Speaking out against government overreach

Four GOP candidates for governor at forum

MARSHALL — From buffer strips to mowing permits, Minnesota farmers have vented plenty of frustrations with state regulations. And at a Monday night forum, four Republican candidates for governor said they shared those frustrations about Minnesota government.

“First, let me make a general statement for the sake of farmers and landowners: For goodness sakes, get off our backs. Leave us alone,” said candidate Phillip Parrish, echoing many residents’ positions on the buffer law and other regulations affecting farmers.

Parrish and fellow gubernatorial candidates Keith Downey, Jeff Johnson and David Osmek all called for more local control on a variety of issues, including environmental protection.

Monday’s forum was held at the campus of Southwest Minnesota State University.

Three of the participating candidates had past political experience. Osmek is currently a state senator representing Senate District 33. Johnson is a Hennepin County commissioner, a former member of the Minnesota House of Representatives, and ran against Gov. Mark Dayton in 2014. Downey is a former state representative, and former chairman of the Minnesota GOP. Parrish is a Navy reservist and educator.

The buffer law, and requirements for farmers to get permits to mow or hay on state right of way, were two topics that drew criticism from all four candidates at the forum. Parrish said farmers and landowners are not interested in destroying their land or water, and already do “a great job” monitoring their property.

“You don’t need a centralized authority telling you a bunch of shenanigans that don’t work in the first place,” he said.

Downey agreed.

“I have specifically proposed getting rid of the buffer regulation if I am governor,” he said. The buffer law and the controversial mowing regulations point to a bigger issue in Minnesota, he said. “People have this sense that government is coming at them, not from them.”

The gubernatorial election was an opportunity for Minnesota to go back to trusting in Minnesotans instead of in bigger government, Downey said.

“It’s a great example of government agencies’ arrogance,” Johnson said of requirements for farmers to get permits to mow or hay on the public right of way. “It has to change. We have to put people in charge of their own destinies in this state . . . Government doesn’t know best, and that has to change.”

“The biggest problem I have with this whole subject is that we’re under the control of King Mark Dayton I,” Osmek said. “Name the bill number where we actually, legislatively, passed the buffer laws . . . There isn’t one. Why? Because (Dayton) did it by his own rule-making authority.”

Osmek called for reforms for gubernatorial rule-making authority, and to repeal the buffer law and similar regulations. Minnesota needed to “repeal every one of these laws, and let the local governments deal with them,” he said.

Government overregulation was a topic that prompted several questions from audience members Monday night. Candidates were asked how they would address Minnesota’s day care shortage — especially in regards to state regulations driving independent day care providers out of business.

Downey said Minnesota has gone from having 15,000 in-home child care providers to 8,000 because of forced unionization efforts and restrictive regulations. He said it was part of the “symptom of Gov. Dayton and the Democrats trying to unionize and regulate every aspect of child rearing.”

“First and foremost, we need to get off the backs of in-home family child care providers, and allow them to re-emerge and grow,” Downey said. He said Minnesota also needed to get rid of subsidies that further distort the child care market.

“Overregulation is a problem in Minnesota, but there are few places where it is a bigger problem than in child care,” Johnson agreed. “Government needs to back off. It doesn’t mean we don’t need to regulate,” he said, “But it’s gone completely overboard because of the arrogance of state government.”

Johnson said Minnesota needed a change of leadership to help change that culture.

Osmek agreed attempts to unionize child care providers were one part of the problem for Minnesota day care providers.

“All that unionization does in the current environment is create cost increases because you’re going to have to kick back some of your money to the union organization,” Osmek said.

The other problem, he said, was “all of the tiny regulations” in-home care providers had to deal with.

Parrish said the child care crisis was “a premeditated crisis . . . to help provide ammunition for the Early Childhood Initiative.” He also raised concerns about abuses of the child care system, and called for Minnesotans to start questioning state government.

Candidates also fielded a couple of audience questions about roads. None of the four supported the idea of a gas tax increase to help repair rural roads and bridges.

“One of the biggest problems we have in Minnesota is that we take too much money from people,” Johnson said. He said a gas tax increase would especially hit the middle class hardest.

Instead, Johnson and other candidates said, road funding was a matter of setting priorities.

“We should be funding roads and bridges aggressively,” instead of alternative transportation like light rail, Johnson said. “Part of it is about prioritization, and making sure we’re funding what people actually want to use and need.” Johnson said the state should also dedicate a portion of its general fund and bonding to roads and bridges.

Downey said he never has supported a gas tax increase.

“One of the absolute failures of leadership in St. Paul is the fact that our state general fund budget has literally grown 50 percent in the last 10 years, and all the politicians in St. Paul are jumping up and down saying we don’t have any money for roads,” Downey said. He said the state Legislature made a positive move in its last session, by putting some general fund allocations toward roads and bridges. It put roads “on a level playing field” with other areas of state spending, like education and health and human services, he said.

“I am not going to sign any increase in gas tax,” Osmek said. “Do you know that in the next 10 years, the highway user distribution fund, which funds our roads, is actually gonna increase by 88 percent higher than inflation? How much more do you think we need?”

Minnesota could do a better job prioritizing the road funding it has right now, Osmek said.

Parrish agreed, and said Minnesotans need to ask where the money the state already receives for roads and other functions is going.

“The pork producers and the corn growers association, and several other associations, do have a proposal for a gas tax. OK, fine, do the gas tax, but make sure you take away the other schemes,” Parrish said. “And notice how closely the word ‘scheme’ is really related to the word ‘scam.’ Where the heck is all the money going? That’s what you gotta start asking questions about.”

Monday’s full governor candidate forum is available to watch online, either at Studio 1 TV’s YouTube page, or at theuptake.org.