91.7 Grand Rapids | 90.5 Bemidji | 89.9 Brainerd
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Vote 2020

Meet Representative John Persell - DFL for District 5A in Cass, Beltrami, Itasca & Leech Lake Nation


*We are continuing our Meet the Candidates conversations for the November 3rd, 2020 elections.  We recently talked with DFL Representative John Persell from Minnesota House District 5A who is running for reelection against Matt Bliss (R).

Listen to our conversation with Matt Bliss here

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

ARE YOU REGISTERED TO VOTE?  Find out who will be on your ballot at mnvotes.org.

*KAXE/KBXE News and Public Affairs Director Heidi Holtan recently spoke with Representative John Persell.  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 John Persell is the DFL representative for House District 5A. This district includes Beltrami, Cass, some of Itasca county, and the Leech Lake tribal nation. Representative John Persell joins us now. Thanks for being with us today.


(John Persell) A: Well, thank you, Heidi, for having me.  I'm just very appreciative and looking forward to our conversation.

Q: I've been asking every candidate this: Why are you running for reelection?

A: Well, that's a reasonable question to ask any candidate for public office, and my reason hasn't changed a lot over the years. I had just set out to try and do some public good, and as I become more involved in issues at the state level...before I was in public office, at least at the state level, I was in township government, and on our county Soil and Water Board in Beltrami County. That all just kind of fit with what I had done in my 41 years with working for tribal government and working Indian Affairs, and what do we need to do to protect the environment and to have job growth.

So, it just kind of flows pretty good from what I've done for the last 40 plus years...running a small business, when I was employed at the tribe. And so, continuing that, how we have our next generation of small businesses and larger businesses, and keep our resort communities going. Then, in this uncertain time that we find ourselves in, for sure this is different than most folks arguably have ever dealt with. I may take off on that just a little bit. I do have a frame of reference for something like this, and that was my time in the military. I'm a Vietnam veteran, and I remember...You didn't get to go everywher you wanted to go, and those kinds of things. So I do have a frame of reference, although this is not in my civilian life.

Q: So, you've been through uncertain times before.

A: I think that's a good way to say it, Heidi. I have experienced uncertainty. When our young seniors this past spring were lamenting that they couldn't have their graduations as they wanted them, I thought back on that. I graduated a long time ago. In fact, it was in the late 60s. And I thought, "Boy, what was I thinking about when I was graduating?" Well, those of us from that time were thinking about Vietnam, and males particularly...the draft and everything. It just made me think back on my time getting out of high school and what I was thinking about. Anyway, the relevance of what we're going through is certainly staying with us here for awhile. Who knows, hopefully by Christmas we'll be a little more freed up, or by Thanksgiving. But it's just taken a toll on a lot of folks, and in a lot of different ways, for sure.

Q: Well, thank you for your service to our country, first of all. What are the priorities for your district? If you had to pick just a couple, what would they be?

A: Well, I want to get this bonding bill done that we've been working on for months and months at the state legislature. It does sound to me like things may be coming together to do that. It won't be this week. We go into another special session this Friday [September 11, 2020]. I don't think it's been announced formally yet, but that's what it sounds like. Because we're under some constraints, the state's sold some bonds, and there's a blackout period surrounding that. So we can't do a bonding bill until likely....sounds like October perhaps, but I hope we can get a bonding bill. You know, that's jobs for a lot of people, and infrastructure development. I know Grand Rapids has some projects in that bonding bill, Deer River's got a wastewater treatment plant , the city of Bemidji has a drinking water treatment plant.

Bemidji had perfluoralkylated substances - PFAs they're called - from the firefighter foams...got into some of their wells out there by the Bemidji airport. You may or may not have heard of that, but a pretty big deal! And the state health department says you have to build this new treatment plant in order to remove those substances that could be passed. Pretty important stuff in the bonding bill and a lot of jobs, so that for sure. Education's always at the top of my list. It's hard to hard to talk singularly, or even about just a couple of things. I honestly apologize for it, but then put healthcare in the mix...especially in these times, we have to have affordable healthcare for everybody. And I think we're proceeding in that direction in the state of Minnesota. I'm not as confident nationally, in this time and the administration that we're dealing with, but, Minnesota is doing better. And I want to see that move forward for all Minnesotans.


Q: You mentioned the special session that starting this week [Friday, September 11], They have said that they think the governor will call another 30 day peacetime emergency. That has become such a political divisive area when it comes to your job at the legislature. How can that change?

A: I was asked this in another interview. That was a month or two months ago now...it was a while ago. I can't imagine how we would get to the legislature deciding on what we need to do in this emergency situation - which I believe it is - when we can't even pass a bonding bill, just using that as an example. We can't come to agreement. How could we agree that we're going to do A, B, or C for the pandemic, when we can't even do something that's arguably as simple as a bonding bill? I think that the governor has to have that executive authority; the emergency authority that we have given him from the legislature.

I know some of the leaders from the other side of the aisle from me, I think they're feeling irrelevant, and that's why they're talking about these issues. But you may have read and heard, as I did, that for all of the talk about that, the majority leader in the Senate didn't attend even one of the meetings that the Governor was calling on this emergency pandemic. I don't know if you saw or heard that, but I mean, boy, if you're all concerned, well, you might want to go to a meeting, you know? I go back to that veteran thing. Our governor, Governor Walz is a veteran and I trust veterans, because they've been there and done that. And he knows what to do, or at least how to make it. And that's something you're probably going to learn if you're in the military.

Q: Part of the reason we're doing this Vote 2020 project is we want people to vote. This is a presidential election, so people are paying a lot of attention to that, but it's all the offices like what you hold, what you held before...the township offices...those things really affect our daily lives. So, our hope is we get to talk to everybody running for office so that people can go to the polls and know those names and have listened to how they answer questions.

A:  Well, absolutely. And I applaud you for this effort. Voting is a civil right, and we need to exercise that right, just as we do our rights to freedom of speech, et cetera, or to own firearms, for that matter. It's a right to vote. I think use it or lose it, you know? So, I'm proud to be supporting your efforts.

Q: That's Representative John Persell, the DFLer running for reelection to House District 5A. You can find more information at his website: johnpersell.com. Thanks for being with us today.

A: You take care Heidi. Bye now.

*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.