The League of Women Voters Minnetonka, Eden Prairie, and Hopkins (VWV MEPH) Hennepin County Commissioner District 6 Candidate Forum took place, online, on October 8, 2020. Two candidates, Dario Anselmo and Chris LaTondresse participated in the event.
The LWV MEPH describes its format as non-partisan, unbiased and impartial as established by the League of Women Voters Minnesota. The forum followed Minnesota Governor Walz’s COVID 19 GUIDELINES.
Each of the Hennepin County Commissioner District 6 candidates began by making a two-minute statement.
LaTondresse noted that the community is hurting from the pandemic. He said his career reflected a dedication to public service, which included working in the Obama administration and on the Hopkins School Board. He stated Hennepin County is Minnesota’s largest local government with a $2.5 billion budget.
LaTondresse said he is the only candidate that has the magnitude of experience to handle that kind of budget. LaTondresse stressed that, “While government can’t do it alone, it can make peoples lives better.”
Anselmo stated that Hennepin County has one-fifth of the state’s population and it creates one-third of the state’s jobs. Anselmo said he is an entrepreneur, business owner, non-profit leader, and former Minnesota District 49A state representative (R).
He described his key policy areas as mental health, property taxes, public health and safety. Anselmo said his campaign message is “purple” , not due to the Minnesota Viking’s team color, but because he is interested in bringing red and blue together.
During the following question and answer section, Hennepin County Commissioner District 6 candidates had 90 seconds to respond.
Hennepin County Budget
Anselmo’s said he started his first company at age 21 and grew it to $25 million. After that he ran a busines in the middle of the Minneapolis warehouse district. In the House of Representatives, he worked on a $12.5 billion Education and Finance Committee.
“You have to decide what is important and what you have to cut out.” Anselmo continued.
“We are not going to be able to tax our way out of the budget crisis caused by the pandemic.” LaTondresse stressed. He shared that as Vice Chair of the Hopkins school board he is working on some of the issues currently facing in Hennepin County. Anselmo noted that addressing those issues takes more than just about making tough choices, “we have to seek new partnerships and get creative.” It is important to attract outside dollars through partnerships, according to Anselmo.
Hennepin County Commissioner District 6 candidates address property tax increase and budget priorities
LaTondresse said creativity is needed to meet the needs of the public, including priority areas like human services, public health, and public safety. He stressed Hennepin County has a massive homelessness crisis. This issue might be addressed similar to the way money was found for building a sports stadium with bonding funds, according to LaTondresse.
Anselmo referred to reducing the 2020 and 2021 budgets with a capitol services cut. Anselmo said he agrees with LaTondresse that the county needs to get creative regarding the funding of projects, to include working with the federal and state government.
Anselmo said his father battled mental illness which increased his awareness of the problem. As a result, he said, he led a campaign for mental illness prevention and awareness. The community has a lot to deal with as the impact of COVID. Prevention is the key. It is being proactive, partnering with business and schools.
As a school board member LaTondresse said he has seen the problem of mental health first-hand. He said the isolation occurring the COVID crisis has impacted the mental health of students. He shared that the Hopkins school district has elected to invest an additional $100,000 in student mental health. Acquiring those funds involved the tough choice of letting a contract with the Minnetonka police department expire, he explained.
Anselmo said he put solar panels on his home four years ago. He noted that Hennepin County has online information from a committee in the early stages addressing climate change issues. Anselmo said he supports work on climate change.
LaTondresse believes our local governments can lead the way on moving towards sustainability. “We have the opportunity for Hennepin County to take bold resilient action” said LaTondresse. He wants to make sure our Transit dollars don’t get deferred to other uses. He hopes the committee delivers a bold and ambitions action plan that he can help facilitate.
Should Hennepin County contribute to the rebuilding of Minneapolis?
The biggest disagreement of the Forum came when LWV MEPH moderator Peggy Kvam asked the Hennepin County Commissioner District 6 candidates, “Should Hennepin County take on any of the financial burden of rebuilding the business areas destroyed by rioters in Minneapolis?”
Anselmo stated, “I don’t believe they (Hennepin County) have the capabilities to do that. Spending money is not something we can do in that space.” Anselmo has a business in downtown Minneapolis that wasn’t too badly affected by the unrest. He said he didn’t think there is not a lot of support for funding the rebuild of destroyed areas of Minneapolis at the state or federal level.
LaTondresse responded, “The notion that Hennepin County doesn’t have anything they can do about that is frankly cold hearted. There are things we can do about it and we are doing it already.”
He shared that Hennepin County Board Chair Marion Green has led an initiative which uses seed money from the county and then finds partners from the private sector. He suggested that government lead the private sector in stimulating the rebuild.
The Hennepin County Commissioner District 6 candidate forums will be rebroadcast several times each week on city cable channels and available on-demand at edenprairie.org/CityTV leading up to Election Day.