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Local State Legislature candidates meet in town hall forum

Candidates for state Legislature noted the staunch difference in their handling of questions and general demeanor toward one another in a town hall forum on Thursday.

Candidates to represent District 36 in the state Legislature took questions from the public at a town hall forum on Thursday. By Ellie Potter/ The Dickinson Press
Candidates to represent District 36 in the state Legislature took questions from the public at a town hall forum on Thursday. By Ellie Potter/ The Dickinson Press

Candidates for state Legislature noted the staunch difference in their handling of questions and general demeanor toward one another in a town hall forum on Thursday.

Four candidates vying for one of the two positions to represent District 36 in the House - Rep. Mike Schatz, Dean Meyer, Linda Kittleson and Luke Simons - as well as Sen. Kelly Armstrong, who is running unopposed, fielded questions from community members at City Hall.

With the sweeping cuts made by Gov. Jack Dalrymple this biennium, questions relating to the budget were especially prominent as all five candidates acknowledged the difficult financial decisions the Legislature will be forced to grapple with.

Kittleson noted that someone would suffer no matter where the cuts were made and championed the need to protect human services as much as possible. Meyer seconded this notion, pointing out the importance of caring for the young and elderly. Kittleson suggested looking into non-essential building cuts to try and save some dollars while Meyer proposed saving money on administration by reducing government officials' salaries rather than the man working in the nursing home.

Armstrong said everything will end up on the chopping block at some point in the near future, but said he would prioritize K-12 education as a top priority to protect from such cuts.

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"The key is to get into these large budgets and these billion-dollar budgets, whether it's higher ed or human services, and figure out a way that you can cut those budgets without affecting the services that are delivered to the people," the senator said.

He pointed out the constitutional obligation the legislative body had in balancing the budget and the need to trim fat in all departments as a result. Simons seconded this notion, saying he would treat the state government like any business and emphasized the need to identify what is essential and then being sure to only spend money the government had. Schatz suggested that lawmakers interview people retiring from departments all over the state for recommendations for where to cut spending and spend money more efficiently.

"I think if we started using those people that have served for a long time, I think we would find some answers, and I think it's something we could use to balance the budget a bit better," Schatz said.

All five candidates were opposed to spending the principal of the Legacy Fund in order to offset any shortfalls, but the Democratic candidates - Kittleson and Meyer - said they would consider it if it human services or K-12 education was in critical need. The three Republicans were staunchly opposed to spending it, with Armstrong and Simons saying they hoped to not have to touch even the interest from the fund.

The candidates also discussed wind energy, acknowledging it gets subsidies while there are more taxes placed on oil and coal. All five were in agreement that having a combination of renewable energy sources and fossil fuels was the best way to keep North Dakota running.

Armstrong noted that the subsidies are made at the federal level, something the state has little control over. The only way to even the playing field would be to drastically raise taxes on wind energy, which would just drive wind companies to other states that would happily take their business.

Kittleson pointed out the great benefit of having wind energy in the state.

"We could be the king of energy because we have wind," Kittleson said. "We knew the oil would come back. We have coal and biomass and all different types of energy that we could be using here in the state."

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Simons said that, though wind is not particularly consistent, he would try to create a free market for those companies to do well in, the answer to everything.

Ultimately some of the candidates as well Shawn Kessel, the forum's moderator and the city's administrator, emphasized the importance of voters getting to the polls this election, despite the national election potentially souring politics in the eyes of many, Kittleson said.

"I think it takes more than one party to run a state and do it right," Meyer said. "Politics is compromise. Somebody is going to get left out if you don't."

Related Topics: KELLY ARMSTRONG
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