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Senate District 10: Cekalla says divisive politics doesn’t help constituents

Cekalla is the DFL candidate in Senate District 10, facing Republican primary winner Nathan Wesenberg to represent the district that did not have a seated senator following redistricting earlier this year.

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Senate District 10 candidate Suzanne Cekalla participates during the legislative candidate forum hosted by the League of Women Voters Monday, Oct. 3, 2022, in the Dryden Theatre at Central Lakes College in Brainerd.
Chelsey Perkins / Brainerd Dispatch
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BAXTER — Suzanne Cekalla said she doesn’t consider her politics to be solely blue or red — she falls somewhere in the middle, as a business-minded nurse and pastor who is frustrated by the negative impact of extreme partisanship.

While people who identify with either major political party can find common ground on many issues, Cekalla said those aimed at dividing Minnesota are the loudest. And many people are weary of the political fearmongering, she said.

“A lot of people were just feeling like there was no hope, like not a chance that anything could get better,” Cekalla said during an Oct. 5 interview at Caribou Coffee in Baxter. “ … They didn't like all the aggression from the world that they could see and how aggressive the certain political parties got, and they're actually afraid. … I just think if central Minnesota, if SD 10 knows that they have a senator that truly, truly cares about them, maybe it will just make our world a better place.”

Cekalla is the DFL candidate in Senate District 10, facing Republican primary winner Nathan Wesenberg to represent the district that did not have a seated senator following redistricting earlier this year. Senate District 10 includes portions of Aitkin, Benton, Crow Wing, Isanti, Kanabec, Mille Lacs and Morrison counties.

Cekalla said she grew up in Morrison County and has a wide variety of experiences, including working in health care as both a nurse and a hospital chaplain, owning a small business, helping to start the Rice Chamber of Commerce and serving a role in Tri-County Community Action as a youth employment director. She now operates a home-based business as a practitioner of healing touch and spiritual coaching.

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Cekalla said she’s passionate about reproductive rights and was motivated to run for office in part because of the Supreme Court’s rollback of the Roe v. Wade decision on abortion. She said she and many she’s spoken to can hardly believe the country is now waging the same battle as 50 years earlier, and she’s concerned about other established rights — such as access to contraception — also under threat.

Gun control is another issue Cekalla would like to tackle if she were elected to the state Senate. She said she supports a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines along with stronger background checks. But she’s quick to point out she grew up around guns and her family includes dozens of hunters, who enjoy a tradition she sees as important to the culture and economy of the state.

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“I grew up shooting guns, but I don’t need an AK-47 and I do not need an assault rifle and I do not need a clip that has 100 bullets in it, do I?” Cekalla said. “And we know that that one legislation could change everything.”

She said a majority of Americans, including those on both sides of the aisle, are with her in supporting stricter gun laws and women’s reproductive rights, yet politicians aren’t listening to their constituents. She pointed to a recent report analyzing results of in-depth surveys with 80,000 Americans, which found almost 150 policy positions over which majorities in both political parties agree.

“People are being held hostage by their representatives, and that’s actually what I have felt like, like I’ve been held hostage by the people who are my so-called legislators, and I plan on changing that,” Cekalla said. “I think I can work in the middle ground.”

Health care, environmental protection and education are also high on Cekalla’s list to address in the Legislature.

Her firsthand experience in hospitals showed her the dangers of delayed care, which she said is often driven by high costs and people’s inability to pay. She said something must be done to increase access to needed health care while also driving down drug prices, such as for life-saving medications like insulin.

Cekalla said reducing dependence on fossil fuels is another goal she supports, alongside a shift to greener energy sources such as solar and wind. She noted while Minnesotans were struggling to pay high prices at the gas pump this summer, oil companies raked in record profits.

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“I’m ready to shift to try and make it better. Solar power is free — you just need to put the panels up. Wind power is free — you just need to put the turbine up,” Cekalla said. “It is ignorance that we’re not doing it, and it’s also control of the oil prices. If we had wind power and solar power, we wouldn’t have the gas prices that we have and that’s just a no-brainer.”

More funding for education is another idea Cekalla said she supports, adding she’d like to see free public education be available to everyone between the ages of 3 and 20 years old, including post-graduation training programs. This issue, she said, might be the most important of all, because it relates to so many others facing the state.

“A well-educated society benefits us all and provides individual economic security for people. If we can help provide individual economic security, we solve a lot of problems across the board,” Cekalla said.

The Legislature missed opportunities to move the needle on some of these policy areas when it failed to pass several bills. Among the items left on the table was a tax cut for Minnesotans, and Cekalla said she would support this again as one of the ways to use the surplus in the state’s budget. She said there’s enough surplus money to put a little toward a variety of areas that could directly help residents — especially those in rural areas, who seem to be forgotten by a majority of politicians including the governor, Cekalla said.

Increasing access to broadband internet, workforce training, low-cost child care and affordable housing, alongside tackling drug addiction, would all have a positive impact on rural residents, she said.

“We need specialized programs here in rural Minnesota … and until we have those, I just don’t see that rural Minnesota is going to get caught up with the metro,” Cekalla said. “I refuse to call it Greater Minnesota. Those people in the metro called it Greater Minnesota. It is not ‘greater’ in any other name, and it is a low-income, rural Minnesota that they’re talking about.”

Cekalla said she believes most people who live in Senate District 10 agree on ways in which government can do better for them and their families.

“I'm just hoping and praying that people will vote for hope and working together as a community, rather than going to the divisive route,” she said. “Because I hope to bring everybody together so that we can build a better community.”

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CHELSEY PERKINS, community editor, may be reached at 218-855-5874 or chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at twitter.com/DispatchChelsey.

Chelsey Perkins is the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch. A lakes area native, Perkins joined the Dispatch staff in 2014. She is the Crow Wing County government beat reporter and the producer and primary host of the "Brainerd Dispatch Minute" podcast.
Reach her at chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com or at 218-855-5874 and find @DispatchChelsey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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