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Times 2020 Election Candidate Profile: Reed Perkins, challenger for MN Senate District 1

Jess Bengtson
Crookston Times

Tell us about yourself, your family, education, career and political experience.

    I was born and raised in Minnesota. My wife and I have been married for 8 years, we met on the first day of Freshman English in High School, and we have two daughters Phoebe(4) and Rosalind(2). I have degrees in both Biology and Teaching. When I can get work in my field I’ve taught 10th grade biology, led military homeschool groups, and worked education at two different national parks. Other times, I’ve worked night shift dealing blackjack at a casino, tech support for eReader devices, and was an inventory manager for a Prosthetics and Orthotics company.

    The variety of jobs is largely due to my wife being a major in the Air Force so we’ve moved around a bit. The stability is one of the reasons I’m thrilled to be back in Minnesota. Her contract is up in 2023 and her station is Grand Forks AFB for the remainder of it. Moving around the country has really shown me how lucky I was to be born in Minnesota. This is an incredible state and a big part of why I’m running for office is to help ensure the systems that were in place that set me up for life so well are there for everyone else being raised here too including my daughters.

    I have held elected positions on several on-base groups that did political work, but this is my first time running for public office. When your spouse is in the military and you work in education, you end up brushing up against politics whether you want to or not and when the opportunity came to move back to my home state, I knew it was time I stopped circling around these issues and engage with them head on.

What would you like to accomplish on day one if you’re elected?

    I would like to plant a ton of seeds. Obviously actual policy isn’t going to be proposed or passed on day one, but that is a day for making allies. Too often our needs in this corner of the state are ignored, but several key issues impacting us here are universal needs in this state. As an example, we could see progress on things like funding for rural schools if we teamed up with other districts suffering the same issues including those districts in inner cities.

    Organizing and teaming up is how we make progress. I have earned over 15 endorsements from various groups around the state because of my ability to make connections and I’ll put those skills to work day one by gathering other senators who are ready to tackle these problems. When those seeds yield fruit later on in the session, it will be because of the work on day one.

What policy area interests you the most and why?

    If I have to pick just one, it’s the fact that despite steady population growth in Minnesota as a whole, senate district 1 has been losing population for a while. This creates a spiral of fewer people here meaning things like fewer grocery stores or restaurants here which leads to more people leaving and more stores closing. We are a better state when we have vibrant small towns. Not everyone wants to live in urban areas or even the suburbs and ensuring everyone still has a choice of where to live is a pretty central freedom that is currently at risk if the current trends in some parts of rural Minnesota continue.

In regards to the handling of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, name one thing you agree with that Governor Walz has done for the state of Minnesota. Explain why.

    The school reopening plan was excellently crafted. Doing a county by county approach and allowing individual school boards and superintendents to increase the level of precautions got more people involved in the decision making process. I had phone calls with multiple superintendents in the district from Crookston to Warroad who all had positive things to say about that plan and its execution. I particularly liked the 14 day moving average as an indicator as well. A plan that was built to respond to new outbreaks is the kind of plan we needed and I’m glad it’s the one we got.

    Overall I’ve been more happy than not at the response. If we look at cases per capita by state, North Dakota is the fifth most infected in the country. Our other neighbors aren’t much better, Iowa is 10th, South Dakota is 13th, and Wisconsin is 23rd. Minnesota meanwhile sits at 33rd. Our response was effective even while being surrounded by states whose responses were much worse. All numbers quoted are from 10/5 from here https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/us/. As a science teacher, I hold myself to a high standard when it comes to accurate numbers and citations.

In regards to the handling of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, name one thing you disagree with that Governor Walz has done for the state of Minnesota. Explain why.

    As someone with a spouse who works in medical on Grand Forks AFB, I watched both the military’s response to COVID-19 play out at the same time as Minnesota’s. Back in April there was a mask mandate on base for everyone: active duty, contractor, and civilian family. If you wanted to walk into the grocery store on base, you had to have a mask on. Additionally, the base gave every family one mask per member of the family over the age of 3.

    We know masks work. They’re one of the single biggest things, along with washing your hands, an individual can do to help combat the spread of this disease. If we had a mask mandate earlier, and if masks had been distributed to families, we could have saved lives, saved businesses, and had an easier time opening schools.

If you had $1 million at your disposal to give to one area in the state right now, whether that be to education, small businesses, healthcare, etc., where would you give the money and why?

    Infrastructure and specifically rural broadband. Two of the counties in SD1, Kittson and Marshall, are two of the three worst counties in the state in terms of broadband coverage. For our students, that means a disadvantage with using distance learning as part of their education. For our small businesses, that means a disadvantage when it comes to selling online. For our healthcare, that means a disadvantage doing telemedicine.

    Broadband internet is just as basic a necessity as power or water these days. Lack of access to it is stifling growth in the district in multiple ways and we deserve better. You can read more of my thoughts on Rural Broadband on my website here.

Why are you the best person to represent District 1 in St. Paul?  

    For years now I’ve told my students that in good science, you let the evidence point you to the answer. If you start with an assumption and try to bend the information to fit your narrative, you will fail at actually learning anything. I follow data, not partisanship, to find solutions to our common problems. My time as a science teacher has additionally taught me how to break down complex issues, I want everyone in the district to be able to understand every bill, and to respect expert opinion. Too often we see legislation crafted without the actual people who will be impacted consulted on the process. If we are writing a bill about hunting, then hunters need to be at the table. The same goes for education, farming, and healthcare.

    When someone new moves on base, you go and find out what they need. You make certain they have dinner brought to them if their kitchen supplies haven’t arrived yet. You tell them where good childcare is so their kids can be safe while they move in. You do all of this without asking who they vote for, what their religion is, or anything like that. We’re all on the same team and we need to be supported.

    I’ve personally made over 6,000 phone calls as part of my campaign now. I’m not calling Republicans or Democrats, I’m calling people. If I only talk to people who agree with me already then I’ve set myself up for failure as a legislator and my time as a military spouse has helped hammer home for me the importance of Paul Wellstone’s words, “We all do better when we all do better,” That act of seeing us as Minnesotans rather than Republicans or Democrats is sorely lacking from today’s politics.

What do you like to do for fun? Hobbies?

    Sports, hiking, and cooking are three of my favorite things. It doesn’t matter what the sport is. My favorite is football, I still have my Jake Reed Vikings jersey because I was so excited he had the same name I did, but I’ll watch virtually anything.

    One of the best parts about working for the national park service was arriving early in the day and walking the trails before the public got there to make certain a branch hadn’t fallen somewhere overnight or anything like that. Walking a redwood forest as the dawn rays are cutting through the morning fog and the only noise is your footsteps and a handful of birds is the most divine experience, and I purposefully use divine there. I challenge anyone to do that and not find yourself thinking about your place in the universe.

    Moving around so much, you need a good way to make friends. My dad worked at restaurants most of his life and I picked up a couple tricks. I’m quite proud of the birthday cakes and desserts I make. I actually was given an award at Dover Air Force Base for the number of baked goods I sent into the clinic over the course of a year. It’s sort of a comfort thing too. No matter what other chaos is going on in the world, if I combine flour, sugar, oil, and chocolate in the right combination, it’ll always be delicious.

Where is your favorite place to visit in Minnesota?

    Palisade Head on the North Shore just north of Silver Bay. My Dad would take my brother and I blueberry picking there. More ended up in our mouths than in the buckets, but we would still get enough to make from scratch blueberry pancakes at the cabin. If I think about it, I can still smell them. My daughters are a little young yet, but I’m really looking forward to recreating that experience for them.

What is your favorite restaurant and where is it located?

    This may sound silly, but Perkins. Yeah, the normal chain restaurant. It’ll forever be my favorite for two reasons. I’ve moved around a lot and certainly eaten better food, but having a place you can always count on, you know what the quality is going to be, and it’s almost always open is another instance of stability that isn’t always present in a military life. Additionally, there was a Perkins a couple blocks from my high school and sitting at the Perkins until 2 in the morning is where I really developed a friendship that at the time I don’t think either of us thought would result in a marriage and two kids. I like to think we would have gotten together anyway, but eating Perkins pie at 1am after finals week or one of her jazz band concerts are some of my favorite memories with my now wife.

Reed Perkins