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 Melanie McMahon’s answers.
What do you see as the main issues concerning the residents of House District 64B and how would you address those issues?
Education has always been a top priority of this district and continues to be important to all residents. My neighbors believe in a strong education system as a means of providing opportunities for all Minnesotans to succeed. We need to focus on our entire education system – beginning with early childhood education, including our public K-12 system, and culminating in our postsecondary, career, and adult education programs. College and graduate school education are highly valued in our community and residents are concerned as they become increasingly unaffordable. At the capitol I will fight against borrowing from our schools when we have a deficit and will advocate increasing their funds when we have a surplus.
Increases in property taxes are another issue of concern to 64B residents. While the district understands and supports where the money is going, such as education and local police and fire departments, they also recognize that it is a regressive tax that is difficult for those on a fixed income, such as our senior neighbors. At the capitol, I would advocate for increases in Local Government Aid (LGA), the Homeownerʼs Homestead Credit Refund and the Renterʼs Property Tax Refund.
Fundamentally, 64B has always had a strong history of supporting equal opportunities for all Minnesotans and we believe that racial, social, and economic justice are key to ensuring our state continues to grow and succeed. Other important state assets, including protecting our natural resources and environment and developing a comprehensive transit system and investing in our transportation infrastructure, are also important to residents of 64B.
How do the interests of 64B differ from the interests of Minnesota as a whole, and how would you balance those interests?
The residents of 64B want a state that gives individuals an opportunity to succeed, the very thing that is in the best interests of all Minnesotans.
However, there are aspects of our state budget that residents of a large urban area, such as 64B, would focus on that may differ from other parts of the state. For example, while residents of our district want to invest in our transportation infrastructure because they know it is in desperate need of maintenance and we lack funds to do so, they also want to see an investment in developing a comprehensive transit system. Other parts of the state that do not directly benefit from a metropolitan transit system may not prioritize that investment. Additionally, many in northern Minnesota support sulphide mining, whereas residents of 64B mostly do not support sulphide mining, and believe it is not in the best interests of the state due to the environmental damage it would cause.
Can you describe skills or experiences 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 already successfully worked as a Committee Administrator in the often highly partisan and contentious environment at the state capitol, and I have proven I can build relationships and persuade legislators to pass bills with bipartisan support. Iʼm proud that alongside Rep. Michael Paymar we earned the respect of members of the Public Safety Finance committee and passed major, progressive public safety legislation with both DFL and Republican votes.
Having the DFL in control of both legislative chambers, as well as the Governorʼs office, has only happened in two out of the last twenty years. It is imperative that our Representative be able to work successfully not only within our own DFL caucus, but across the aisle as well. My skills of bringing people from varied political and ideological viewpoints together to form coalitions, my ability to work with people of all backgrounds, and my knowledge of the legislative process are what a legislator needs in order to be effective when in the both majority and the minority – a reality that whoever holds this seat will likely need to navigate during their tenure.
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 a Committee Administrator in the Minnesota House of Representatives we passed the largest public safety bill in the history of Minnesota, increasing funding for domestic abuse services, legal aid and public defenders, as well as creating innovative reentry services for individuals leaving prison. As the lead staff on this bill, as well as other progressive legislation, I worked with both DFL and Republican legislators to pass it, and I worked with Rep. Paymar to successfully negotiate with the Pawlenty administration his signing of the largest progressive public policy omnibus package in Minnesota history.
I led within our 64B community to successfully advocate for early childhood education at the capitol as an ECFE Site Council member at Randolph Heights Elementary. Using the experience I gained at the capitol I was able to train my fellow St. Paul ECFE parents on how to strongly advocate within our political system and how to most effectively talk with and persuade their legislators to support expanded access to prekindergarten programs.
I have been a leader on the Capital Improvement Budget (CIB) Committee for the city of St. Paul, being initially appointed to represent Senate District 64 and becoming Vice-Chair after two years. On the CIB I have advocated for funding for the capital needs of our community and important assets throughout our city, city staff and worked with fellow CIB members to reach consensus on our funding priorities to build and maintain a city Saint Paul can be proud of.
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?
Our stateʼs aging population deserves to live safe, healthy, and meaningful lives. This requires providing service and housing options that are both accessible and affordable, and that support and nurture the individual and promotes keeping seniors connected to their family, friends, and communities for as long as they are able to stay living independently. We need to promote those same values as a personʼs needs increase and their ability to live independently leaves them.
The state has a responsibility to support services such as Meals on Wheels, home care services and other support systems that allow seniors to stay in their homes as long as possible. In 64B specifically, we need to support positive senior communities such as Carodolet Village so our parents and grandparents can stay in the community they love, and transition within the community as their care needs change.
As Hubert Humphrey declared, “The moral test of a government is how it treats those who are at the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the aged; and those who are in the shadow of life, the sick, the needy, and the handicapped.” It is our moral obligation to care for those at the end of their lives. Services for our seniors needs to be a high priority for the state legislature, and its appropriate funding source isthe state general fund, supported by progressive tax policies.
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 stateʼs 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?
I would first put money into our state reserves to make sure we have a budget that is able to weather future economic downturns.
Second, I would invest in the greatest asset we have as a state – our people. That would begin with education, since it is the driving force of so many other parts of our state budget. Early childhood education specifically makes financial sense due to its proven high return on investment. The legislature and Governor increased funding for early childhood education last year, but fully funding universal access to prekindergarten programs will move us a long way towards improving education outcomes and decreasing our achievement gap.
Finally, I would conform our state tax code to match federal tax changes that occurred in Congress last year, such as increasing the working family credit that helps low-income working families. This simplifies our tax system and focuses on relief for low and middle income Minnesotans.
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 believe in a broad definition of the public good which ensures all citizens are safe and have an opportunity to succeed. While a fair criminal justice system is important so that all individuals are safe from violence in their homes and communities, the public good extends beyond basic public safety and meeting the bare minimum of food and shelter. To truly have an opportunity to succeed all individuals, regardless of their race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation, need a high quality public education. Again, this means providing high quality and accessible early childhood education programs, providing safe and stable public schools that allow all students to be met at their level and moved into higher learning, and a postsecondary education system that supports both traditional and nontraditional learners so that all can effectively and appropriately engage in Minnesotaʼs economy.