FAIRMONT - The Lt. Governor candidate for the endorsed Republican Minnesota Governor candidate has been making the rounds through southern Minnesota.
"We'll be doing a couple of these," said Bill Kuisle, a former state Representative from southeast Minnesota. "I think Jeff Johnson and I are a unique blend to the governor race. Jeff comes from the metro area, while I'm on the family farm outside of Rochester with my family, so we come in knowing both the metro and greater Minnesota."
Johnson, who received the Republican endorsement for governor, is currently serving as a Hennepin County Commissioner, but spent six years in the Minnesota House of Representatives. Kuisle served as a Representative from 1996-2004. Despite receiving the Republican Party endorsement, the Johnson/Kuisle ticket faces primary challenges from State Rep. Kurt Zellers, former Minority State House Leader Marty Seifert, and Republican businessman Scott Honour. The primary vote is scheduled for Aug. 12.
Jeff Johnson and Bill Kuisle
"What we want to concentrate on during the campaign is the difference between Gov. (Mark) Dayton and us," Kuisle said. "The No. 1 thing we want to concentrate on is jobs, and making a better business climate."
The tax changes has made it difficult to keep jobs in Minnesota, Kuisle said. But he also knows working on tax codes is no easy task from his time on the tax conference committee.
"We did a lot of work on it under Gov. Ventura," Kuisle said. "It was one of the more difficult things to do."
Kuisle also applauded the recently announced "brain gain" plan from the Fairmont EDA as part of addressing the jobs issue.
"We're seeing too many good people leave because there aren't enough good jobs here," he said. "We need to keep these people in greater Minnesota, and not having migrating to the metro areas or out of state ... A lot of the business climate we see now is because of the tax structure. The JOBZ program was semi-successful, but it had its winners and losers. In Rochester, we're losing people and businesses with high income jobs because they're relocating to areas with no income tax. We're not advocating that there be no state income tax, but the recent increases have driven that factor."
Kuisle also gives a nod to the agriculture industries.
"With industries like ethanol, we want to keep the industry healthy," he aid. "The state subsidies are gone, and it should fly on its own now. But again, we're looking at keeping jobs here, and helping expand on Minnesota resources ... Our agriculture is coming along from the organic to the full-scale and family farms. But it's also driving the property taxes up, and we want to be making sure that we're not driving people off the farm with high property taxes."
Another area Kuisle said will be concentrated on during the campaign is Pre-12 education.
"Minnesota has always been one of the best in the nation," he said. "But we're seeing the achievement gaps and we need to close them. Some of this may be due to immigrant children, but there's no excuse for it; it's sinful letting kids languish. We see prisons that are full of minorities because they are not getting the education they deserve."
Kuisle, who has two young children of his own, also has concerns for special needs students.
"We're seeing more kids diagnosed with things like autism," Kuisle said. "We need to look at the root cause, and if school districts are trying to diagnose this for special education funds. We need to try and make sure these students get the services that are needed, but also need to make sure taxpayers are protected, too. There are layers of mandates, but not all of them are in the best interest in the students. I've heard that some of those teachers in special education are spending half of their time dealing with paperwork ... Instead of just labeling, how about students getting the right services."
The divide between metro and rural school districts is another point Kuisle addresses.
"The metro areas get more money, and that's one thing that bothers us is the inequity and funding," he said. "When we're paying more in taxes we should get what we pay for. Minnesota has always done a good job, but we need to keep working on improvement, so the taxpayers are getting more bang for their buck."
Finally, Kuisle said that he and Johnson want to make sure the MN Sure system, Minnesota's answer to the Affordable Care Act, works the way it should.
"I don't think we can repeal MN Sure with a Democratic House and Senate," he said. "But we need to fix that system. These are people that aren't able to afford insurance, and yet the insurance programs offered to them have a $6,000 deductible. But we want to make sure the system works, because it will be a huge burden to the state if it's not fixed. We don't want the same problems we saw last year."
On the Web: johnsonforgovernor.org