Folstrom, Olson address DFLers

With three weeks to go in a hard-fought DFL endorsement battle for Senate 4, Irene Folstrom said Sunday she could bring more voters to the polls on Nov. 7.

With three weeks to go in a hard-fought DFL endorsement battle for Senate 4, Irene Folstrom said Sunday she could bring more voters to the polls on Nov. 7.

Folstrom and Mary Olson will stand before Senate 4 Democrats on April 8 in Walker for the party endorsement to run against Sen. Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point.

Both women spoke to Beltrami County DFLers on Sunday during their convention at the Northern Inn. Both live in Bemidji, with Folstrom a Cass Lake native, and both are law school graduates.

Olson, who went first, spoke about her campaign issues, mainly in support of universal health care, investment in education and protection of the environment.

Folstrom, however, said the delegates by now know the candidate's issues and that she'd rather speak about which candidate can bring more voters to the polls.


"I really believe I am the best candidate," Folstrom said. "Who can bring new populations into the fold? I did that precinct caucus night."

She noted that 46 percent in the March 7 DFL precinct caucus straw poll "believe I am the best candidate." In that poll, Olson had 41 percent in a vote taken on a blizzard night with low caucus turnout.

Still, Folstrom said on that night that she "brought people into our party who never caucused before, maybe never voted before."

Folstrom, a member of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, has the endorsement of the Leech Lake Tribal Council.

"We need to empower the population," she said, saying her campaign would elicit an army of volunteers to register people to vote.

"Through Native Vote 2004, we saw 80 to 90 percent voter turnout in some Red Lake precincts," said Folstrom, who served as Native Vote 2004 coordinator.

"I don't want to talk issues now, but of a dangerous selfishness," Folstrom said, quoting the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. about people rising or falling together. "I will work hard every day. I take it personally that Carrie Ruud hasn't addressed the needs of my community or the district."

Olson said experience and message are the most important in the race.


"How to defeat Carrie Ruud is with a candidate with experience and with a message that can connect throughout the district," said Olson, a practicing attorney for 20 years, including in Brainerd and Bemidji. "I have a track record on social justice issues, and I've met with loggers, tourism officials and educators."

She cited her legal work with clients on employer discrimination issues and in health care battles with insurance companies. "As an attorney, I have been a voice for people who otherwise might have not had a voice."

As such, Olson said she wants to "be the voice for social justice in central and northern Minnesota."

Olson would work for universal health care, saying current laws insulate providers and insurers, with 15 cents to 45 cents of each health care dollar "going to the pockets of HMOs" and others. "It's like flushing it right down the toilet."

The government could run a program, however, with only 3 to 4 cents on the dollar for administration, Olson said.

"We need quality, affordable health care and universal health care would provide that to everyone in the state of Minnesota," she said.

Folstrom disagreed, calling health care an issue only solvable at the national level.

Olson also called more state investment in education, saying the current GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty administration has put K-12 costs back onto local property taxes. Still, schools suffer from too many students in each classroom.


"Higher education tuition has doubled," she added. "Social justice means returning to making an investment in education, to a goal where the best education is provided no matter where children live."

And on the environment, Olson said, "social justice means hanging onto public lands rather than selling them."

Folstrom, saying delegates all know the issues, wanted them to know her No. 1 issue as a personal issue -- the war in Iraq. "That war must end today," she said. "It is a senseless war that should not have happened in the first place."

She called for resolutions starting at the local government level, moving to state and then nationally that the war be ended.

And to be called unpatriotic for doing so, Folstrom said: "Baloney." She noted that she is the granddaughter of a Korean War prisoner of war.

As a state senator, Folstrom said she would be an advocate for veterans.

Olson, while not speaking about the war in Iraq, is a U.S. Air Force veteran, achieving the rank of captain and serving as an attorney.

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