*We are continuing our Meet the Candidates conversations for the November 3rd, 2020 elections. We recently talked with John Peters (DFL) running for Minnesota Senate District 9. You can find his social media here.
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*KAXE/KBXE News and Public Affairs Director Heidi Holtan recently spoke with John Peters. The following transcript has been edited for clarity. The audio of this interview is available at the top of this page.
(Heidi Holtan) Q: John Peters is the DFL candidate for Senate District 9, currently held by Senate Majority Leader, Republican Paul Gazelka. This district includes communities in Cass, Morrison, Todd and Wadena counties, and includes towns like Nisswa, Little Falls, Staples, and Long Prairie. John Peters joins us now. Thanks for taking time for us today.
(John Peters) A: Well, thanks for letting me get my story out.
Q: So, why are you running for Senate District 9?
A: Well, the very first thing is...I started this out because of healthcare in the state of Minnesota. And, as we go through all of this, there are a lot of things I will disagree with Senator Gazelka, and some things I agree with on. But, in my case, from 1997 to 2002, I spent 200 days in the hospital, and I went from being fairly well off to being $200,000 in debt. And if I wasn't a fairly competent - like computer male/nerd, I would have never gotten out of debt and I managed to do that. Just a note on that: I actually filed to run for the office on one day, and the next day I was diagnosed with COVID. So I lost the whole month of June getting sick. So healthcare is very important to me. And then also the fact that I don't believe that the internet is fully funded where it needs to be. And I don't believe that education is fully funded where it needs to be.
Q: Do you mind if I ask you a little bit about having COVID, because for some people they don't know anyone who's had it. What was your experience like?
A: I can go into this into detail, but every day I had the same symptoms for four weeks. It started out in the morning with a light fever, and a headache about 10am, and then about one o'clock every joint in my body started hurting, and this was every day for four weeks. I'd say the pain level...I've had both pancreatitis and kidney stones...it was worse than my kidney stones, and not as bad as my pancreatitis. And then about four or five o'clock I would spike a fever of about 103, and I would get a blinding headache, and also had minor breathing problems, and I still have some breathing problems.
Q: So I've been asking each of the candidates...because COVID-19 and how Minnesota government has dealt with it has been such a political and contentious issue, certainly in your race against Senator Paul Gazelka. He's been probably the biggest opponent of Governor Walz, and how the state of Minnesota has handled it. What's your take on that?
A: I think I give the state about a B on handling it [the pandemic]. I think the biggest problem is not necessarily how the state is handling it, but how a large portion of our population is handling it: not doing the social distancing, not believing that it's bad, because they haven't personally seen someone that had it bad and not knowing anybody that died or a youth person that has had it bad. And I know all of that. I know people that have died. I know people that were 40 that have had it badly, and I'm really worried about the fact that we'll have a lot of long-term health consequences for the people that have had it and survived. I give this state about a B.
Q: So let's talk a little bit about this. Because of the pandemic and how things have changed in our world, the Governor does have executive power still and has been calling back the legislature for a special session each month. A bonding bill didn't get taken care of, or the supplemental budget bill, which is really important to the small towns of Minnesota. I wonder what you have to say about what that means to the area where you live?
A: Well, the bonding bill definitely hurts. Where the Democrats were proposing 1 billion...I mean 2 billion, sorry, and the Republicans were talking about 1 billion, and when we spend too much time just talking about emergency powers and not talking about creating a consensus between the two groups or working together, maybe come up with something [like] 1.5 billion. I think that was something...and we really need jobs. I mean, we just plain need jobs. And the only way we're going to get jobs is to do the bonding bill for the construction industry.
Q: We are talking with John Peters today, the DFL candidate for Senate District 9. Let's talk a little bit about the economics of your district. How are small businesses faring? How was your small business faring? What are some of the biggest industries in Senate District 9?
A: Well, we have the meat packing plant, which is big. The other industries basically all depend on small farmers, and it's really sad with all of the amount of bankruptcies that are happening in the small farmers. And then, the amount of mental illness that's happening - or depression - however you want to state that. So we need to figure out some way to create more markets for the small farmers. One of the things I'd probably be talking about is opening up technical schools to meat cutting and other businesses, so the farmers have more places to sell their products to open that up. My small business...I lost quite a bit of money at the start of the year because I had in-class learning systems for senior citizens, and they were going to start in February. And then, of course, I would not be doing any in-class stuff. And then I lost the whole month of June for all of my business. And I know quite a few different businesses, like the restaurants, are really struggling, and I really feel for them. And I do believe that if people would follow the social distancing and the mask mandate, that the small restaurants probably could open, maybe not get paid as well, but they could open. And I think we also need to make sure that the people that are unemployed have some money, because we need to spend money with the small businesses. And if you're unemployed, it's hard to spend money.
Q: One of the issues that has continued to come up in our conversations with candidates is the lack of daycare in rural areas and small towns. It's a barrier, not just for families, but for businesses. What have you learned? What have you listened to about this issue?
A: Well, when it comes to daycare, yeah, it is lacking. And part of the problem is it's very tough to have daycare when you don't have enough money to run a proper daycare safely. So, as all part of the education budget, we need to figure out how to help people with the daycare or how to help businesses. I have an insight that not very many businesses here are big enough to have their own daycare, but we just need to find a way. I'm going to have to look into that more deeply to find a way, because I don't have an answer today.
Q: Let's talk a little bit more about healthcare. It sounds like you've had quite a personal experience with it. Do you have any ideas for the future, and how things could be better for folks?
A: Well, we need to expand Medicaid as much as we can possibly. It's going to be very important that the Affordable Care Act is increased and fortified more, so that we have more of that. I don't think single-payer is quite the answer yet because we have quite a large number of employees that are in the insurance business, and we'd have to figure out a way to keep these people employed. I do know that if we could somehow subsidize businesses or reduce the cost of insurance for people, that we could probably raise taxes and businesses would come out ahead...because if you're paying ten employees at say $600 a month, that's $6,000 a month for healthcare, to have the insurance, and that's not even necessarily a good insurance policy. If you increase taxes by $4,000, that's a net gain of $2,000 for the business. And, you know, I could use a net gain of $2,000, even if I had to pay a little bit more taxes.
Q: That is John Peters. He is the DFL candidate for Senate District 9. You can find more information at ajp4mnsenate.org. Thanks for your time today. We appreciate it.
A: Thank you very much.
*please credit KAXE/KBXE in northern MN when using excerpts of this interview
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