*We are continuing our Meet the Candidates conversations for the November 3rd, 2020 elections. We recently talked with Rob Farnsworth (R) running for MN House District 3a. You can see his facebook page here.
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*KAXE/KBXE News and Public Affairs Director Heidi Holtan recently spoke with Rob Farnsworth. The following transcript has been edited for clarity. The audio of this interview is available at the top of this page.
(Heidi Holtan) Q: Rob Farnsworth is the Republican candidate for Minnesota House District 6A. This district includes communities in St. Louis, Itasca, and Koochiching counties, places like Hibbing, Chisholm, Nashwauk, and Effie. Rob Farnsworth joins us now. Thanks for being with us.
(Rob Farnsworth) A: Thanks for having me.
Q: Tell us why you are running for the 6A seat in the Minnesota legislature.
A: Well there are a number of reasons. I'll give you just a top couple. My wife and I, we have four children and, actually, when we were married, before we had children, we lived down in Red Wing. My wife was working at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, and I was working at the correctional facility there in Red Wing, but we knew that when we decided to have children that we wanted to raise them up here in the Northland. We wanted to raise them on the Iron Range. And so we moved back home to raise our family. You know, I grew up on the Range, and I've witnessed, probably for the last 35 years, decline. You know, we have loss of jobs, loss of businesses, loss of tax base.
But more importantly to me, we've lost a lot of young families that have left. And so my main reason, the main thing that is sort of motivating me overall, is to try and bring back that idea that the Northland is the best place to raise a family, and to try and encourage growth so that when families do move here, they don't, within a couple of years, move away. I am a teacher, but I'm also a part-time real estate salesperson. And I have a few stories just in the last few years that I've been an agent, where I've sold somebody a house that's moved here; a young family that's moved here from the Twin Cities. They've been here for a couple of years, and they call and say, "Hey, Rob, help us sell our house. We're moving. There's just nothing for us here." And I just want to change that.
But then as far as sort of what the spark was that motivated me to run this time, I ran four years ago and I worked as hard as I could, and knocked on about 8,000 doors, and did every coffee clutch and parade and pancake feed that I could, and I wasn't successful. And I thought, well, okay, I'm done with that. I don't need to do that again. And I wasn't planning on probably ever running again. And then we got to the end of May, and the governor continued with his emergency powers. And he, at that point, decided not to reopen churches and decided not to allow restaurants to have dining on the inside. And I just saw the devastation that he was wreaking on our economy and on our religious life. And I just quite frankly got mad. And I said to my wife, "I have to do this, you know, win or lose. It's the right thing to do to stand up to a governor that's basically ruling unchecked." So yeah, that was kind of the spark, but my motivation is really to get the Iron Range and the Northland to be the best place for families.
Q: We're still in a pandemic. Governor Walz is like 48 other governors in the nation and the President with executive powers. What's your take; what do you think should be happening in terms of the Minnesota state government right now?
A: Well, I think the governor needs to give up his emergency powers and work with the elected legislature. I mean, there are co-equal branches of government. I certainly understand trying to flatten the curve; trying to make sure that hospitals were ready in case that surge ever came, which it never did. And none of the models, none of the predictions that they made, actually came true. I understand why they did that, but for this to drag on for...what are we on?...almost 200 days of the governor having these emergency powers. And they don't seem to be learning from their mistakes. You know, we can look back now to March and they were making these projections of something like 40,000 Minnesotans would die by the end of the year.
And it's unfortunate that we're at 2,000, but we're nowhere near the 40,000 and they keep making these wild projections that don't come true. At some point the governor has to say okay, we were wrong about how bad it was going to be. I don't need to keep the emergency powers. I can work with with the legislature. And we can come up with plans that'll actually work. And I think one of the things that we have to look at is tailoring these plans for different areas, you know, rather than think the whole state can only have 25 people in churches, or whatever it is. Why does greater Minnesota have to have the same plan as, say, Minneapolis or St. Paul, where there's a ten to one greater number of people per square mile, or maybe even a thousand to one? So I'm giving you a long answer to a short question, but I think that the governor needs to give up his emergency powers and work with the legislature.
Q: We're talking with Rob Farnsworth today. He's a Republican who is running for Minnesota House District 6A. I want to talk to you about some other things that are going on in your district. There was just an announcement that Cleveland Cliffs is acquiring ArcelorMittal USA and the Minorca mine in Virginia and Hibbing Taconite. Your thoughts on this?
A: I think about it a little personally. My dad retired from Minorca after 33 years as a miner. I actually worked out there one summer when I was in college. So that has a bit of a soft spot in my heart. I think we just kind of have to wait and see. I don't really know what that's going to mean for mining on the Iron Range. I know Minorca has been the most resistant to closing or to lay-offs. They've been the most resilient and they've had the fewest lay-offs. And so I hope that for their sake - for their workers' sake - I hope that continues. And I hope that this enables Cleveland Cliffs to grow. One thing that I'd like to see…I know that they're trying to do more value-added products. I know that the CEO - whose name I can't possibly pronounce - I know that he wants to do more value-added projects. And so to me, as the next representative, I'd love to work with them and say, "Okay, we're taking the ore out of the ground in Virginia or in Hibbing, or one of the mines that they own. Why are we shipping it to Indiana or to Pittsburgh, and spending all this money to ship it and then produce it into something with a value added and then paying to ship it again? Why don't we just ship it 300 feet to a factory right next door?" And I'm hoping, I think, that seems to be the direction that Cleveland Cliffs wants to go. And I'm hoping we can encourage more of that here in the Northland.
Q: I took a look at your website. It looks like you have a connection to the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Togo. That's been in the news, along with the facility in Willow River. I wonder if you can talk a little bit about the importance of this facility and what you think should be happening.
A: Sure. I worked for the Department of Corrections for almost six years, and I spent about four of those years up in Togo, and then, like I said, two of them down in Red Wing. And it's a great program. I mean, it saves the Department of Corrections money because it reduces the number of years that offenders actually serve, which saves tens of thousands of dollars per year per offender. But it also saves the state because those folks that graduate from those programs are less likely to re-offend. So I look at that situation, and I think it doesn't make any sense. Why would the Department of Corrections close the two most effective programs? And they truly are. They are the most effective programs for reducing recidivism and saving money. And the only conclusion I can come to - when I've heard all of the DFL speakers say, "Well, we need the supplemental budget, and we need the bonding bill" - the only conclusion I can come to is that the governor and his friends decided we want our supplemental budget. We want our bonding bill. We can't make the Republicans do what we want. So what can we do to make them as uncomfortable as possible? And they chose two northern facilities. And they know that job losses in Togo will have 10 times greater effect than the same job losses down in the Cities. And from what I can see, they're just using these two facilities to try and get the Republicans to do what they want and to give them their supplemental budget. And it just infuriates me. I've heard my opponents say, "We've got to get the bonding bill. We've got to get the bonding bill. We've got to get the supplemental budget." But the supplemental budget was $152 million. Corrections, I think, needed about $14 million. So if they were really serious about saving these facilities, they would say, "Okay, well, let's pass the $14 million, and not attach it to the other $140, 138 million that the governor wants. It really makes me angry that they're using these folks in the northland to try and get their political priorities passed.
Q: You mentioned your family. You're also a teacher. How are things going in terms of education and COVID right now for you?
A: It's certainly strange. Fortunately, my children are all elementary, and they're going to school all day every day. At the high school, we have the hybrid model right now in Hibbing. So the kids are there two days a week, and then they're online the other three days a week. So it's certainly strange. I think kids seem to be pretty resilient from this, and we're taking the precautions as far as wearing masks or wearing face shields. They even have arrows pointed on the floors at the high school so that kids walk in certain directions, or they go up certain stairs and down other stairs. So it seems to me that across Minnesota, but specifically in rural Minnesota, we could have our schools open up 100%, because kids just will do better in the building. I'm already hearing stories of kids that are struggling, having a hard time online. They just do better in school. We know that kids are - I'm not going to say that they never get this - but when they do get it the symptoms are very mild. And they're not as contagious. And I think we're taking the right precautions to make sure if kids do get it, they don't spread it. But if we're serious about doing what's best for kids, then we need to get kids in school. If not, then we need to be honest about that.
Q: That is Rob Farnsworth. He is running for Minnesota House District 6A. He's a Republican. You can find more information at his website: robfarnsworth.org. Thanks for your time today.
A: Thank you. I appreciate you having me.
*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.