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Monday, October 23, 2006

Brad Finstad Responds to Stadium Criticism

From the New Ulm Journal

Finstad: Achievements beyond Twins

By KEVIN SWEENEY Journal Editor

NEW ULM — Ask Rep. Brad Finstad (R-Comfrey) about his proudest moment as a legislator and the answer might not be what you expect.

Finstad, who is seeking re-election to District 21B and is opposed by Democrat Bob Skillings, gained much media attention this past legislative session as the chief author and main ramrod of the Minnesota Twins baseball park legislation.

The legislation allows the construction of a new ballpark, financed by a .015 percent sales tax in Hennepin County. The controversial bill waives the usual local referendum on the sale tax issue, infuriating many Hennepin County voters.

But the experience of passing this major piece of legislation isn’t his proudest moment, said the two-term Republican last week.

The Positive Alternatives Act was a bill he authored to set up a $4.5 million annual grant program to make sure crisis birthing centers were able to offer pregnant women “life-affirming alternatives to abortion,” said Finstad.

“That was a lightning-rod issue that didn’t get a lot of media attention that I was able to get probably a record amount of Democrats to co-sponsor,” said Finstad. “Again, that was a feat and a task to make sure I could balance the political sensitivity to get that passed. ... It passed, was signed by the governor and is now law and is saving lives. It’s probably one of my proudest accomplishments as a legislator.”

Still, the main image of Finstad in the 2006 legislative session was sitting before committee after committee, defending the Twins bill and staving off last-minute amendments designed to derail it. He has become a target for some Hennepin County residents who have written letters calling for local voters to unseat him, and some local voters are wondering why he devoted so much time and energy to it.

Finstad said he decided to take on the job after hearing the debate raging since he was in high school, and seeing it dominate his first three years in the House.

This past session, Hennepin County and the Twins had put together what they considered a workable deal, and came to the Legislature asking for its approval.

Finstad said he was asked by the House leadership to carry the bill, and he agreed to do it.

“My first two years in the House I think I established myself as someone who would work hard on the issues I took on, was able to work with folks from all over the state and on both sides of the aisle, and that was noticed, through the Twins, through the Hennepin County commissioners, and the House leadership, and I was asked to do it. “They felt confident I would be someone who would run with it and get the job done.”

Finstad said he didn’t know why a Hennepin County legislator couldn’t have carried the bill.

“All I know is it takes political courage and leadership skills to take on a tough issue and work with it and move on for the betterment of the state,” said Finstad. He rejects criticism that someone else should have done it. “I figure you can sit on the sidelines, or roll up your sleeves and get the job done. That’s the approach I took. I was sick of hearing about it, I was sick of the issue, and I wanted to get it done in a way that the constituents have told me for the last four year that they wanted it to get done.”

“My position going into it was to protect the state taxpayers,” said Finstad, “to make sure we’re not competing with any state general funds, you know, education or nursing home funds with the stadium funds, make it site specific and do it in a way that’s a long-term fix so that we’re not doing this every two, three, four, five years.”

Finstad said the Twins issue wasn’t the only issue he worked on, despite appearances.

“To be clear, I have worked on a lot of issues in the past four years, or specifically, in the last session. I’ve carried bills ranging from agriculture to education to pro-life legislation to health care legislation. It just so happens that the media, and the 13-year debate in the state seemed to all come to a head with the Twins bill.”

Finstad said he has learned, during his four years in the House, how to get along and that hard work pays off. He and other legislators who entered the House four years ago have been dismayed by the politicking and bipartisan bickering, and have been working to reduce that.

“My approach is to put the politics aside and work on the policy,” said Finstad.

Finstad hopes to continue using the experience he has gained to push for issues important to his district.

Keeping young people from moving away by providing good paying, career jobs, and by making it possible for them to get into farming is important for people of the district, Finstad said. He has been working on adapting the JOBZ program to the township level to create “Livestock Opportunity Building Zones.”

Finstad is interested in health care, especially finding ways to empower health care consumers and help them shop around for better care.

On education, he wants to look for ways to amend the state’s K-12 school district financing formula so that districts with declining enrollment aren’t continually penalized.

“Declining enrollment is here, it’s all over the state, and we need to deal with it,” Finstad said. “It’s not enough to throw more money into the formula and have declining enrollment districts, most of them in rural Minnesota, continue to lose revenue.”

The problem with his rationale (and the Governor's) is the underlying belief that building a stadium to benefit private investors is a government responsibility. It is not.