Helping people is Ward's favorite part of the job

Helping his constituents, whether it's struggling college students or people fighting the bureaucracy, is the favorite part of Rep. John Ward's job as a lawmaker.

Representative John Ward discusses his plans for the future of his district. (Steve Kohls, Brainerd Dispatch)
Representative John Ward discusses his plans for the future of his district. (Steve Kohls, Brainerd Dispatch)

Helping his constituents, whether it's struggling college students or people fighting the bureaucracy, is the favorite part of Rep. John Ward's job as a lawmaker.

The Baxter DFLer, a veteran of eight years at the state Capitol, is seeking his fifth term in a contest against political newcomer Republican Josh Heintzeman of Nisswa. He said his office is approached daily by people with "big-time" problems, many of which are heartwrenching. Ward said he's fortunate to be able to try to make a positive difference in people's lives.

"I do that joyfully and fervently," he said earlier this month in an interview at the Coco Moon in downtown Brainerd. "I and my staff helped thousands of my constituents," using his experience, knowledge and understanding of the legislative process.
Among those helped by laws the Legislature recently passed were college students who have seen huge tuition hikes in recent years, Ward said. He recalled paying for his own college education, largely from the earnings of summer jobs. At that time, Ward said, the state paid for 60 to 65 percent of the tuition costs, compared to a state contribution of about 35 to 40 percent now. The result of that shift, he said, is tremendous burden on students and their families and road block for those who can't afford it.

"That's (higher education) what opens the door to opportunities," Ward said. "Our kids have more significant debt that they're graduating with."

Ward favors extending the tuition freeze that was mandated by law in the last session.


He said the cost of education goes up just as the cost of fuel and groceries goes up. All state agencies, he said, have to strive for finding efficiencies and effectiveness.

Ward contends the state Legislature, with DFL majorities in both the House and Senate, invested in the right priorities in the last session. Those priorities included job creation and retention, property tax relief and tax reform. As a result, a $600 million surplus is projected for next year.

Ward was pleased Minnesota Department of Transportation efficiencies resulted in the moving up of a $45 million project that will make a two-lane stretch of Highway 371 a four-lane.

Funding for future transportation concerns will have to be addressed and the retired teacher said all options should remain on the table. Those options include a hike in the gas tax (last raised in 2008), a wheelage tax and a wholesale or tax on the barrel tax.

"This will continue to be an issue," Ward said.

The recognition of all six Brainerd School District elementary schools as Blue Ribbon Schools is an example of how investment in education has paid off. From 951 schools statewide, only eight were chosen. He said the school's early commitment to all-day, every-day kindergarten, likely played a role in the district receiving the awards.

"I don't think the general public understands how special that is," he said of the awards. "That's a huge accolade."

The former teacher and coach said early positive intervention on behalf of children impacts the development of a child's brain. He said the achievements of Brainerd's Blue Ribbon Schools included closing the achievement gap and "straight-up academic achievement" from the students.


Education, statewide, was also helped by the Legislature's investment of $20 million into broad band last session, he said.

"Broadband Internet access was critical for business development and education," Ward said.

In the next session, he wants to see additional tax reform, stating that topic is going to need a comprehensive, collaborative discussion.

"We worked hard to make the tax system more progressive, less regressive.

"I want to hear from everybody. It does us good when everybody is engaged. Collaboration and compromise are what get things done."

Job growth and economic growth will be helped by the Legislature's Angel Investment Tax Credit and by funding for Initiative Foundations.

Addressing Enbridge Inc.'s preferred route, which would go through Aitkin, Cass and Crow Wing counties, Ward said it's a question of when and where - not if there's a leak some day.

"The current route, now delayed, crossed many, many watersheds," he said as well as being a route that was isolated.


"Science and technology are the pieces that are needed to bring this project to fruition," he said.

Ward said the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has identified alternatives and that's something that should be listened to by Minnesotans.

"Let the process work. Let the permitting work. Let the professionals do the job they're supposed to do."

Ward said he supports renewable energy such as wind and solar.

A member of the state's bipartisan Small Business Caucus, Ward said small businesses are really what drives the state's economy. He's also a supporter of Enterprise Minnesota's Growth Acceleration Program, which allows small manufacturing companies access to business improvement services.

He also introduced a bill in 2013 that would have provided a Department of Energy and Economic Development grant to manufacturers who arrange for job training for new employees.

"We have a number of manufacturing businesses in our area," he said. "They tell me their biggest problem is not having enough skilled workers. That's the issue that needs to be addressed.

"We're going to be back with it (his job training bill)," Ward said. "I think it's a win/win/win."


Ward said he's proud of the local legislation he's chief-authored and of his support of the recent Governor's Fishing Opener at Grand View, the accelerated schedule for Highway 371 between Nisswa and Jenkins and a grant for Sexual Assault Services. He said he's worked to get good results for the people of House District 10A.

"I'm looked to as a leader down there," he said.

The legislative gridlock of previous years has been overstated in Ward's view. He said that in the last two years approximately 3,000 bills have been introduced and between 150 and 175 have been passed into laws and 95 percent of them had significant bipartisan support.

It's important for lawmakers to keep in mind that they're servants of the constituents, according to Ward.

The bipartisan spirit is disrupted by the negative ads from outside sources, Ward said. The general public, he said, often doesn't understand that the negative ads come from independent expenditures rather than the candidates. He said he feared negative ads drive good people away from serving as candidates.

"We need to work together for a campaign that isn't filled with misinformation, lies, slander and misrepresentation."

The legislator said political adversaries don't always have to agree but they can be respectful, honest, open and truly listen to each other.

One anti-Ward advertisement asks the question "Has St. Paul changed John Ward?" He said the inference that he's lost touch with district is perhaps, the greatest misperception promoted by this year's negative ads.


"That's why I make myself accessible, visible ... not just during the campaign season," he said. I pride myself being in my community year-round, every year.

"I'm thrilled, honored and humbled to be state representative for 10A. I take this job very seriously, working hard, listening to everyone and keeping an open mind."

MIKE O'ROURKE may be reached at 855-5860 or . Follow on Twitter at .

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