Local Candidates Respond to Disability Questions

ConnectWC is a Washington County nonprofit organization dedicated to creating community connections among individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, their families and the community that supports them.

As an organization continuously striving to gather resources and information, ConnectWC reached out to Minnesota State and House candidates located in Washington County to gain a better understanding of their background and upcoming plans related to disability issues and programs. Each candidate was asked two questions:

1. What is your experience with issues/programs for people with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities?

2. In relation to the office you are running for, what do you feel are disability issues that need improvement and how would you propose to strengthen them?

Ten (10) of the thirty-one (31) MN State House and Senate candidates that were contacted replied to our questions, and we have done our best to ensure the accuracy and completeness of the answers provided.  Here are the candidates responses:

State House Candidates

District 39A - Bob Dettmer

“My 34 years as a school teacher and coach I’ve had several opportunities to work with students with intellectual, developmental disabilities and physical disabilities.

As I have in the past, I will continue to support programs that promote and strengthen the opportunities for education, job training, transportation and employment.”

District 39A – Jody Anderson

“As far back as high school, I volunteered in a program where we simply spent time with people who had developmental disabilities. During college I ran an emergency juvenile shelter in Dakota County where the vast majority of youth placed presented with some form of barrier whether that be intellectual, behavioral, or developmental. I continued that work at Boys Totem Town and into my current work as an adult Probation Officer with Ramsey County. My career has spanned 31 years and in every phase, I have partnered with parents, schools, social service agencies, and any other organization that has been involved. Most importantly, I have partnered with the individuals experiencing and living with their unique situations.

I am running for State Representative in District 39A. I cannot specify which area needs to be improved or strengthened as every area needs to be fortified. For me, this is a human rights issue, a dignity and self-worth issue. If we are a just society, we need to behave that way and create opportunities for everyone, no matter what their particular struggles may be, to be as fully involved as a citizen as they are capable of being. Individual self- fulfillment creates rewards for all and the less people have to struggle to find their place means all involved can find some peace. Certainly the educational system needs a great increase in support staff for the kids in school. In the community, we need to have greater funding for social programs so our people are not simply warehoused. As was once said, "We all do better when we all do better.”

District 39B - Alan Kantrud

“I have worked with many groups that support that community as a City Attorney and understand first-hand some of the challenges they face from NIMBY issues for home-placement to access to services, jobs, recreation and transportation. I grew up in the city where our State had its State Hospital for certain folks and also the Anne Carlson School for the Blind. When government started to mainstream folks the entire City embraced them, mostly, but they NORMALIZED the conditions and that was key.

I also rode a public school bus with no less than five “kids” with the challenges you refer to and they were wonderful people who really felt “normal” for being able to be with the “regular” population. Aside from some bullying, they got to walk and talk and be with the rest of us and that has been a gift for me as I just appreciate that community as normal PLUS some challenges for me rather than normal MINUS for them. That perceptive difference makes a huge impact when you are asked to think about their issues and challenges. I have somewhere between a few and many friends who have children who would fall into the category of disability you are referring to and they all want the same thing for their kids…a meaningful life that encourages some level of participation and a community that supports them.

I think like most life-skills related challenges it all starts with a good start and that means adequate educational opportunities. The State can and should support that community the same as it does for kids that do not face those challenges and that means providing funding for services that is not provided by Federal funding; the so-called special-needs donut hole. Right now that gap is picked-up (as best it can be) by the local Districts and creates undue strains on priorities that pit those students needs with main-stream students’ needs. That is not fair and should be addressed by the State. If possible I’d like to work towards incentivizing the business community to make available positions for this community within their business more-so than is being done now either through tax credits or something similar.

People are people and everyone wants to feel that they have value and are contributing to society. Few things are more rewarding on an individual level than feelings of accomplishment and self-worth. And the corollary to that is that nothing is more self-defeating than feeling as though you have no purpose or value or opportunity. Due to the broad spectrum of disabilities and levels of same, there is no “one size fits all” fix to the challenges, but it starts with valuing the community as members and working towards a society that strives to include them in work, worship, play and community.”

District 39B - Kathy Lohmer

“I have personal experience with my son who was born with Spina Bifida 35 years ago. He has undergone over 80 surgeries in his life and we navigated through doctors, hospitals, therapists, wheelchair sports., etc. I have served on HHS Finance and Policy at the Capitol since being elected in 2010 and have always voted to support people with disabilities. I have served on the board of directors for Granite House, a group home which is being built for those with severe traumatic brain injuries and assisted them in navigating through the system to build and operate this facility.

There are many areas that need reform, and improvement. I am open to ideas as well. I have worked in the past to try to help families who are dealing specifically with autism, especially the most severe on the spectrum I support awareness at the highschool level of employment opportunities for people to care for the significantly disabled and elderly population where there is difficulty in staffing.

In short, I have a heart for people who have special needs and am willing to support legislation that will enhance and improve their lives.

District 43A - Bob Cardinal

“I worked three (3) years with developmental disabled and intellectual challenged adults at Greenbriar Home in Saint Paul, Minnesota. This was in the mid 1980’s. John Barker was the administrator.

People with severe physical or cognitive disabilities sometimes need help with everyday tasks. Also, long-term care in nursing homes seems to cut off people from the community. Most people who need services prefer to get them in their own homes, in the form of visiting home care aides. For disabled people, this is about basic freedom and the right to choose an integrated life of possibilities or else be forced to live a restricted life.”

District 53A - JoAnn Ward

Thank you for contacting me about ConnectWC. I do appreciate the work that you do, and am sure that you understand that in these very busy campaign days it is very difficult to respond to the many requests for questionnaires, surveys, and biographies. They require time and energy to give thoughtful responses, and that time and energy simply is not available. Please allow me to stand on my record of support for people with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities.

District 53B - Kelly Fenton

“During my first term as a legislator, I had the honor of meeting with a number of constituents who came to advocate for themselves, their families or other members of the community with disabilities. Around 1 in 10 Minnesotans have a disability, and I try to advocate for state policies that work for them and their families.

Additionally, last session, I carried the Education Savings Account for Students with Special Needs Act to give families the flexibility to find education options that work best for their child. That flexibility would not only include finding a school that best accommodates their child’s needs, but also education-related therapy, tuition and fees, tutoring, text books and other key resources. This program would also expand options for families whose academic options for their child may otherwise be limited financially. While the Education Savings Account Act did not become law this year, I hope to advocate for it again in the future.

I think one of the more prevalent issues we will see in upcoming legislative sessions is the Olmstead Plan. That plan, along with other legislation proposed by key stakeholders, will I hope positively impact Minnesotans with intellectual or physical disabilities, giving them more options to live independently, be employed and participate in the community. I also expect the Five Percent Campaign/Best life Alliance, an important issue to help hardworking caregivers in our state, to be another issue moving forward in the legislature next session.

As a state representative, I strive to support policies that work for people with disabilities, their families, their caregivers and our community. The best way to address issues important to the community at the legislature is to hear from the people directly affected by state policies. The input of ConnectWC and other stakeholders in the community helps legislators better understand the best way to meet the needs of people with disabilities and implement state policies that improve lives and provide more opportunities for success.”

State Senate Candidates

District 38 - Roger Chamberlain

“During the last six years I have had the opportunity to meet many who work with and support people with a variety of disabilities. I regularly visit group homes, day centers and maintain a good relationship with John Wayne Barker with Merrick. I am familiar with a variety of issues impacting those who have disabilities.

For me, issues involving the disabled and seniors are in the top 5 priorities. We must ensure skilled employees are properly paid; we need to equally fund day programs; to the extent we can, improve flexibility and reduce needless red tape; I will continue working to provide relief to dyslexic children and ensure schools are following law regarding kids with disabilities.”

District 39 - Karin Housley

“Over the last four years I've had the opportunity to talk with many constituents & families of constituents about many disabilities affecting them.

I take each issue as it's presented to me and work towards a solution. I sit on education finance committee, and there is a lot of room for funding improvement in the disability column”

District 43 - Chris Belflower

“I have the benefit of having both a sister-in-law, and her fiancé that work with children and adults with disabilities. I have been disheartened to see the time, efforts and energy that they put into their jobs without the returning benefits, thus making it tough for them to make it on one job each. I will ensure that I champion the cause for workers that really do go above and beyond to help their clients. Too many people do not have the compassion to do what my sister and her coworkers have done. I will work with these centers and employees to find out their concerns and see what we can do to address any issues. I also promise to have an open door policy to have ANY of my constituents visit me, call me or contact me. I’m sure I’ll get busier, but I want to make sure I am representing Minnesota.

I also get the opportunity to see many of these children and adults firsthand (although they do not know me personally) as I visit several of these centers annually as Santa Claus. Watching many of these adults with the ability to live and thrive independently is such an inspiration to what we as Minnesotans can really do. I was recently made aware that they may not be compensated competitively in the workforce. I will work to make sure that all working Minnesotans receive competitive pay for the work they do. Many adults I know are so detailed and diligent with their jobs, there is no reason not to be compensated appropriately. Income should not be limited for anyone, especially if they have a disability.

I have a plan set up where we get Minnesota back to work. Part of this plan includes revamping the MN Department of Employment and Economic Development to make sure we have programs available for all groups of Minnesotans (homeless, veterans, disabled, unemployed) to receive affordable if not free training more so than what is currently available. I became unemployed several years ago, and used some of the services offered. I feel that this program, although is good, could be made better.

I also have a plan regarding independent housing. There are apartment complexes all over the Twin Cities and Minnesota that cater to our elderly community, but why not our disabled community as well? I think this could be a great idea in order to, similarly to senior care centers, have assistants that can be called upon to help if necessary, but yet allow residents to live independently within the community. Ensuring that there is ample transportation available (bus lines, etc.) in order to make sure that all of our residents have the same opportunities. As I said earlier, watching some of the adults (and even children) be almost as independent as anyone else is really inspiring. I would really like to continue to help make that happen.

When it comes to education, our current incumbent Senator, who also chairs the Education Committee has failed us. He’s failed our kids, and our teachers. I will work to implement policies that will not only help to close the achievement gap that we see currently (one of, if not the highest in the US), but I will work to ensure that our teachers are compensated appropriately and incentives for achieving different aspects of education such as counseling, and education for developmentally challenged students. Minnesota educates and trains some of the best teachers in the Nation, yet, we have shortages all over the teaching spectrum. Why is that? It’s the current policies. My education plan will empower teachers to be able to teach their classes and engage their students. I want to inspire kids to become teachers. And this means making sure that our teachers are not afraid of their classes, their superiors, boards or unions. It also means compensating them and providing all of the tools and resources they need to succeed. Many teachers get paid very well, but having perks for different teaching levels or genres versus just time and general degrees should inspire people to want to be teachers again.

I want to work to make sure that our children receive curriculum that a) interests them, and b) stimulates their learning abilities. I will work for smaller class sizes, so that there is more teacher-student interaction, and will inspire the learning abilities of the students. And I want to ensure that all of our students, with or without disabilities, have the same opportunities to learn and get the help they need when they need it. Smaller class sizes and even specialized educators will be able to make that happen. And having programs that develop teachers to focus on their students will benefit everyone. And students with disabilities are so often misunderstood for misbehaving. Having adequate numbers of staff that are trained and educated themselves in how to work with these students will allow our students to excel versus becoming a burden to an unknowing educator.

And I am under the understanding that fees for programs like this are not covered under employer or State insurance programs? This flusters me as I can only imagine what financial burdens families are under in order to care for children with disabilities. The only thing I can use to relate is my kids and daycare before they started school…. I remember it was tough getting by back then and that was only for 5-6 years… I would prefer to see employers offer insurance programs that allow a) businesses to entice employees with insurance perks, and b) allow families/employees to pick and choose what services they wish to have covered. And I understand that many families don’t have the luxury of being able to work as they stay home to provide care for their families. Honestly, I have to do a bit more research on the subject matter, but I would not be against having these fees become MNSure eligible. Or to provide additional State funding to program centers in order to offset the financial burdens currently being held by the families. With fiscal responsibility, I feel that we can earmark appropriate funds to make sure that our families are taken care of.

I hope my response assures you that I will truly fight for Minnesotans while I’m in office. As a third party candidate, I will be able to sell these types of plans and ideas to both sides of the aisle, and finally get our legislators to work for Minnesota. As a retired firefighter, I will always champion the cause to support my communities first and foremost”