MARSHALL - Campaign season for the Minnesota Legislature is in full swing, and a group of Democratic-Farmer-Labor candidates said that they've noticed some changes in voter attitudes this year. In November, their decisions may have less to do with party lines, and more to do with issues.
"It comes down to who represents their community," said Minnesota House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, during a visit to Marshall on Saturday.
Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, was in Marshall to show support for local DFL candidate Al Kruse. Thissen, Kruse and state Senate candidate Ted Suss talked about campaign season and issues facing the Minnesota Legislature after election day has come and gone.
Kruse, of Marshall, is running in State Representative District 16A. Suss, of Lucan, is running in State Senate District 16.
Kruse and Suss said they've received some very positive responses on the campaign trail so far. Suss said there seems to be a rising sense of frustration among voters and a desire for leaders who can compromise and get things done.
"It's distressing how many people have lost faith in the legislative system," Suss said.
Kruse said he had noticed some of the same things. The state shutdown in 2011 and state constitutional amendments going on the ballot in November haven't been positive for voters, Kruse said.
"I don't think people like being pushed into constitutional amendments," he said. "Governing by constitutional amendment is not good government."
"It's a symptom of a larger issue of intransigence" among state lawmakers, Thissen said. There weren't many minds changing in the past two years, which helped lead to situations like the state shutdown.
"We need people who are willing to compromise and willing to learn," Kruse said.
The challenges facing the state, Thissen said, "are really too big to not do that."
Thissen said the challenges Minnesota will face include ongoing fiscal and budget questions. State cuts to Local Government Aid funding has driven counties and cities to rely more on property taxes. Cuts to education also hurt the state's future workforce and economic prospects, he said.
"Cuts to higher education could have been the worst decision, long term," Thissen said.
Suss said he had spoken with many voters who were also concerned about education, and even some who were in favor of the state paying back money it owes schools.
"People are well aware that schools have been shortchanged," Suss said.
"LGA comes up a lot, too," Kruse said, now that aid cuts have begun to affect city and county services around southwest Minnesota.
Kruse said other pressing concerns in the region include transportation and infrastructure, renewable fuels standards and encouraging agriculture and small businesses.
Candidates said the state will also need to look at possibilities for tax reform and raising revenue more fairly. Suss said recent changes like the homestead credit have put a huge tax burden on farmers, small businesses and the middle class.
Thissen said he was in support of closing tax loopholes for large corporations. Kruse also said the state could, through legislation, do a better job of collecting state taxes it is owed on Internet sales.
Redistricting may pose some challenges for state elections this year, Kruse said. Voters are still getting to know which districts they now live in, and in southwest Minnesota, the new districts may make some races closer. The new boundaries for District 16A, he said, "took a heavily Republican-leaning district, and made it more even," by including some areas that have voted DFL in the past.