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The Carletonian

Carleton Democrats host state senate candidate forum


On Thursday, February 20, the Carleton College Democrats hosted their first candidate forum of 2020 with help from the St. Olaf Democrats and the Rice County Democratic-Farmer-Labour Party. Over 75 concerned citizens from Senate District 20 gathered in the Weitz for a night of lively debate about the future of the district, the state, and the Democratic party. Three candidates from diverse backgrounds took to the stage to make their case for the important nomination, with former Minnesota House member David Bly kindly serving as moderator.

Candidates are vying for the DFL’s nomination to the 20th Senate District, hoping to take on incumbent Republican Rich Draheim. Minnesota is currently the only state in the country that has a split bicameral legislature. Democrats currently control the Minnesota House of Representatives, while Republicans maintain a small majority in the senate. This district is a target district for Democrats looking to solidify that oh-so-coveted trifecta, meaning they’re looking to control both state legislatures as well as the governor’s mansion. For Democrats, defeating Rich Draheim is a top priority, and they’re looking for the right candidate to get the job done.

City councilwoman Suzie Nakasian is making her case that she’s the right woman to take on Draheim. A former Republican staffer, Nakasian is a three term councilwoman in Northfield who came to Minnesota in 2001 and briefly taught at Carleton. The child of immigrants raised in New York, Nakasian was brought up in a deeply political household, where she learned the importance of leadership, community, and interpersonal relationships. It’s these relationships, she argued throughout the night, that make politics work, that help change the world. Having met with city council members across the Senate district and across the country, Nakasian is no stranger to local politics, and she believes that her expansive know-how on local issues will be crucial for getting work done at the state level.

Former Carleton political science professor Jon Olson is also making his case that he should take on Draheim. Olson, originally from Minnesota, spoke at length about his local roots. He spent 21 years on active duty as an intelligence officer after graduating from Annapolis, and after taking time off from serving his country to take care of his ailing father, Olson is making his case by arguing that it’s once again time for him to serve his country and his state.

Local business owner Davin Sokup, the third candidate to take the stage at the forum, grew up in a blue-collar household between Fairbault and Northfield. Having worked as a carpenter for a number of years, Sokup is running based on his concern for the working people of the district. Making the case that working people need to run for public office to adequately address their concern, Sokup has spent the last year knocking doors across the district, to see what issues local families are really concerned about. Sokup has found that the concerns of his family closely align with those of families across the district. They’re worried about their health-care, their housing, their debt and their livelihoods.

Candidates addressed a number of pertinent and urgent issues throughout the debate, including questions on how they understand their policy positions in the context of the senate district’s diverse make-up. On the issue of climate change, Nakasian showed her policy chops, focusing on her years’ long fight to extend Minnesota’s public rail systems and increase access to carless travel, as well as her work on agricultural policy in Northfield and her advocacy for expanding the use of perennial crops. Sokup made the case for state funding of green agricultural technology, with an emphasis on support for the Green New Deal, while Olson focused on creating an incentive framework to get the state to net 0 emissions as quickly as possible.

Candidates were universally supportive on some issues, like the house initiative to provide driver’s licenses to all Minnesotans regardless of immigration status. All candidates support a single-payer healthcare system, with candidates specifically bemoaning the Republican senate’s inability to adequately address the healthcare needs of working Minnesotans. Sokup specifically addressed his support for lifting the income gap on Minnesota’s public health plan, advocating for a Minnesota-Care for all. Nakasian addressed the need to ensure that a single-payer system has an adequate delivery mechanism for rural areas, and in a later discussion added that this was particularly crucial to alleviate disparities between care access for people of color living in rural areas.

Candidates didn’t agree on everything, however. On the issue of the Line Three pipeline extension, Sokup and Nakasian made the argument that the project was the wrong investment to make, and that it would not be beneficial to Minnesotans. Olson disagreed, arguing that extending the pipeline would be a win-win situation given its ability to create local jobs. For some in the audience, there was frustration over the lack of acknowledgement in all three’s answers about indigenous sovereignty.

Henry Brown ’21 was particularly concerned, and made note of the candidate’s lack of recognition. One of a number of students who attended, Brown was one of the few whose questions were asked directly to the candidates. Following the forum, Brown asserted that he was impressed by Nakasian’s policy chops, and was overall disappointed by Olson’s performance. Like many students at Carleton, Brown is looking for a progressive voice to help flip the senate, and is deeply engaged in local politics. The forum, he found, was helpful in helping field candidate’s qualifications.

Organizations like the Carleton Democrats will continue to hold events throughout the year. They recently assisted this past Tuesday in hosting the DFL local caucuses, where resolutions on issues from abolishing private prisons, legalizing support for BDS and ending felon disenfranchisement were proposed and debated by students, then passed on to local conventions to be potentially added to the DFL state-wide platform. As November draws closer, students like Brown and the members of the Carleton Democrats are getting ready for an exciting number of races, and are ready to get involved more in local politics.

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