By Starrla Cray
WRIGHT COUNTY, MN “Man is not free unless government is limited.” Ronald Reagan
In a national atmosphere of debt, spending, and regulation, the five Republicans running for the District 19B seat hope to put a different twist on the direction of government.
One candidate will be endorsed by Wright County GOP House District 19B tonight at the Rockford High School Auditorium.
Tracy Vetruba of Howard Lake, Delano Mayor Joe McDonald, Ken Felger of Buffalo, Alan Johnson of Waverly, and Jon Papas of St. Michael spoke their minds at a debate Tuesday evening at the Rockford Community Center.
“We have more government, folks, than we can afford,” Felger said in his opening statement.
A crowd listened intently as candidates stressed the need to stop needless spending, and to cut layers of government.
“Thank you to Obama, for filling this room tonight,” one audience member joked.
Marion O’Neill, deputy clerk of the Republican District 19B party, asked each candidate a series of prepared questions, to which they were given one- or two-minute response times.
When asked why they wanted to be a House of Representatives legislator, each candidate spoke of their desire to give more power back to families and businesses, instead of government.
“Our government needs to be focused on families first,” Vetruba said.
“I believe you know what’s best for you and your family,” Johnson said. “What’s good for business is good for Minnesota.”
Felger, who works for the Minnesota Department of Transportation, said he wants to “restore common sense approaches.”
“I see the nonsense that goes on,” he said. “I care about my family and your family. I want to work to stop the attack on our liberties.”
On the issue of the state budget, McDonald spoke of his experience running the City of Delano.
“In these days, we need to stick to what we need, not what we want,” he said. McDonald has been the mayor of Delano for four years, and was on the Delano City Council for seven years.
“It’s always been instilled in me to give back to the community and to serve,” he said.
Many of the candidates have been active in their communities, through both volunteer and paid positions.
“I am passionate about family, friends, and community,” Papas said. He is an active church member, corporate sponsor of St. Michael-Albertville public schools softball, as well as a seven-year coach of youth baseball, among other contributions.
As the chief of police for Howard Lake, Vetruba has served in a different capacity.
“I see how the application of law affects people,” he said. Vetruba described himself as an inventor, engineer, consultant, pilot, church member, community volunteer, and investment property owner.
“I have lived a life of service, and I will continue to do so as your legislator,” Vetruba said.
When asked about needs or concerns that community members have shared, the Johnson said the “common denominator” is government spending.
“The spending is what’s driving everybody crazy,” he said.
Felger shared a joke that Sarah Palin once said, that the government is addicted to OPM.
“Not opium,” he said. “OPM other people’s money.”
According to Vetruba, Minnesota’s corporate tax rate of 9.8 percent is the third highest in the nation. If elected, he said that he would work to lower that rate and lessen costly regulation on business.
Papas said that another topic people are concerned about is public schools.
“You just can’t throw money at a problem,” he said, adding that the government needs to get out of the classroom.
Felger said that schools should have more local control.
McDonald said that the big question he gets in Delano is: “When are we going to get a Target?”
Vetruba said that the illegal immigration laws are a problem he faces in law enforcement.
“We don’t have a problem with immigration,” he said, only illegal immigration. He hopes to give law enforcement officers the tools needed to investigate illegal immigration cases.
“It is a tax on our economy,” he said, because there are illegal immigrants who receive benefits from the state.
All of the candidates were also asked about their stance on abortion, embryonic stem cell research, and end-of-life issues.
If elected, Papas said one of his top priorities would be to protect unborn life.
“You can’t have liberty and the pursuit of happiness without life,” he said.
All of the candidates said they are pro-life, and are only in favor of stem cell research that does not harm babies.
Many of the candidates expressed their views with the phrase, pro-life from “natural life to natural death.”
“Womb to tomb,” is the way McDonald stated his beliefs.
Family commitment and support is another subject that was discussed during the debate.
“We have to take care of our families first,” McDonald said. “If we’re not doing that, how can we take care of the rest of the state?”
Papas introduced his wife, Beth, who publicly announced her support of his candidacy.
Vetruba said his wife, Tina, is supportive, as well.
“She is 100 percent committed to this effort,” he said, adding that she created the brochures for his campaign.
Johnson said his friends and family have been supportive in everything he does.
“They said, ‘you talk about politics all the time. We’re surprised you didn’t get in sooner,’” Johnson laughed.
Felger said he and his wife are “empty nesters,” which gives him the time and energy needed to do the job of legislator.
Many of the candidates said they plan to do their state duties the same way they run their families and businesses.
Keeping a balanced budget is a high priority, the candidates said.
“I’m so tight that I squeak when I walk,” Felger said.
“We need to do an up-anddown audit of every item on the budget and find the 20 percent that we can get rid of,” Papas said.
On the issue of welfare, candidates spoke of giving “hand-ups” instead of handouts.
“We need to stop this generation-after-generation of people deep-reaching into someone else’s pockets,” Johnson said.
“I think private individuals can be the most charitable,” Felger said.
“We work so hard for our dollars, and if they keep taking those dollars, we lose some of our freedoms,” McDonald said. He recommended the book “5000 Year Leap” by Cleon Skousen, which details 28 principals of freedom.
After the debate, an unverified straw poll was taken. McDonald had 26 votes, Felger had 16, Vetruba had eight, Johnson had seven, and Papas had two.
The Democrats have already endorsed Chris Brazelton of Delano for the District 19B seat.
District 19 includes all of Wright County except for the following: the cities of Howard Lake, Cokato, and Annandale; and townships of French Lake, Middleville, South Haven, Southside, and Stockholm.