*We are continuing our Meet the Candidates conversations for the November 3rd, 2020 elections. We recently talked with Matt Bliss (R) running for MN House District 5a. You can see his facebook page here.
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*KAXE/KBXE News and Public Affairs Director Heidi Holtan recently spoke with Matt Bliss. The following transcript has been edited for clarity. The audio of this interview is available at the top of this page.
(Heidi Holtan) Q: Matt Bliss is the Republican candidate for Minnesota House District 5A. This includes Beltrami, Cass, some of Itasca, and the Leech Lake tribal nation. Matt Bliss joins us now. Thanks for being with us today. Why are you running for this seat in the Minnesota house?
(Matt Bliss) A: Well, over the past couple of years, we've seen some changes happen. I think that the Governor's [executive powers] need to be called into check. Now they're just going on seven months, and I think it's time to get the legislature back into the mix again. And also, the state's issues with the riots, law and order issues like that are really, really important and getting out of control down in the Metro area. And I don't like the way that they're being handled down there.
Q: Let's talk about some of the priorities for the people in your district. I'm going to make you choose two things that you think are the highest priorities.
A: Well, I've been going door to door, and number one, two, and three are public safety...the law enforcement issue, the defunding of the police. Nobody up here wants to see that. The DFL candidates that went to Hugo, MN and threatened to burn down rural Minnesota, I think really struck a chord up here. (See Star Tribune coverage of this event) I could feel the tide change when that happened. Unfortunately, our governor has endorsed him, and has not rescinded that endorsement, and I've heard crickets from my opponent also. Number two, and it's certainly not a small thing, is Line 3. We've been fighting Line 3. That's big for our area up here, although the new Line 3 [would] bypass my entire district. Still, the economic impact will affect my district greatly. There's going to be thousands of good paying jobs there, the property tax revenue to some of the counties that are in my district, but not necessarily my district, Cass and Hubbard. We're gonna see great increases in their property tax revenue. That's a very big issue. My opponent says he supports it, but, you know, he did have a fundraiser rally with some of the most radical environmentalists in the state. And they are completely opposed to Line 3. So even though he says he supports it, he's still taking the back in the back group. So that kind of brings into question his support.
Q: I think you're a good person to talk to because you have held this seat in the legislature before [in House District] 5A. So you know how important one vote can be. Can you talk a little bit about that?
A: About one vote in the legislature or the citizen vote?
Q: The citizen vote, because that really has mattered to your race.
A: Yeah. The last election cycle, out of 17,000 votes, I lost by 11 votes. If you're doing the math, that's 7/1000 of a percentage the total vote. And don't let anybody say your vote doesn't matter. You know, when you look at the numbers, in the presidential election there's 60 million votes cast one way or the other. [People think] "My vote doesn't really matter." But you look at the local races, the school boards, the county commissioners, the city council, state representative, state senator...our State Senator, Justin Eichorn, won the last race by 500 votes. Now that would have been on 36 or 37,000 votes. Your one vote really does matter, especially at the local level. There's state representative, state senator, and all the way down to the school board. Your one vote does matter. If you're really concerned what's happening to your community, get out there and vote - your vote does matter - and be a part of the solution.
Q: How do you feel about how the elections are going in Minnesota? Do you have confidence in the system that we have set up?
A: The system that we've used for years, with the absentee mail-in balloting, where you request an absentee mail-in ballot - and there have been some of the smaller districts in Minnesota; for instance, my particular voting precinct has always been mailing balloting. The last election cycle, I think we had 90 votes out of my precinct. It's a very small area, and that's always been mail-in. That's not that bad because 90 votes, 90 ballots, isn't that hard to take care of. But what they're talking about doing right now is universal mail-in balloting, where they take the voter rolls and just say, "We're going to send everybody a mail-in ballot." And I just heard on the news this morning that there were a couple thousand ballots in California that were mailed out that didn't even have the presidential race on it. So, you know there is going to be some missed ballots, some undercounted ballots...whether or not it's from malfeasance or just errors in the system; the system that we haven't tested. Also, I heard the number of 500,000 ballots were discarded in the primary elections that did mail-in balloting because stuff like the signature didn't match, something was out of line that didn't quite look right. So they threw 500,000 ballots away.
You know, everybody's saying this election for president is going to be very close. I know my election is very close. Even one-percent of the ballots being lost or miscounted will tilt the election one way or the other. And again, I'm not saying it's malfeasance. It could be...you know, we saw the videos coming out of St. Paul, Minneapolis, where the ballot harvesting, where they're going to the senior community and say, "Give us your ballots. We'll fill them out for you." And they're paying for the ballots.
You know, that could go on, but also how many times have you had something get lost in the mail? The mail carriers work really hard, but [they] carry thousands and thousands and thousands of pieces of mail every day. And then you stack this on top of it. The counting machines could malfunction, or the sorting machines could malfunction. It could be delivered to the wrong address. I've had that happen many times. And I know my local post office are good people, but sometimes they stick the mail in the wrong PO box. You know, there's just too many things that could happen. Go in and vote! You can get your mail-in ballot, you can request an absentee ballot. Bring it down to the county and drop it in in person. That way, you know it's going to go into the ballot box. There's no chance for it to get lost that way.
Q: We're talking with Matt Bliss today. He's the Republican candidate for Minnesota House District 5A. Let's talk a little bit about how the pandemic has affected you personally. You own a resort. How was the summer? How are things going?
A: I was blessed to be in an industry that wasn't impacted negatively by the pandemic. The shutdown did not affect resort business. It did a little bit in the spring, when we couldn't accept short term campers, which really didn't make any sense to me, because that very same camper, which is, by the way, a stand-alone self-contained unit, could come in and rent a seasonal spot from me, but couldn't rent a monthly spot, or a weekend or a week. And again, they're self-contained. You're self-isolating in your little camper, you got your own toilet facilities, your own water, your own kitchen. You know, you go out on the lake, you're with your family. That made no sense to me, but we had a banner year. People were just wanted to get out of the Cities. Resorts are a natural place to go and get self-distance, and still get away from the city, but stay with your family, get that family bonding time out on the lake. My resort is smaller, so the cabins aren't really crunched together. You got probably 150 feet between these cabins. And the RV sites, same thing, the sites are at least 40 feet wide. So there's plenty of areas to social distance. I didn't open my bar all summer, because I didn't want to have to deal with the whole mask mandate and all that. But other than that, it was a great, great summer for resorters in general and the whole outdoor recreation industry. You go out right now and try to buy a side by side and you're not going to find one. And if you are, you're gonna pay through the nose for it.
Q: Let's go back a little bit to how the state, how the governor has handled the pandemic. There's been gridlock at the legislature in the special sessions. Your opponents would say that the Republicans have held up things like a bonding bill and supplemental budget bill because of the governor's executive powers. What's your take? What do you think should happen?
A: Well, I don't think there's any secret. I think Speaker Daudt came out and said that quite clearly, that until the Governor releases his executive powers, that he's not going to vote on a bonding bill. I mean, there's no secret to that. Whether or not that was the right approach? You know, I'm not down there. I don't know what's behind the scenes. As far as the Governor and how he's handled it, I was all for it. You remember back when this first hit, we were seeing videos come out of China, of people falling down on the streets, dead bodies laying all over the hospital, covered up. We did not know what we were going to get into. I was supportive of the Governor, and the 15 days to slow the spread, allow our hospitals to get up to speed.
But that was seven months ago, seven months ago! The emergency is no longer there. The virus is still there and and the virus is very serious, and we still need to protect our vulnerable population, but the emergency is gone. We need to get the third branch of government, which he has eliminated through his executive powers, back into the loop. Think about this: If this was on the other foot, if this was a Republican governor, completely shutting out the Democrat legislature, 201 duly elected representatives of the people of Minnesota are kept out of the decision making process. What do you think the other side woud be saying, and rightfully so! The governor should not be keeping us out of the decision making process. He has silenced 201 duly elected representatives of the state.
Q: I hear what you're saying, and I've heard it from both Democrats and Republicans, especially in rural areas, as we do these interviews. Sometimes what I don't understand though, is that governors throughout the nation have these executive powers, as well as the President. So just to push back on you a little bit, does that mean anything? Is there something different about Minnesota that the governor shouldn't have those powers anymore?
A: Look at what he's done. He's purchased a $7 million morgue with taxpayer money, again no input from the legislature. He's got... I think the number is $2 billion in spending. He's implemented a mask mandate throughout the state, and some people say that's good. I think that we're an educated public. I think we should be able to make our own decisions. And especially, and I said this before too, that it should be at the local level. When Bemidji put through their mask mandate, I didn't like it, but if it's going to be done, that's where it should be done, not at the state level. And you know, the other governors, they haven't shut down the state like us. A lot of the Democrat governors have, but a lot of the Republican governors haven't. And Governor [Walz}, look at his shutdown orders.
You couldn't go to church. You could only have 10 people in church, and you couldn't sing. And now he's got, what is it...25% indoor capacity for restaurants and bars...or maybe it's 50% by now. I don't know. I can't keep track of his changing the goalposts...But just look at the lady down in Hastings. She got fined $7,000 because her employee was wearing a mask, but it didn't meet mask standards. What the heck are the mask standards? Do you know? I don't know. She tried to keep up with them, but she got fined $7,000. I think they said they were going to drastically reduce the fine, whatever that means. But again, he's making these decisions without including the voices of the elected people. And when we went back to the beginning again, he had a buddy that was a college buddy of his, that owned the largest candy store that was allowed to open because he sold apples, and they considered it a grocery store.
How fair is that? When I've got main street Bemidji and main street Walker with a small shops, small family businesses...these guys don't have the deep pockets of the Walmarts and the Targets. Everybody thinks that small businesses run and the owners are rich. I run a small business. I sign both sides of the paycheck. I'm the last one to get paid on that business. The people that run these small businesses, don't have a lot of extra money, and thank God that we're not losing all, we have lost some, but again, he needs to let the legislative people...that's your voice he's silencing. It's not the legislators, it's your voice he's silencing. And he needs to relinquish the powers and get the legislative people back in. What the other 49 or 48 other states do, I really could care less. Our governor is overstepping, and he needs to allow the legislature back in and let the people have their voice.
Q: That is Matt Bliss. He's the Republican candidate for Minnesota House District 5A. You can find information at his website, mattbliss.us. Thanks so much for your time today.
A: Yeah, thanks Heidi. Appreciate it.