1) Why do you want to serve as State Representative for District 47A? (100 words)
Ernie Leidiger: As a constitutional conservative Republican, I’ve seen how individual freedoms have eroded in our society. I’m serving to help restore individual rights, limit federal overreach into states authority, and help state government set the conditions for state job growth. I think it’s imperative to right-size government, reduce its footprint on society, and make it a smaller more responsive organization. Government should be limited and not encroach on charities, non-profits and religious organizations, and the private sector. These sectors of our society should have a much greater impact on our lives than government, and jobs should be plentiful in the state.
Keith Pickering: I’m concerned about the recent rise in property taxes we’ve seen in the last year. That happens because the legislature cuts aid to local governments and schools, which then raise property taxes to make up the difference. Last year the Republican-controlled legislature shut down state government so they could force cuts in aid to local governments, which caused property taxes to increase. Then they gave themselves a high five for balancing the state budget – on your back – and on the backs of every property owning individual and business.
2) What areas of the state budget need to be cut? Are there any areas that need additional funding? In what cases would you support a tax increase? How can the state avoid another stalemate when it comes to passing the next budget? (250 words)
Leidiger: In almost every area of our budget there is waste. The only real way to reduce overall government spending is to do two things: conduct a zero-based budget and put sunset clauses into all program spending initiatives so there is a scheduled review of government programs. The time for continuing a budget process taking previous biennium’s spending and adding automatic spending increases must end. We need to review every agency and program routinely with the view of relevancy, and budget from the ground up towards what is needed not wanted.
We also need to take care of our assets with a view of properly funding our maintenance and operations rather than continually building new without regard for increased continued operating costs. I was instrumental in changing county transportation project approval procedures by eliminating redundancy saving millions of dollars. There are hundreds of area’s in government where streamlining can occur, ultimately saving hundreds of millions of dollars. There are transportation projects that could be better funded through these savings. There is no foreseeable reason to increase taxes.
I will work with the Governor to spend within our means, not tax and spend more.
Pickering: Property tax relief is my highest priority, and that can only be accomplished by restoring aid to local governments and schools. It’s clear that our budgeting and tax structure needs a complete overhaul, and that starts by recognizing that there is no free lunch. Last year, the Republican-controlled legislature tried to create a “free lunch” by shifting over $2 billion of school aid off budget. Such shifts had happened before, but until this year those shifts had always been paid for in the current budget, as required by the Minnesota constitution. Last year that shift was unfunded, which makes the shift totally unconstitutional in my view.
Next year’s legislature was left holding the bag, which will pretty much require a revenue increase to pay the piper. This kind of behavior by the legislature is simply unacceptable, and we should not accept it ever again.
3) What ideas do you have to help promote business and job growth in Minnesota? (250 words)
Leidiger: Large government stifles economic growth and job creation. Government has out-grown population growth yet over the years the cost of delivering services should have declined due to technology, just like in the private sector. Over-burdensome government regulations restrict private business creation and growth. Job and career creation depends on policies that create a business-friendly environment where risk-takers open businesses and grow here in Minnesota rather than move to more business friendly states. Wealth is mobile and will naturally go where it can make a profit, no matter how nice it might be in this state. Our well known Fortune 500 companies have not grown here in Minnesota for a long time, a result of the state’s culture of high corporate taxes and an unfriendly business environment. In addition to creating a policy where we promote sustained corporate growth of our larger organizations, we must also promote small business, where it is under attack in this state and around the country. Historically everything has come from small business, the incubator of ingenuity, and where ideas have grown into new industries. Government tax revenue sprout from the risk-takers who have created new companies, the source that pays for all our infrastructure and government operations. Small business is the backbone of our society.
Pickering: The sales tax imbalance between online sales and internet sales needs to be addressed. Main street merchants have a hard time competing with Amazon when they start out with a 6.5% price handicap right out of the gate from sales tax. Because of budgeting constraints, any such changes to the sales tax will need to be made revenue-neutral by making the income tax more progressive.
The income tax is a much better tax from a business standpoint than either sales or property tax, because it can be avoided by a small business if needed. If a business’s property tax is too high, they’re stuck with no way to avoid that. But if a business’s income tax is too high, they can avoid that tax by shedding income, which they do by hiring more people, buying more plant and equipment, or expanding hours. All of that makes the business stronger, and makes the economy stronger too. We want businesses to avoid the income tax, because great things happen when they do. And one way we encourage businesses to do those great things is to make the income tax more progressive – in other words, the rich pay more.
That’s why Democrats want a progressive tax structure: it’s not social engineering, and it’s not class warfare. It’s sound economics that will get this economy moving forward again.
4) When it comes to the proposed Marriage and Voter ID amendments, do you feel it was appropriate for these issues to be put on the ballot, or, should elected officials have been focusing on other matters? (250 words)
Leidiger: Regarding Voter ID, it is a matter of confidence in our voting system. Our state is the only one that allows same day registration, then vouching of up to 15 other people, and the ballot gets stuffed into the ballot box, no recourse in case of fraud. Verifying a voter happens after the box is stuffed. Why is there still 17,000 voters from the 2008 election not been verified? We don’t know these voters or where they came from. The amendment simply states we check ID’s and we use a provisional ballot if you don’t have an ID. Same day voting and vouching still occurs but it will go easier when ID’s are checked. Eligibility is then checked before the vote is counted. It’s common sense. Integrity is restored.
Regarding the marriage amendment, it simply states that marriage is between a man and a woman. We are forced to defend marriage because of the attack on it by a very small minority. Redefining marriage has great impact on society where all laws change and those people that morally object to a broader definition of marriage will be fined and persecuted.
Human and moral laws reject any weakening of marriage. Society places great hope on our future through upholding the sanctity of creating life, raising children, and forbidding relations like incest and anything other than between a man and a woman. The definition of marriage therefore belongs in our most important documents, just as 31 other states in America have done.
Pickering: The constitution should be reserved only for those things that cannot be addressed through legislation. Neither of the proposed amendments meets that fundamental test, and it is clear that the only reason the Republican-controlled legislature created these amendments was to avoid a veto of laws that would have done exactly the same thing. Therefore I would be in favor of a constitutional amendment to change the way the constitution is amended, so that a governor’s signature is required before an amendment is sent to the people. That would remove the incentive for the legislature to load down the constitution with things that should be part of regular law and the regular legislative process.
Meanwhile, the legislature’s only other priority was shut down state government in order “balance” the state budget by shifting over $2 billion in school aid off the books, in a flatly unconstitutional accounting trick that leaves next year’s legislature on the hook for coming up with those funds.
5) What makes you the best candidate to serve State House District 47A? (100 words)
Leidiger: My beliefs align with constituents in the District. We believe in free enterprise, self-reliance, free speech, guns, and federalism. We believe in Christian family values and that God is our creator. We believe in competition and the more of it we infuse in education and health care the less expensive and better it becomes. We believe in caring for those who cannot care for themselves. I’m endorsed by Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL), National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), Minnesota Farm Bureau (FB), National Rifle Association (NRA).
Pickering: Next year the legislature will have to come up with over $2 billion for this year’s school aid that was unconstitutionally shifted off budget. And that’s on top of the current year’s school aid. Two years ago, my opponent Mr. Leidiger campaigned against those kinds of accounting gimmicks, yet when push came to shove, he chose to vote in favor of that shift – he voted the way the Republican leadership told him to vote, rather than standing up for his own principles. If Ernie Leidiger won’t even stand up for himself, why would he stand up for you?
6) Please tell us about your background and/or experience. (100 words)
Leidiger: As the current State Representative I bring experience from the business and farming community in the private sector to help shape public policy. As a small business owner, a farmer, and retired Navy veteran, I have a broad perspective that can help bring government policies to more closely align with the needs of people. I work for the people.
Pickering: This is my first run for public office. I graduated from Bloomington Jefferson High School and the University of Kansas, where I was a four-year National Merit Scholar. Returning to Minnesota after college, I began a career as a systems analyst and software engineer. I have lived in rural Watertown for over 30 years.
I am also co-author of First to the Pole, the story of Minnesota’s Ralph Plaisted and his expedition to the North Pole in 1968; and I am also one of the world’s foremost authorities on the navigation of Christopher Columbus.