In addition to our candidate forum on March 9 (if you missed it, you can hear a recording on Tim Nelson’s blog), we sent a second round of questions to the 64B candidates. Here are Greta Bergstrom’s answers.
What do you see as the main issues concerning the residents of House District 64B and how would you address those issues?
As a lifelong resident of 64B, I am deeply committed to ensuring we continue to provide and strengthen the conditions necessary for everyone to thrive at every life stage.
For our youngest community members, one of the most important ways we can ensure they live enriching lives means reversing the trend of diverting resources from our public schools as a means to balance the budget. We took major steps towards reversing this during the 2013 Legislative Session, but we must continue to raise fair revenue to invest in the schools St. Paul and Minnesota students deserve.
For our working-age community members, we must strive to build an economy where no one is left behind or just barely making ends meet, but one where everyone has access to a living wage job. Important ways to do that are by raising the minimum wage indexed for inflation, ensuring public dollars go to projects and businesses paying a living wage, and making smart investments in transit, transportation and infrastructure.
And, for our aging community members, we face a lack of resources such as housing and support services. We must invest in these neighbors after they’ve done so much to invest in us. I believe an important way to honor our oldest neighbors and hold on to some of our greatest assets is to develop access to senior housing from active senior living in co-ops to independent living and long-term care facilities right here in our district.
How do the interests of 64B differ from the interests of Minnesota as a whole, and how would you balance those interests?
Overall, House District 64B is a highly educated, financially more secure and politically-engaged district than most others around the state. While a lot of other areas of the state (and St. Paul) have seen their property values decline and/or go underwater, 64B has maintained stable and/or rising property values. Yet – we do face a disproportionate rise in property taxes. As a district in the urban core, 64B residents don’t have the same level of career and job limitations as many districts in greater Minnesota, given our residents aren’t dependent upon a single industry. We have a much larger student population as well, given several colleges and universities located within and adjacent to 64B, but here we face barriers to transit that other districts with significant student populations have (like at the U of M). And as an east-metro district, we do not see the return on investment for the tax dollars we pay into the state. 64B also needs to fight for increased levels of local government aid to offset a large percentage of non-taxable public parcels. 64B doesn’t have land that can be developed (save the Ford Plant) which poses great limitations on economic development, both in Ramsey County and St. Paul.
Can you describe skills or experience that you possess that will help you succeed in a highly partisan atmosphere? Would your answer change if the DFL is no longer in the majority?
I have over two decades of experience working in DFL and progressive politics. During that time I have advanced some of the strongest communications strategies in the state, informed the strategic direction of transformative electoral and issue campaigns, and have helped build diverse statewide coalitions to advance our DFL and progressive agenda.
Throughout all that, I’ve developed strong negotiation skills that allow me to stay true to my values, find common ground with unlikely allies, and push colleagues and long-standing partners to be more progressive. I also have deep relationships with many of the most effective organizers and organizing institutions in the state. Partnering with them, as appropriate, to advance complementary inside/outside strategies will be critical in overcoming partisan gridlock.
Whether or not the DFL is in the majority, my strong negotiating skills will be very important in continuing to advance a progressive agenda; although, the scale would change depending on the partisan make-up. Convincing other legislators of their own self-interest will remain a crucial skill no matter the balance of electoral power.
If you win this election, you will be filling a seat that has been occupied by some of the most respected leaders in the Minnesota House. Identify three concrete accomplishments of yours that demonstrate the type of leader and state representative that you will be.
As the elected representative of 64B, I would work every day to live up to the legacies of those who filled this seat before me. Three concrete accomplishments include:
- I was in the center of the organizing to expand health care access in Minnesota. Due in part of my work, Minnesota has one of the strongest state insurance exchanges in the nation and we are the only state to establish a basic health plan (BHP) under the Affordable Care Act. By taking advantage of the BHP option, we were able to preserve and expand MinnesotaCare. I will continue working for a truly universal healthcare system.
- When voting rights in Minnesota came under attack in 2012, I was unwilling to stand on the sidelines while our nationally-recognized elections system was dismantled. Although many believed (based on polling) that attempting to beat the voter restriction amendment was a waste of time, I helped to build a statewide coalition and led the effort to reframe the debate over photo ID – ultimately defeating this amendment by 8 points. I led this campaign’s winning communications strategy and believe this body of work shows that I will not shrink from a tough fight that needs to be fought.
- Since the beginning of what became nearly a decade of all-cuts budgets, I have worked to protect vital programs and increase fair revenue. Although the work to fully restore and make-current funding to important programs, the historic structural tax reforms and increases passed during the 2013 Legislative Session have set Minnesota in a positive direction. I am especially proud of my work to advance the campaign to close unfair corporate tax loopholes and increase taxes on the richest Minnesotans who haven’t been paying their fair share.
Our state’s population is aging and with those demographic changes come increased costs for long term care. What steps would you take to address those changes, and how should they be paid for?
We need more independent senior housing in the district and in Saint Paul – both for active seniors and co-ops. Right now, too many of our seniors are forced to move out to the suburbs to find access to senior living options. I want to make sure that people who have grown up in a community can stay in that community as they age.
We also know that one of the most effective ways for our seniors to continue to thrive as they age is to make sure they can safely remain in their homes. This approach not only better supports the mental and physical health of our seniors, but is also the most cost- effective approach to long-term care. Additionally, the other major demographic change Minnesota will experience is a growing young population of people of color. Investing in in-home, long-term is not only a win for seniors, but also for creating good paying jobs in our local economy.
I would partner closely with the MN Leadership Council on Aging, labor organizations and other leaders in the field to identify the strongest and most viable policy options to support aging Minnesotans to remain in their homes and communities. Supporting a universal health care system that ensures that everyone is included and nobody is left out is also paramount as our population ages.
After several legislative cycles, Minnesota is forecast to have a budget surplus as a result of increased taxes and an improved economy. Stakeholders are calling for a variety of responses, including increasing the state’s budget reserve, spending the money on a variety of initiatives, and repealing some of the B2B taxes. How do you believe the state should respond?
Due to strong leadership from elected officials and community organizations, Minnesota’s economy is continuing to improve. Last week, the state announced a $1.23 billion budget surplus. However, even with improvements and growth, we are not fully recovered and far too many families are still being harmed by the past decade of budget cuts to vital programs. I believe the state should be cautious in its response by keeping the current fair revenue streams in place and invest the surplus in Minnesota’s future. I believe we should continue to invest in pre-K through post-secondary education as we have seen far too much disinvestment in education over the past decade. I want to see our reserves bolstered while investing responsibly in the people of our state to avoid future government shutdowns or cuts to vital services as we have seen in past years. I believe big corporations and the richest individuals have received far more in tax breaks than middle-class and lower-income families and this trend must continue to be reversed through fair tax policy in the coming years.
Some people define the public good narrowly to include only public safety and roads. Others define the public good more broadly, to include health care for all, economic security for all, education for everyone at all levels, etc. How do you define the public good? How would you decide what should be included in the public good and what should not?
I define the public good broadly and believe we must invest wisely in the people of this state and our public institutions including universal health care access, world-class public schools from early childhood education through post-secondary, public roads and transportation, public libraries and on. I believe it is society’s responsibility, through a democratically-elected government, to make sure people can live dignified lives, from being paid fair wages to having safe and affordable housing. I believe in a progressive tax system that allows everyone to benefit, rather than just a few at the top and believe we must protect our public resources for future generations, most especially our environment and natural resources.