Paul was born in St. James and raised on the family farm in northern Watonwan County. He attended a one room country school for two years and then finished his public education in St. James, where he graduated from high school.
Paul went on to attend Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter and graduated with a degree in education. Paul is an alum of the MARL (Minnesota Agriculture and Rural Leadership) Program, Class IV.
Following graduation from college Paul taught in the Fairfax Public Schools for four years, working as the band director for grades five through 12. He married his wife, Cindy, and moved to the family farm to begin a career in agriculture. The Torkelsons have been farming for 32 years and currently own and operate the farm where Paul’s great-grandfather started farming in 1878. They raise corn, soybeans and hogs.
Paul was first elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives in 2008 and re-elected in 2010. Prior to the 2011-12 Session he was selected by his peers to serve as an Assistant Majority Leader and member of the Caucus Executive Committee. His committee assignments for the Session included serving as Vice-chair of the Environment Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Paul also served on the Agriculture Committee, the Legacy Committee and the Energy Committee. He was the chief author of more than 30 bills dealing with a variety of issues. In addition to bills directly related to Paul’s home district, he carried a large number of bills related to clean water issues and the agencies that regulate water in Minnesota.
Paul is 60 years old and has been married to his wife, Cindy, for 32 years. She recently retired after a 33 year career as an elementary teacher in Minnesota public schools. They have two adult daughters.
Paul is a lifelong member of East Sveadahl Lutheran Church where he has been an active member of the congregation. He currently serves as secretary of the church’s Cemetery Association. Over the years, Paul has helped with Sunday School, sung in the church choir, served on the church board, served as the church treasurer and financial secretary. He has been an active member of the Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation serving on the county and state boards and was most recently the State Vice President.
Paul served 12 years on the St. James Hospital and Clinic Board including four years as Chairman of the Board. Prior to his election, Paul was a member of the Board of Directors of First National Bank in St. James. He is a long time member of Lion’s Club International and currently serves on Minnesota’s Clean Water Council.
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This year Paul was one of 37 lawmakers from 10 states and four Canadian provinces who completed the Bowhay Institute for Legislative Leadership Development program sponsored by the nonpartisan Council of State Governments. He also recently attended a conference for “Emerging Legislative Leaders” in North Carolina, sponsored by the nonpartisan National Conference of State Governments.
“Throughout my working life I have been willing and able to assume leadership roles and I have demonstrated the perseverance required to accomplish change,” Paul said.
Why are you seeking this seat?
I am running for re-election to the Minnesota House of Representatives because I believe in our state and I care about the future of my district. I am thankful that I was born and raised in this country where freedom reigns and we are granted the rights to life and liberty. I also believe it is among the responsibilities of every citizen to contribute in some way to our society. Through two terms in the Minnesota House I have demonstrated my commitment to the citizens of Minnesota and I am asking voters to send me back to St. Paul for another term.
What do you believe are the top three specific priorities for the district in the next two years?
The Economy - Jobs in the private sector are the backbone of our economy. Our government must maintain an economic and regulatory climate where businesses large and small are allowed to thrive. Unchecked growth of government and government spending is ultimately unsustainable. The state’s regulatory role should be focused on helping our job-providers succeed while they are operating within environmental and economic regulations. I am one of a handful of active farmers serving in the Minnesota Legislature. I understand that the strong ag sector has been critical in supporting our state’s economy in the economic downturn. Agriculture is especially important to rural Minnesota and I am actively engaged in a variety of issues and doing my best to support producers large and small.
Balanced Funding – In Education, Transportation, Health Care and other programs, we have numerous examples of lower rates of funding for greater Minnesota. We deserve to be treated fairly and I will continue my efforts to reform funding formulas. This includes our nursing homes and other state controlled health care services that are having difficult times. Their budgets are very tight making it hard for them to attract and retain employees. High employee turnover rates and vacancies could threaten the quality of care that clients receive. Because we have a relatively high number of these facilities this is especially important for our area. I support improvement and maintenance of the transportation system in our area. Our communities cannot thrive without an efficient and safe transportation system. There is tremendous pressure to focus on bridges and mass transit in the metro area and forget the transportation needs in Greater Minnesota.
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Life Issues – I have consistently supported the pro-life agenda by cosponsoring and voting for legislation that would strengthen protection of the unborn. Sadly, these efforts have been thwarted by the Governor who has consistently vetoed pro-life bills. We must protect the most vulnerable members of our society including the unborn children, people with developmental challenges and the elderly.
How can rural communities better work together to promote their mutual interests?
Community leaders need to look at the big picture in order to realistically plan for their community’s future. Small towns in Greater Minnesota face a number of challenges and a regional approach such as “Bridging Brown County” can bring leaders together to share ideas and discover ways to work together. I also believe it is worthwhile to explore opportunities for making local governments more efficient through shared services.
Budget shortfalls have affected nearly every city and county in the state and left those areas with increasingly tighter budgets as government aid continues to be reduced. What funding issues does this district face and what will you do to overcome these issues?
We are going through a period of economic difficulty, but Minnesota seems to be moving in the right direction. We are dealing with a projected deficit but in recent months revenues received by the state have consistently exceeded projections. The February 2013 projection we use to establish the new budget should show a smaller projected deficit and certainly a much smaller projected deficit than the one we dealt with in the last session. A significant portion of the school shift that was utilized to balance the budget last session has already been repaid and our budget reserve and rainy day funds have been replenished. State and local governments must continue to live within its means and avoid burdening a fragile recovery with increased taxes or excessive borrowing. I will support stability in State Aid to local government and especially the support that comes from the state to support Greater Minnesota.