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District 23A candidates Olson, Bacon debate issues

FAIRMONT — The coronavirus pandemic was front and center at a forum in Fairmont on Thursday evening featuring candidates for Minnesota House District 23A.

Bjorn Olson, a Republican, and Pat Bacon, a Democrat, delved into the state’s response to the virus and how they view the problem.

The pair will face off for the 23A seat on Nov. 3. The district includes all of Martin County, and portions of Jackson, Faribault and Watonwan counties.

“I want to say right up front, had the President of the United States told us at the very beginning what was going on, had he gotten the testing supplies that were available to him that he declined, we would have been on this much earlier,” Bacon argued. “As a health care provider, I found it very difficult to assure people that we knew what we were doing when we couldn’t get straight answers.”

She said Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, and other governors, did the best they could as the virus began exacting a toll on the nation in March. She called the ensuing shutdown in Minnesota ordered by Walz “the only option we could do at the time because we didn’t know enough about this virus and how it was spreading.”

“I would like to tell Gov. Walz thank you for that,” Bacon said.

However, she now would like to see the state’s economy slowly open up more, with businesses allowed to function more normally, with people taking responsibility by wearing masks, and more children back in school.

For his part, Olson said that no one knew originally what the coronavirus held in store for the country, and that Walz did a “decent” job early on. But he is skeptical of Walz’s subsequent restrictions.

“I think we need to realize that rural Minnesota is different than the metro,” he said. “You can’t treat us the same way.”

He referred to a furniture store in Blue Earth and coffee shop in Jackson that were shut down while big box retailers were allowed to remain open.

“We’re good Scandinavians and Germans around here,” he said. “We stand six feet apart on a regular basis, and I think that’s what we need to realize is that a rural situation is different. That’s what frustrates me the most. It’s not about anything other than it’s different here.”

“With all respect to everyone, I would like you to tell that to all the people who died, all the people who died early on who didn’t even know they had it.” Bacon countered. “And my sister had it; she was down for two months. You tell that to the families that have lost their loved ones. We didn’t even have enough PPE (personal protective equipment) to wear. We didn’t have enough N-95s (surgical masks). And then all the health care providers that are on the front line dying, over a thousand of them have died. This is not just a little bacteria that is going to go away.”

She said the Legislature will have to make decisions about restarting the economy, helping people get back to work and paying for results of what COVID-19 has done to the state of Minnesota. She believes lawmakers need to work on common ground because the virus does not care about any of us.

Olson argued that state lawmakers have essentially been shut out of the process because Walz wields total emergency powers when it comes to COVID-19. He called the situation frustrating, and noted that it will be lawmakers who will have to figure out how to pay for what has occurred. Getting businesses back on track is another story, he believes.

“The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce has endorsed me as the pro-business candidate who will fight for small businesses, and that’s what I am determined to do, regardless of COVID-19,” Olson said.

Bacon said small businesses do need help, and she suggested state grants.

The candidates seemed to agree on a variety of other issues, including rural internet access; education; the ag economy; roads and bridges; and the hazards of teen vaping.

Olson drew a distinction between the two of them by noting that his party is pro-life and fully in support of the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. They also differed on a possible gas tax hike to fund roads, with Bacon open to the idea and Olson saying other funding can be found in the state budget.

Asked about their priorities, Bacon said that beyond bringing back the health of the state, given the pandemic, she wants to work on making health care and prescription drugs more accessible and affordable. Olson said he has been listening to voters, who tell him the most important issues in the district are agriculture, education, taxes and roads.

Olson is serving his second term as Elmore mayor. He farms in the area, teaches at Blue Earth Area Schools and is a captain in command of an Army Reserve unit in Buffalo, Minnesota.

Bacon is a nurse practitioner with a doctorate in nursing practice. She also taught nursing at Presentation College in Fairmont as well as graduate students at St. Catherine University in St. Paul. She currently works at Madelia Community Hospital and Clinic.

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