This past Monday, I traveled up to northwest Minnesota with the JRLC staff for a candidate forum in Hawley, a town halfway between Moorhead and Detroit Lakes. We co-sponsored the forum with the Children’s Defense Fund – Minnesota, and the focus of the evening was child poverty. Senate District 4 candidates Kent Eken and Phil Hansen, House District 4A candidate Ben Lien, and House District 4B candidates Paul Marquart and Paul Sandman gathered at Hawley United Methodist Church to articulate their views and answer questions. We were delighted by the turnout – fifty people came out to hear what the candidates had to say!
Rev. Mark Pettis, pastor at First Congregational UCC in Moorhead, served as the moderator. The goal of the forum was to shine a spotlight on worsening child poverty in Minnesota and make sure candidates are paying attention to this issue this election season. Kara Arzamendia of CDF – MN presented child poverty data from Clay, Norman, and Becker Counties and highlighted the unique challenges of Greater Minnesota, where low-income rural families struggle to find resources that are both affordable and accessible. Alexandra Fitzsimmons, also of CDF – MN, described how the toxic stress that poor children may experience inhibits their early brain development. Then Brian Rusche, JRLC’s Executive Director, spoke about the Family Economic Security Act and how it would reduce poverty.
The five candidates shared how they would tackle child poverty if elected to the legislature. For the most part, they voiced support for early childhood education and childcare assistance programs that help young children and their families. The familiar concept of “Minnesota Nice” became something of a refrain during the evening as different candidates called for the state to truly live up to this ideal and make it more than a hollow slogan.
Audience members participated as well, questioning the candidates about homelessness, tax reform, and living wage jobs as these relate to the wellbeing of Minnesota’s children. The high turnout and the level of engagement among attendees really showed that Minnesotans are concerned about child poverty and want their elected officials to take steps to address it.
Thanks to everyone who helped make the evening a success! Watch highlights from the Hawley forum here, or check out more photos on our Facebook page. We’re excited for our next candidate forum on child poverty this Saturday in Faribault!
- Eleanor Glewwe, Advocacy Associate