Candidates from the Democratic Farmer-Labor Party met with students over pizza Tuesday evening to discuss politics, policy, and the future of Mankato.
Affordable housing, student debt, healthcare, education, community development, and diversity were among the topics discussed by candidates and state representatives that night.
Bukata Hayes, who is running for mayor of Mankato stressed the importance of community development and quality neighborhoods as ways to keep graduates in the Mankato area to live and work. “We want to make sure that our neighborhoods are conducive to families,” he said.
Issues specific to college students and graduates were discussed as well. “We need to make sure that there are loan forgiveness programs for student debt,” Greta Bedekovics, a digital and field organizer for Dan Feehan’s campaign, said during the event. She added that careers in public service, whether in the military, government, or schools, should be rewarded with debt forgiveness.
State senators and representatives were present at the event as well. Jack Considine, a state representative from district 19B, described the changes that Mankato has faced over the years, and his experience fighting for working men and women in the statehouse. “My biggest joy is when I can help local people,” he said. The difficulties of campaigning and handling the sometimes rancorous behavior of his opponents was tiring. “But when you can help somebody, it’s a lot of fun,” he said.
Indeed, that help has often come to the students of MNSU themselves. Representative Considine has helped get public funding for the school on numerous occasions, including for the new science building.
Representative Considine’s experiences in Mankato included a number of impressive milestones for the city, including the first celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the state. “The very first Martin Luther King Jr. celebration in the state was in Mankato,” said Considine. He had helped organize and run the event. The turnout was far more than he or his fellow organizers had expected. “We were expecting about one hundred. We fed four hundred,” he said.
Fardousa Jama, a candidate for city council in Mankato’s third ward, talked about the importance of representing college students and young people. “The two platforms I’m running on are affordable housing and finding internships and mentorships within our community,” she said.
Ms. Jama also discussed representation, particularly of minorities, women, and immigrants, whose voices are often drowning out in political debate. She said, “I’m one of those people that feel that I’m not heard in the community and I want to be heard.”
On housing, Ms. Jama said “we need more affordable apartments so we can bring more people to live in our community, so that we can have more income added to our environment.”
The importance of diversity was among the most important topics of the evening. Colleen Landkamer, former director of Minnesota’s rural development under president Obama, said, “Diversity is so critical because it’s our future.” She broke barriers by serving on the county board, the first woman to do so. Her voice brought representation in local government to the women of Mankato.
Candidate Jeff Brand, who is running in district 19A for the Minnesota House of Representatives, encouraged students to participate in politics, saying, “We can’t just imagine that blue wave coming out of nowhere. It starts here, in this room.”
State Senator Nick Frentz, a longtime resident of Mankato, also reminded students of their civic duty, an important topic as the midterm elections loom. “You must vote,” he said, “If you do not vote, someone who does vote will have a louder voice than you and they will speak for you.”