Mankato Free Press Comparison Story

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Vogel defending House seat against DFL newcomer Droher-Kline

LE SUEUR — Rep. Bob Vogel, R-Elko New Market, is seeking a third term at the Minnesota Legislature next month. He’ll have to go through Barbara Droher-Kline, a DFL newcomer with government experience, to get it.

Both candidates seek to represent House District 20A, which encompasses most of Le Sueur and Scott counties.

The district has leaned conservative in recent years — Vogel took office in an open seat election after then-Rep. Kelby Woodard, R-Belle Plaine, announced in April 2014 he wouldn’t seek re-election. Vogel then defeated DFLer Jim Connelly, of Belle Plaine, 61 percent to 39 percent in the 2016 election.

Vogel, 67, serves as vice-chair of the House Ways and Means Committee. He also serves on the state government finance, civil law and data practices, and job growth and energy affordability committees. He works as president of New Market Bank, which has been in his family for decades. He also served as a Scott County commissioner from 2002 to 2008.

He wants to run for re-election because he thinks he has plenty to offer as a small-business owner with a background in finance and business.

Droher-Kline, 66, also has experience in local government and finance. She was a finance department head for Le Sueur and Hennepin counties, was a CEO for Lutheran Financial Service in northern California, and works at Thrivent Financial helping people plan for retirement. She also has a master’s degree in social work and graduated from Luther College.

Droher-Kline wants to run because she wants to advocate for the district’s broadband needs, as well as seniors and farmers.

The issues

Lawmakers will face a bevy of needs regardless of who wins, from a much-needed tax reform bill to ongoing health care costs and a growing need for transportation funding.

State officials estimated in 2016 Minnesota would need $6 billion over 10 years, or about $600 million each year, to maintain and improve the state’s roads and bridges. Lawmakers passed a $300 million transportation funding bill in 2017 and set aside more than $400 million for Corridors of Commerce funding earlier this year, but the Legislature has yet to meet the state’s recommended funding levels.

Legislative candidates largely agree transportation needs more funding, but Democrats and Republicans disagree on how that could happen. DFLers have advocated in the past for a 10-cent gas tax increase while Republicans have pushed to shift general fund money related to transportation such motor vehicle parts and repairs sales taxes toward road and bridge work.

Vogel and Droher-Kline largely side with their parties on transportation funding. Vogel supported a bill earlier this year that would have started the process to constitutionally dedicate motor vehicle parts and repair sales tax funding toward transportation, and he supports using bonding dollars normally allocated for infrastructure.

“We need to explore having more support from the fair box for transit since nearly $250 million per year is now needed to subsidize transit operations,” Vogel recently wrote in a Free Press questionnaire. “I believe we need to have more fairness in who pays to subsidize transit.”

Droher-Kline would support combining both DFL and GOP approaches. She said she could support a small gas tax increase, as well as small increases in vehicle registration fees and vehicle sales taxes combined with the general fund shifts.

On health care, Droher-Kline would see the Legislature reverse an expiring medical provider tax as well as measures to reduce insurance premiums.

“These are costs to consumers that add to their growing health care costs,” she wrote in a Free Press questionnaire.

She also believes the Legislature’s efforts to continue a reinsurance pool for insurance companies needs to be reviewed.

Vogel believes the Legislature’s $540 million reinsurance pool in 2017 is likely unsustainable. He thinks more medical price transparency and allowing Minnesotans to purchase out-of-state insurance will help reduce health care costs. He would also like to see lawmakers reform medical provider reimbursements to make things easier for providers to offer services.

Either candidate has the chance to face a divided government if they are elected. The GOP has controlled the House since 2015 and the Senate since 2017, but DFL governor Mark Dayton has been in office since 2011. Partisan gridlock has grown worse among lawmakers and the governor’s office in recent years, with threats of special sessions and potential government shutdowns becoming more common.

The situation came to a head when lawmakers passed a massive 900-page omnibus $1 billion budget bill earlier this year. Dayton vetoed the budget bill and a tax bill after weeks of public disagreement over dozens of provisions in each piece of legislation.

Democrats tend to blame GOP leadership, including House Speaker Kurt Daudt, for taking hard stances during policy negotiations. Republicans blame Dayton for refusing to negotiate with GOP lawmakers during the legislative session on several policies he took issue with.

Vogel would like to see a governor who wants to negotiate more with lawmakers, but he acknowledges there will likely continue to be partisan strife at the Capitol.

“There will be issues which divide and in those cases all I can do is to work as best I can to bridge partisan gaps,” he wrote.

Droher-Kline stresses her experience working in working across governmental organizations to get things done. She also believes a new perspective in the Legislature may help build more bipartisan support for various policies.

“2019 is an opportunity for much needed change and I will be there to lead the effort,” she wrote.

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