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 Gloria Zaiger’s answers.
What do you see as the main issues concerning the residents of House District 64B and how would you address those issues?
One of the main things people are concerned about is education. They want to make sure we are working to fix the achievement gap, while maintaining everything the schools are doing right. They also worry about rising taxes, and want to make sure their money is well spent. I want to make sure the schools have stable funding by increasing the amount in the state reserves, so we never have to borrow from the schools again. I would also like to look at testing requirements, to make sure we are using school time wisely.
Also, the PolyMet mine weighs heavily on people. They know how fragile the ecosystems are in our northern woods, and don’t want to see them damaged for short term economic gain. I will fight to prevent PolyMet from getting its permits, and if it does, I will watch to make sure every single letter of the law is followed.
Transportation and infrastructure are also an issue, especially as our roads are taking a beating this winter. There is a huge projected shortfall for infrastructure in the coming decades that we need to be keeping front and center in budget talks.
How do the interests of 64B differ from the interests of Minnesota as a whole, and how would you balance those interests?
The St Paul Schools have a large number of kids who are eligible for free/reduced lunches, which means they are facing tougher financial situations than other kids. Also, over a third of kids in St Paul schools are English Language learners. This means the challenges facing the schools in 64B may be different than in Minnesota as a whole, and we need to account for that.
Also, the urban areas deal more with issues around homelessness, crime and poverty more than outstate, though they are certainly not immune to those issues.
The need for jobs on the Iron Range is acute. The push for mines like PolyMet will continue unless we can all work together to build their economy based on other industries. Of course, with the Ford Plant closing, St Paul also has lost hundreds of jobs. I want to be a force in helping lure new clean industry, along with housing and open space, to that location.
But other interests are the same. The need to care for an aging population, a deteriorating infrastructure, poverty and health care costs are universal.
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 been on the Highland District Council and the Capital Improvement Budget Committee, both of which serve the community and have a variety of liberal and conservative members. I know how to fight for what I believe in, but also to disagree with respect. In both places, I always made sure to stay on excellent terms with everyone, and worked to achieve as much as possible together.
Also, when I worked with the St Paul City Council to get an ordinance passed, I worked with many people how saw things very differently. But I made sure everyone was heard, and the final draft of the ordinance was all the stronger for it. I want to reach out to the people who disagree and find common ground, find a way to move pass differences to solid conversations and find agreement.
None of this would change if I was in the majority or the minority. I think excluding the minority completely when you’re in the majority does not bode well for future negotiations, or for the times when some votes from the minority are still needed to pass a bill. It should be all about personal relationships, regardless of party.
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.
- In 2004, I wanted a change made to a St Paul City Ordinance, it happened to be about the humane treatment of dogs. I started with Animal Control, the enforcing entity, and was met initially with skepticism. But I created a coalition of rescue groups and veterinarians, and then met with my city councilman, Lee Helgen, and we got the ball rolling. After seeing I was intent on seeing it through, I got Animal Control to sign on and help draft the ordinance language. It ended up being one of the most comprehensive humane ordinances in the nation, and passed the City Council unanimously. I believe in bringing everyone to the table!
- In the years since then, and especially the past 4 years, I have been working to get the same ordinance passed in Minneapolis. They have more layers to go through, and for 4 years I worked to get it through the lower layers, which in 2013 it finally did! The perseverance paid off, and it will now come before the City Council. I know that you can’t give up, and some things take many years to accomplish.
- When Paul Wellstone died, I wanted to find a way to continue the work he had so courageously fought for, which included inspiring people to get involved. So I started my own political action group called Stand Up. Once a month we would gather for a pot luck and share the issues we could take on together. It was all women, many of whom had never been politically active before. We did letter writing campaigns, marched together in Code Pink peace marches, researched and discussed legislation, and mainly, inspired each other into action. It was not only great fun, but I’m proud at the skills these women learned and the work we did together.
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 to make sure that seniors stay healthy and independent for as long as possible. We need to start now to create more public communal meal options, improving and expanding transit options like Metro Mobility statewide, setting up more affordable housing (most people think affordable housing is primarily for young families, but in fact low income seniors are one of the main users even today), and we need to train first responders to spot seniors that aren’t able to care for themselves. There is so much that needs to be done, and it should be phased in starting with budgets in this session. The earlier we can start implementing ways to keep seniors healthy, the lower the strain will be in years to come and the more it can be spread out over many budget cycles.
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?
I think the first thing we need to do is build up our reserves, which in 2013 were only half of where they should be. Then, we need to consider the upcoming bills we will be facing, such as the aging of the population and the massive needs of updating our infrastructure. We need to start seriously budgeting for these, as the years ahead could face huge shortfalls. I understand that our taxes are out of sync with the federal tax code, and I could support making those corrections. But I would strongly caution against any new program spending that doesn’t relate specifically to the aging population and infrastructure needs, or any other tax cuts.
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 firmly believe the public good is much broader than roads and public safety. Anything that relates to improving society and helping people achieve is the public good. So programs that help people escape poverty or violence and makes them more productive citizens is good for all of us. Public art and music that elevate our minds and make our cities beautiful, or preserving our natural resources for future generations, all that is public good. Drug treatment, restaurant inspections, public parks, schools and so on, anything that is good for the public is public good!
I would be hesitant about overstepping government’s ability to specifically dictate individual preferences, or anything that invaded personal privacy. I would be cautious here, as there are many shades of grey in this area.