Meet Joe Abeyta - DFL for House District 5B in Itasca and Cass Counties

Sep 24, 2020

*We are continuing our Meet the Candidates conversations for the November 3rd 2020 elections.  We recently talked with Joe Abeyta (DFL) running for MN House in District 5B. You can find his social media here. He is running against Spencer Igo (R) you can hear his interview with us here.

It is our goal to give you information so you can go to the polls ready to vote.

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*KAXE/KBXE News and Public Affairs Director Heidi Holtan recently spoke with Joe Abeyta. The following transcript has been edited for clarity.  The audio of this interview is available at the top of this page.

(Heidi Holtan) Q: Joe Abeyta is the Democratic candidate for Minnesota House in District 5B. The district includes parts of Itasca and Cass counties, including parts of the Leech Lake Reservation, and towns like Deer River, Grand Rapids, Coleraine, Remer, Longville, Pine River, and Backus. Joe Abeyta joins us now. Thanks for being with us.

(Joe Abeyta) A: Thank you. I'm glad to be able to let people know who I am.

Q: So, tell us about yourself. Why are you running for the Minnesota House?

A: Well, I'm running for the Minnesota House, because I feel like we're at a point in time where people feel like they have to pick a side, Democrat or Republican. I've been a lifetime Democrat, but I refuse to pick those lines and it's creating a lot of gaps that we need filled here in our district to be able to have funding for our school, or funding for our roads - just the simple things that we need for our families to thrive. And I feel I'm in the best position to represent that, since I'm a father, a husband, I'm a heavy equipment operator that works out here in our mines, and a [LaPrairie] city council member who has been advocating for our city for over two years now. And I just feel like it's time to have that person right down the middle of the road that can listen to both sides, and we can make some equitable changes that we are in desperate need for.

Q: Let's talk about some of the priorities for  District 5B. If I made you choose two, what would they be?

A: Well, clearly education is going to be a priority. We have school districts that were looking at very serious budget cuts over the next three years, before the pandemic started. And now our educators have really stepped up and put themselves on the front lines of teaching our children to be leaders of tomorrow in some really unprecedented times. If there was ever a time to highlight our educators, now is that time. We're talking about the bus drivers that transport our kids to school, the janitorial staff that cleans up after our kids, all the way up to the school board that has to make difficult decisions of how we fund our education system. It's more important now than ever that our children have a fair education. So that is one of the top priorities. But then when we look at jobs here in northern Minnesota, we have mines that are shutting down. I work in the mines, and in fact I'm in between outages right now. Those are very high-paying jobs that sustain families, and it's a way of life up here. But on top of that comes the infrastructure and the roads that are seriously degrading, and our water quality issues, such as Deer River, and the need for new water infrastructure and rising pit water threats over in the Canisteo pit. These are all things that have to be addressed, but nobody's talking about.

Q: That is Joe Abeyta. He is running for Minnesota House in District 5B. I wonder if you'd talk a little bit more about the mining industry. With the presidential candidates visiting northern Minnesota, they talked a lot about iron mining. What's your take, from your perspective of actually working there, of how politics, how government has affected your job?

A: Well, I used to be an employee with Magnetation. I worked there for just over four years, and I remember in 2015, the White House Chief of Staff, Denis McDonough in command, I was one of the individuals that was invited to speak with him, on behalf of tariffs and illegal steel dumping. And there was a need then for our White House to take action to support mining here on the Range. And we are still seeing mines shut down. The iron prices are still low. Production is still down, and we need the support up here from the White House to address the issues, not just talk about them. So I am still waiting to hear somebody with a real plan to help our steelworkers. It's a difficult subject for me to discuss because it's my livelihood. It's how I support my family, as well as thousands of others here.

Q: Well, let's talk a little bit about your family and about the pandemic. How has it changed your life? And then I want to get into talking about how the state of Minnesota has handled it.

A: Yeah, it is very difficult for us. My wife is a Type 1 diabetic, so she's in that vulnerable category, and we also take care of my mother-in-law who is terminally ill. So we take all the precautions that we can....We wear a mask when we go out in public, and we respect those that do. Obviously, those that don't want to wear their masks, that's their decision to make. And our family has really felt isolated. It's nice on a summer [day] when you can take the kids out to the park, and they can play with other kids. And that just didn't happen this summer. So we make adjustments at home. You know, we get the extra time with the kids, and we value that while we can. And just like anybody else, it'd be great if this was just over tomorrow, but that's not the reality. We keep watching the cases, as they continue to climb here in Itasca County. And we worry about changing school models. How does that look for us? How does that look for other families? How is that going to work out with daycare facilities, and families being able to work or have to stay home to care or do distance learning? You know, so these are all concerns in the back of mind, of not just me, but everybody that I'm talking to.

Q: As the legislative session dealt with the pandemic last spring and then has had these special sessions, politics have gotten really divisive at the state Capitol. Republicans are very unhappy with how Governor Walz has handled the pandemic. What's your take on how the state has handled things?

A: Well, I think the state has done a pretty good job of making sure that we stay informed, being able to react quickly to the ever-changing situations. I think something that I have seen happen that has really done damage is the bonding bill being held as hostage for executive authority. That is not something that should be played around with. That's not a game. That's economic stimulus that we need now. And seeing quid pro quos over executive orders just tells me that if legislators can't agree on a bonding bill, how can they agree on decisions to be made in a timely manner if COVID goes south during this winter? So, I think we need the executive orders to still be in place and the executive authority to be there, to make the changes with the organizations that need to make them until legislators can prove that they can make timely decisions with this ever-changing situation. That's just kind of my position on that.

Q: So you mentioned daycare. Daycare has come up in most of these conversations I've been having with candidates. Tell us about the district and what it means to be in this crisis of daycare, not just because of the pandemic, but it's been going on for a long time, and the effects of it on our community.

A: There is a major shortage for daycares. Our schools really stepped up in providing for our frontline workers during this pandemic. And I cannot thank them enough for what they did to pick up the slack, to be able to care for our children. A daycare facility that my wife and I use has been amazing with trying to keep things situated. They're doing the best they can with the resources that they have. But that being said, they can always use more resources. We worry about what if there's an outbreak in one of the daycare centers and they have to shut that facility down. Some daycare centers have many kids for frontline workers. Now, if they have to shut that down, what does that do to our frontline workers that may not be able to have some place for their kids to go so that they can do their jobs to care for our community? So, daycare is another top priority for me, and being able to open new facilities and give incentives, and make sure workers are paid and protected and taken care of while they're caring for our children.

Q: That is Joe Abeyta, the Democratic candidate for Minnesota House District 5B. You can find more information at Thanks for your time today. Appreciate it.

A: Thank you, Heidi. I appreciate you taking the time today.

*please credit KAXE/KBXE  in northern MN when using excerpts of this interview.  Responses to our Meet the Candidates interviews can be left at 218-999-9876 or by email.