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MN Sen. Kent Eken talks with us about making rural MN more prosperous

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Published: Jun. 26, 2017 at 10:16 AM CDT
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FULL TRANSCRIPT

(Please note - this transcript was copied from an electronic captioning service. We apologize for any errors, spelling, grammatical, or otherwise.)

Chris Berg:

Good evening and welcome to "Point of View." I'm Chris Berg. Thank you for joining us on this Friday evening. We got a ton to get to tonight. We want to start with Minnesota senator Kent Eken joining us in studio. We've been talking about it a lot in week. How do we make rural make prosperous again? He's on a couple of AG rule committees. So thank you for being here. I want to start with this. On June 2, the Minnesota commissioner wrote a letter to mayor Mahoney. Some context here. On October of 2013, you wrote a letter saying we need permanent flood protection in Moorhead. We're going to work hard to achieve that. look, we're not happy with the fact that you are now funding more of this. The United States Army Corps of engineers putting more money in this diversion project. He's basically stopped anybody in the DNR doing anything with the diversion. What's your take on his letter?

Kent Eken:

Well, I think it's unfortunate we couldn't get a working group set up to try to work out these differences before it went to a lawsuit. Right now it is in the lawsuit stage. I know the governor had made it clear if any dirt was being moved, he would see that as an act of bad faith and I think that's what resulted in this letter being written. It is going to be the courts that decide in the end before anything more can be done. As I said, I think that's unfortunate because what I told the governor was I felt if it goes to court and if the state of Minnesota loses, we have effectively cut Minnesota out of the process. We don't want that to happen. We want to make sure that Minnesota is an important part of this process, the decision making process and how the diversion is going to be developed and constructed and so on.

CB:

We're going to have Mr. Lambert on the show Tuesday. Anything you would say to him, suggest to him in the context of this letter, what's going on?

KE:

Well, I would again impress the importance of permanent flood protection for this area. And the diversion is the only way that I believe that can be achieved. There are other things that can be done to help alleviate the flooding and probably in conjunction with the diversion.

CB:

Did you get any state money allocated for this session?

KE:

There is no reason to at this point until the lawsuit has been settled because we don't know what's gonna happen there yet. So nothing can be done at this point as far as funding is concerned. It hasn't come to that level yet. So at this point, we're just waiting to see what's the court decides.

CB:

Let's talk about making rural America prosperous again. There was an interesting article talk being rural America being the new inner city, last week I believe it was. Secretary per do you had an interagency talking with a bunch of agency heads making rural America prosperous again. If you had a magic wand, what needs to happen to help rural America right now?

KE:

Well, it's got to be a multi-pronged approach. I think that things need to be done to diversify our economy. I think that certainly helps. But we will always be an AG-based economy in this area of the state. It will be the major economic engine of our area. So we need to make sure we maintain a strong agricultural sector. That means investing in our agricultural sector and making sure that we're putting resources in to things like the AG extension agency and university of Minnesota. And also opening up new markets for farmers. I think that's important. I was the one that carried the legislation to start a pilot program for industrial hemp. I think it's important to point out that hemp has been made illegal, placed on the list of narcotics and drugs, even though you can't get high on hemp. It's impossible to get high on hemp. But it was placed on that list because it is related to marijuana, which you can get high from. It's a cousin of industrial hemp, if you will. But I've said in the past that make hemp illegal because it resembles marijuana or is related to marijuana. Be like throwing someone in jail because they look like a cousin who committed a crime. It's not right. And industrial hemp is one of the most versatile crops there is for agriculture. You can use it for making textiles, for making paper, for making oils, for making installation for homes and cement. There are all kinds of things that hemp can be used for. So we started to develop that here in the red river valley for the most conducive area for growing industrial hemp. It will not only provide another commodity for farmers, but also attract businesses that make things with hemp to our area. That would bring more production to our area. Because they're going to want -- that's just one example of something that we could do.

CB:

Which I think is a great example. Also I want to talk about the labor shortage taking place right now in greater Minnesota. We talked a lack of housing. Lower wages. More visas where they're bringing if foreign workers to help the farmers meet their margin, but have the help they need. What do we do there? You think about President Trump making America great again. Hire American workers. As a legislator, what are some things you think hey, these are some things we can tweak to make sure we're hiring American workers and also making rural America prosperous again.

KE:

Yeah. We need to do our biggest export from our area outside of the agricultural commodities has been our young people. We've been losing many of our young people. How to keep our young people here and attract more young people to our area. I think we need to make sure, first and foremost, fighting a -- providing a good educational opportunity for children so they stay in our area. Usually where you're educate asked where you stay. And start your life and start working. I think that some of the things we could do also outside of that is to provide entrance opportunities. I carried legislation dealing with internships to try to encourage and incentivize tax credits, internships for businesses because once the connection is made, I think we need to do more and making those connections with the business sector and our educational institutions. And maybe having a better relationship with our tech and community colleges in particular, but our higher education generally with business sector. I also think it's important that we do things like loan forgiveness programs, representative and I introduced a bill to provide loan forgiveness for people that live and work in rural Minnesota, be up to $3,000 a year for up to five years. And that would help not only address the high college tuition that people pay now, but for those who left college have and have huge debt.

CB:

I would hope so. The university of Minnesota wants to raise tuition to make up for their -- it's a tough thing to figure out. One question I have. I'm sure you saw this. One of your colleagues, Marquart, I work for free.

KE: It's huge. It's a huge issue. CB: We have two legislators who will work for free. That's all right. So in the context of making rural America prosperous again, great again, I want to tie it into what happened in Georgia and what's going on with the Democrat message. I think Minnesota is kind of a mirror. What I mean when I look at Minnesota, it doesn't seem to be so much of an our versus D battle but urban versus rural greater Minnesota battle. You representative Marquart and another are the only three Democrats on the western side of minute machine. What needs to change in the Democratic message to resonate with Minnesota? KE: We need to focus on the bread and butter issues. We have promoted policies that are good for rural Minnesota. I mentioned some of the things that we need to do. Also lowering property taxes. That's been a big focal point for the Democrats is trying to get property taxes lowered and I actually put in a bill that would eliminate property taxes over time, phasing them out. It's a constitutional amendment that people would vote on because it's such a big, drastic change to our currents tax structure. I think it's the least fair tax it is to hit rural Minnesota harder than anyone where else in the state. And it's regresssive. Lower incomes and hits small businesses the hardest. You have to pay it whether you're struggling or not. It's the tax that drives a lot of businesses under. So that's an example. But focusing on those bread and butter issues, the healthcare issue, another very important issue that we need to focus on and trying to find a solution. This year we did in the state senate did vote on a proposal to extend Minnesota care to have a buy-in for everyone so that everybody can participate in Minnesota care. Now especially important for our area that we have less opportunities, less options to choose from. CB: We have 20 seconds. I want to get your comments on the Philando Castile jury distribution. He walked out of there and said, this decision is a horrific reminder that everyone is not treated equally in the state of Minnesota. Your thoughts on that. KE: I think it's a tragic situation all the way around for everyone that was involved and I do think -- as far as the jury's decision, they've spoken. I don't know the details. I didn't sit on the jury, but I do respect their decision. CB: Me too. For time sake, do you agree with the governor that everyone is not treated equally in Minnesota? KE: Well, I have to say in our area of the state, I think the it's a different situation. I know law enforcement and those that I've known and have met and gotten to know, they're highly respected in the commune. Have a very good relationship with the larger communities. I think that's important. That may not be the case in some other parts of the state, but here that definitely is the case. I've seen the dare program and events that law enforcement has been involved in. Very, very well integrated into the community. I think that's important. My own son is going into law enforcement. He just graduated from the law enforcement program. CB: Tell him thank you for his service. Thank you for being here. We appreciate it as always. We'll talk to you again soon. KE: You bet.