*We are continuing our Meet the Candidates conversations for the November 3rd 2020 elections. We recently talked with Representative Julie Sandstede (DFL) from MN House in District 6A who is running for reelection. You can see her facebook page here.
Her opponent is Rob Farnsworth (R) you can hear our interview with him below.
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 Rep. Julie Sandstede. The following transcript has been edited for clarity. The audio of this interview is available at the top of this page.
(Heidi Holtan) Q: Representative Julie Sandstede is the Democratic candidate for Minnesota House District 6A. This district includes communities in St. Louis, Itasca, and Koochiching counties; places like Hibbing and Chisholm and Nashwauk and Effie. Representative Sandstede is with us now. Thank you for talking with us today.
(Julie Sandstede) A: Thanks for the opportunity.
Q: So why do you want to run for reelection?
A: Because my work is not done. I ran for office in 2016, I've served two terms, and there is still more work to do. I definitely have a heart for serving people, and the needs of the people in my district have not become less. They certainly are every bit of what they used to be before, and with COVID even more so. We now have an opportunity to get more done.
Q: You mentioned the work to be done at the legislature, but I know you work in the schools and I'm curious what it's been like for you during COVID as a teacher?
A: This is my 26th year of teaching in the classroom, working with the kids. And it is the most unusual year that I have ever had as a teacher. The kids are great, the families have been great, but the rules are very different with social distancing. And I work with young kids right now. My assignment is kindergarten, first grade, second grade in a music room. And like I said, everybody is in this together, and they're all very cooperative, but it's really different. It's very difficult to understand little ones with masks over their face. The protocols that are in place for keeping people safe and healthy - both students and the staff - are very stringent. It's not what we're accustomed to. And I know that as a teacher too, while my district started out doing in-person, many districts have started out maybe in-person, or a hybrid model, but then we also are trying to accommodate families that have children that are trying to distance learn.
And that is a huge challenge, because in this area many of our families don't have connectivity or the broadband necessary to connect with the world of education. And especially the younger learners that we work with are relational people. And we are trained professionally to instruct in person. So doing everything online or in a hybrid model or distance is very, very challenging. And certainly it's putting a huge challenge on school districts to meet the technology needs; the academic needs. And then we're absolutely having to remain focused on the mental health needs; the social and emotional well-being of our students. It's been a year like no other, to be sure. That's some inside-the-walls [information], but I think for families too - even in my own family - we have a student who's doing a hybrid model, a student who's doing a distance learning model. And working, and then trying to support your students from home or in a hybrid model - that takes a toll on family too. So it's a challenge, I think, for everyone.
Q: I want to stick with issues related to the pandemic. As I've been conducting these candidate interviews, many of the Republicans - your opponent Republican Rob Farnsworth - spoke pretty openly about their almost anger with Governor Walz, and how he and his administration have handled the pandemic. So I want to give you the opportunity to respond to that.
A: Absolutely. First of all, I want to say it's really easy when you live in glass castles to throw stones, and we shouldn't be doing that. Never in my history of 50-plus years of life, have we ever lived through something like this as a society - a society that's so accustomed to immediate gratification and having resolutions and solutions right now. So even though our country faced something like this in the early 1900s, that hasn't been our reality. Now we're getting a taste of it for the first time. And it really is counterintuitive to our way of life. We don't have great patience for it and this isn't pleasant. This is a major inconvenience. But it is a real virus. And it is a real health concern for many, many people. And it is a virus that does not play favorites for one over another. We have to be respectful and cognizant of each other.
With that being said, I do think that as time has gone on there is an opportunity to look at things on more of a regional level, or take action by a zip code. It isn't, in my opinion, something where one size fits all. I do think our governor is doing as good a job as anybody could do in a situation like this. Again, it's very easy to point fingers, and it is an election year, and that's completely the reason that the GOP is doing this. They're capitalizing on it for that reason alone. But I do need to say that we are no different than 48 other states and all of the US territories. Every single state in our nation, with the exception of Wisconsin, has emergency powers. Minnesota is no different.
So with that there comes some ability to remain flexible, and I'm ready for the debate, and happy to take up the debate and have that conversation, and really figure out what would be the best fit for Minnesota. But again, I think it's just really easy to kind of capitalize on it and opportunize on it, because it is an election year. When in reality, this is unprecedented times, and I think it's very easy to poke holes and try to blame people. When you are not in the driver's seat I think it's very easy to do that.
Q: We're talking with Representative Julie Sandstede today. She is running to keep her seat. She's a Democrat from Minnesota House District 6A. So, let's talk about what some of that political divisiveness has meant in St. Paul, especially when it comes to things locally; places like the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Togo. Tell us a little bit about this and what you know about the future of it right now.
A: COVID, as I said, played no favorites, and it took a toll on everybody's economy. Itasca County, St. Louis County is no exception. The Department of Corrections - and part of this was even prior to COVID - with a death of a one of the guards, I believe it's a safety guard in one of our state facilities, where MINNCOR money was being generated. Those programs had to be shut down just to keep staffing safe. And so part of that revenue would go into the Department of Corrections budget, to all of their programs, including MCF Togo. So when we lost some the MINNCOR money and we lost - with the impact of COVID - MCF Togo was hit very hard; or I should say the Department of Corrections was hit hard. Decisions needed to be made, in order to have a balanced budget that is required by the State of Minnesota. We're one of the states that cannot go with a budget that is not balanced. So their plan was to close MCF Togo. And while I understand the finances of the situation, I really do think it was a penny-wise, pound-foolish kind of decision. It was done quickly. It was done without, I think, a real thorough kind of going through or without input of the legislators locally; without input from the communities, and without even that possibility of looking at other solutions.
So, I took it upon myself and challenged the governor and called upon him to reverse the decision; to really pump the brakes on this. And we've had some action on it. We've had some hearings in the House as a result of this. I know that we have a commitment on the part of the speaker, on the part of the House. I understand that Senator Gazelka has an appetite for this. This is really one of the areas where we've been able to work across the aisle. This isn't a Democrat/Republican thing. The legislators up on the Range here have been very good about working together and speaking in a unified voice. We strongly believe this facility needs to remain open, primarily because of the quality of the program, the uniqueness and the quality of the programs. It saves lives. It actually saves money in the long-run, because it's a very intensive, shorter-term sentence than an inmate may receive otherwise. And we need these jobs on the Range. We cannot afford to lose any more good paying jobs with benefits. So right now we are going back into a special session in October, by all indications. And indications are that we are going to be passing a supplemental budget. So we won't have to see the closure of MCF Togo. And if that doesn't work, then I have a plan B up my sleeve for how we can keep this open. But I am confident that the legislature is going to come through on this. And I think we had hoped to get it done in September, but there wasn't agreement between the floor leadership. I think we've got three out of four right now. So we're very close, and by October I'm feeling confident we'll get this done
Q: Well, we are almost out of time, but I do want to give you the opportunity to respond to another thing that happened in your district where Cleveland Cliffs is acquiring ArcelorMittal USA. That's the Minorca mine in Virginia and Hibbing Taconite. What does this mean for the region?
A: I think this is a really positive thing. Cliffs has been a very strong player in our region - one of three major companies - and in terms of the Essar site right now, what this does is, first of all it bolsters this purchase agreement which is kind of a win-win. I made a statement about this, but this is good because Cliffs really has been focusing on a domestic steel product, and that's kind of their footprint. And they do that very, very well. This only continues to bolster that. It strengthens their domestic presence. For Arcelor, they have been taking on more of a global approach in the steel industry. And this buyout allows them to kind of keep their focus globally. The third player up here is US Steel, who has not articulated, in the four years that I've been in office, really any interest in the Essar site. This is my opinion, but I think this is an excellent and a very positive encouraging transaction, because not only does it strengthen the domestic steel industry, but it also takes one more cook, if you will, out of the kitchen in terms of the Essar site.
And now with there being two major players between Cliffs and US Steel - and US Steel really not even expressing an interest in it - I personally feel that it would probably go to Cliffs. They have demonstrated a wherewithal in our community; a competency, a commitment. What they say they will do, they have done. They have been solid on their financials. I feel very confident in that company moving forward. Something has to happen at the Essar site. In the time, again, that I've been here - this problem has been going on longer than my time in office - but it is time to get something done. Doing nothing else is the definition of insanity. Something needs to happen. And especially now with COVID, with MCF Togo potentially on the line here. With 380 workers furloughed indefinitely at KeeTac, those people need to go to work somewhere, and US Steel has indicated they have no intention of selling, and they have no intention of opening up that site and running it again.
So these workers are basically sitting in limbo and they need to work. They need to go somewhere, and they need to have a good paying job. The life of HibTac is very short at this point. There's only four to five years, really, before things drastically slow down. And with Cliffs making the transaction that they did, hopefully there will be an opportunity for them to move towards the Nashwauk site, towards the Essar site, which would be a win for the potential of like a thousand jobs at HibTac that would be at risk in the next couple of years. So I'm very encouraged by this. I'm very supportive of Cliffs. It's time that something happens at the Essar site. With this transaction, it really kind of moves the needle in that direction a little bit. And I'm going to really be encouraging the DNR and the governor to be looking hard at that. December is coming. I don't think we should be waiting as long as December at all. I think we should be taking back the leases, and as the state we have the right to do that. We should be doing that, and then we should be, in short order, making a plan [for] who they should be going to and what that's going to look like.
Q: That is Representive Julie Sandstede. You can see more on her campaign to keep her seat at House District 6A (she's the DFL candidate), at juliesandstede.com. Thanks so much for your time today.
A: Thanks, Heidi. Have a great day.