is indescribable. It’s like they have this blank look on their faces of ‘why aren’t you adults doing something about this? How come you guys keep dropping the ball on this? We shouldn’t have to live like this in fear.’”
He pointed out that in Minnesota, students can’t even bring a knife to school. “I don’t know what the problem is for banning assault weapons like the AR15. Universal background checks — let’s just get it done. And for our kids’ well being. This is our future. Our kids, and they’re screaming at us to solve this problem.”
The candidates also discussed what should be done with the state’s budget surplus, how to pay for the rising cost of child care, how to improve education, how to deal with racial disparities, resolve disputes between religion and reproductive rights, and reinstating a citizens panel on the environment.
House District 48B incumbent Republican Jenifer Loon and her DFL challenger Ben Sherlock also participated in the forum.
Log of debate
3:16 Steve Cwodzinski
5:22 David Hann
6:53 Laurie Pryor
9:05 Mary Shapiro
11:22 Jenifer Loon
13:46 Ben Sherlock
15:20 What should be done with any budget surplus? If you support tax cuts how would you recommend that they be implemented?
21:42 Cost of child care up. Quality care is out of reach for most families. Minnesota is ranked the least affordable state for center based infant care and the 5th worst for 4 year old care . What will you do to improve access and availability to quality and affordable child care for working families?
28:39 Money is not closing the achievement gap. What is your answer to improve eduction?
35:35 Racial disparities. Will you support additional funding ?
42:30 Felons can’t vote until done with probation. Do you support restoring voting rights to those on parole or probation?
48:13 Guns background checks. Most people want them. Do you?
54:16 Do you support the Contraception Health Equity and Employee Rights (CHEER) Act which requires contraception in health coverage with an exception for religious institutions?
59:12 What do you think is the state’s role when the federal government is slow to act on threats to public health?
1:04:48 Are you in favor of reinstating citizen advisory committee that had input on environmental issues?
1:10:11 Do you support Southwest Light Rail- reasons?
1:16:51 If elected what are your top three priorities?
1:23:00 closing remarks
1:29:04 End of debate