We are continuing our Meet the Candidates conversations for the November 3rd 2020 elections. We recently talked with Chris Hogan (R) running for MN Senate in District 3 against incumbent Senator Tom Bakk (DFL). You can hear our interview with Senator Bakk here.
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*KAXE/KBXE News and Public Affairs Director Heidi Holtan recently spoke with Chris Hogan. The following transcript has been edited for clarity. The audio of this interview is available at the top of this page.
(Heidi Holtan) Q: Chris Hogan is the Republican candidate for Minnesota Senate District 3. It's currently held by DFLer Tom Bakk. The district includes Lake, Cook, St. Louis, and Koochiching counties, and towns like Grand Marais, Two Harbors, Cook, Ely, and International Falls. Chris Hogan joins us now. Thanks for being with us today.
(Chris Hogan) A: Thank you. My name is Chris Hogan and I am running for state Senate District 3. I grew up on Rainy Lake, on the Canadian border east of International Falls, and graduated from Falls High School in 1994. I grew up in the tourism industry and worked at a number of small businesses in International Falls, and graduated from Bemidji State in 1998. I currently live in Silver Creek Township, between Two Harbors and Silver Bay. And the last 20 years I've been employed as a commercial lender in this region, from International Falls to Bemidji to the Twin Ports, and try to act as a trusted advisor to small businesses, including hospitality, trucking, logging, and real estate developers.
Q: So why did you make the decision to run for the Minnesota Senate?
A: Well, there's a number of reasons. I have been interested and active in Republican party politics for about 20 years. I was chair of the Koochiching County Republican Party for six or seven years, [involved with] the Beltrami County Republicans. And so I've always had an interest in politics. Senate District 3 is also what I consider my district. It was our senatorial district when I grew up, when Bob Lessard was the Senator. I think it's a good year to run. I think that I can bring a broad knowledge with my work experience. I have a unique perspective dealing with small businesses. I understand what small businesses and families and industry have for challenges in our area. And I'm very passionate about our area. We live here because we want to live here, as do all the listeners.
I've seen a lot of our communities - whether it be International Falls, Two Harbors, Silver Bay, or Babbitt - a lot of our communities have not progressed economically, and there's not economic opportunity for our youth. And I've seen a lot of our communities actually go backwards since Senator Bakk, the incumbent, first went to St. Paul in 1995.
I offer the voters a clear choice. I'm running as the pro-industry, pro-commerce candidate. And that's the focus. If you look at any economic [index], the easiest of which is household incomes, [in] most of our communities, the average household income is 60% of the state's average household income, and way less than the Metro area, obviously. So we have a lot of work to do rebuilding our communities, and my passion is for rural and small town areas and industry. And it's very essential that we keep the Minnesota Senate. The Republicans and people who care about greater Minnesota and promoting industry, we must keep the Minnesota Senate. And that's why I'm running.
Q: Minnesota was recently added to a list of 22 states with uncontrolled spread of COVID-19. I wonder if you would want to address your thoughts on how the state of Minnesota has handled this pandemic.
A: There's no doubt that the pandemic is a serious problem to be taken seriously. And it's very contagious. We find out new information all the time, as far as things we didn't know three months ago. The death rate for youth and for healthy individuals is very low.
As far as the way the state has handled it, I think that Governor Walz and the DFL...I do not believe they have handled it properly when they first shut everything down - closing small businesses while keeping big boxes open, saying you can have certain events while you can't attend church. It's been a very heavy-handed approach, and his lack of...he wants the emergency powers and does not want to work with the Republicans. We're the minority party, but who do control the Senate. His lack of willingness to work with the minority party, as well as the Minnesota Senate, I find disheartening. And other states surrounding us have not taken the same approach. So I would hope that in the future we can find common ground and work together. The heavy-handed approach is not taking us forward.
Q: Let's talk a little bit about what that contention at the legislature has meant for people in northern Minnesota. Governor Walz does still have those executive powers, like 49 other governors in our nation, but there hasn't been a bonding bill, there hasn't been a supplemental bill passed through special session. What does a bonding bill mean to people of Northern Minnesota, and how will you work towards finding funds like that if you are elected?
A: Well, a bonding bill is very important to greater Minnesota, and it's very important to Senate District 3. For example, the Stewart River sewer project - that's a plan that's been ready to go for going on ten years now. And when I ask our senator and representatives what the status is, it's not high enough up on the priority chain. Yet, I could go through the bonding bill...It's a relatively small project, and I can find all kinds of things that I don't think are a priority. So the bonding bill is something very important. It's important to all Minnesotans. It's important, especially, to greater Minnesota. But I would like to see more of an emphasis on Senate District 3. I'm going down there, specifically to be passionate for Senate District 3 and govern on conservative principles. I'd like projects such as the Stewart River sewer project funded. As far as the funding goes, you know, it's a bonding bill. There are challenges ahead with the state deficit, for sure. It's going to be a challenge. And I think that there will be some working together next year in 2021.
Q: Let's look ahead to the future. What are your thoughts on the future of the mining and timber industry within your district?
A: Well, it's one of the reasons that I'm running. I come from a paper mill town in International Falls and I've followed the Polymet [and] Twin Metals progression for years. And I've been up in Ely talking to folks and it's really disheartening. I know that the incumbent is pro-mining and he's worked towards moving Polymet forward. But this is going on 17 years, and same with the Enbridge Line 3 extension. The incumbent's party leader, first with [Governor] Dayton and with Walz again two or three weeks ago...constant delays.
In 25 years since the incumbent first went to St. Paul, we have not had diversification in the wood products and timber industry. I find it very disheartening, and it's going to take a state effort. We know that the future of timber is not in the paper mill industry, but we have a very valuable resource. We must diversify the wood products industry and we must diversify mining. I'll always fight for the iron ore mines and the men and women that work in those mines. But non-ferrous mining; we need to go forward with that. The copper mining that is done today is not the kind of copper mining that was done 40 years ago. Technology has advanced. People of northeastern Minnesota have proven - really for a hundred years - that we can have mining and timber, and we can still have clean water and natural resources that we enjoy and build the tourism industry on top of that. We've done it, and we'll do it in the future.
It's not even regulatory hurdles at this point, although I would like to see environmental impact statement process reform and other environmental red-tape reform to expedite these things. At this point it's really political in its lawsuits. The state's committee for the DFL just passed a resolution that they want a moratorium on copper nickel mining. That's where that party is. And unfortunately, the party left Tom Bakk in January of this year. It's unfortunate, but it's time for a new change; a new generation and a new party to represent Senate District 3.
Q: We're almost out of time, but is there anything else you'd like to add before we go?
A: Yes. In closing, I just want to mention that I do honor Senator Bakk for his years of service in northeastern Minnesota. However, it is time for a change, like I mentioned. In February of 2017, the Star Tribune - which is hardly friendly to conservatives - they published an article that Senator Bakk is the highest paid lawmaker in the state of Minnesota, as far as lawmakers go; not the governor. And this is due to augmented expenses, and the article's very detailed.
Over seven years, more than $350,000 was collected, in addition to his salary...$70,000 from his own campaign, rented space from his home, collected mileage expenses from both the state, as well as the IRRRB. And the math didn't really add up there...as well as taking [the] maximum housing allowance paid for by the state for his Maplewood home, and it goes on and on.
Constituents have asked me to bring this up. And you know, it's not illegal. And I'm not gonna accuse Senator Bakk of being unethical. But the way that the people feel in Senate District 3 about this is that we have not gotten the bang for the buck. And I personally feel like I've been a little bit ripped off, to be honest with you.
Most people in Lake County, Cook County, Koochiching County...they haven't seen Tom Bakk in years. It's time that...you know, have we diversified the wood products industry? Do we have a pro-business climate to have a more robust tourism industry? Has non-ferrous mining progressed at the pace that we'd like and other industrial initiatives? It simply hasn't. Senator Bakk is running on his experience and he says, "Experience matters." And my response is, "Northern Minnesota matters."
I'm not a career politician. I didn't go after endorsements. Again, I'm a business person. I think I can represent Senate District 3, and it's time for a change.
Q: That's Chris Hogan. He is the Republican candidate for Minnesota Senate District 3. You can find more information on Facebook. Search for Chris Hogan MN. Thanks so much for your time today.
A: Thank you.