Packed Field Debates

Davis draws a laugh

More Minnesota governor candidates showed up for a massive Wednesday night debate than the average precinct caucus will host next week.

And still, just two-thirds of the candidates planning to run this year were at the gathering, the biggest such forum political observers remember.

In front of hundreds of newspaper workers, candidates found some ways to separate themselves from each other. However, for the most part, Republicans and Democrats gave predictable answers, such as Republicans favoring spending cuts to balance the budget and Democrats supporting some tax increases. Independence Party candidates were less predictable.

A question about local government aid, like most other issues, produced sharp Democratic-Republican divisions.

Democratic-Farmer-Labor candidate Paul Thissen, a Twin Cities legislator, said his travels around the state show that state payments to local governments is a top priority.

"We need to sustain the quality of life as well as the job structure," he said.

Even more important, he added, is to repair a city-state relationship that "has become intensely frayed."

Rep. Tom Rukavina, a Democratic Iron Range legislator, said that his property taxes have doubled in five years, much like other rural residents. That, he said, is because formulas that determine how much money the state sends to local governments has become "twisted," forcing governments to raise taxes.

Long-shot GOP candidate and businessman Phil Herwig did not like hearing that LGA and other programs need money.

"So far, from what I have been hearing here, I think most of these people are out of their minds," he said, because people are in financial trouble and do not have money to continue these programs.

Rural legislator Marty Seifert, a Marshall Republican, said that local aid was meant "to be an equalizer" between financially rich and poor communities. But, he added, "we have to understand that government at all levels have to live within their means."

The Minnesota News Council and League of Women Voters sponsored the forum during the Minnesota Newspaper Association annual convention. It was moderated by Alexandria Echo Press Editor Al Edenloff, Gary Eichten of Minnesota Public Radio and Star Tribune columnist and editorial writer Lori Sturdevant.

Most Independence, Republican and Democratic candidates will be on straw poll ballots at Tuesday night’s precinct caucuses, giving them an idea about where they stand. Many of those caucus meetings will be small gatherings. Wednesday night’s forum was the final major candidate gathering before the caucuses.

Democrats at the debate were state Sen. Tom Bakk, former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton, Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner, former state Sen. Steve Kelley, House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, state Sen. John Marty, state Rep. Tom Rukavina, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, artist and perennial candidate Ole Savior and Thissen.

Republicans attending were environmentalist Leslie Davis, state Rep, Tom Emmer, former state Rep. Bill Haas, state Sen. David Hann, Herwig and Seifert.

From the Independence Party were businessman Robert Hahn, public relations executive Tom Horner, self-employed Rahn Workcuff and 2008 U.S. Senate candidate John T. Uldrich.
Among the comments during the after the debate:

  • Emmer proposed a law allowing a governor to declare a fiscal emergency. Once that was declared, legislators would have 45 days to balance the budget.
  • Kelliher said the state is less partisan than when the state began, but suggested it could improve more if a policymaker "respects everyone with that election certificate." Too much is done in St. Paul based on emotion, she said.
  • Rybak pushed his background as the only mayor in the bunch. "I am the one are making it work."
  • Marty said that many candidates talk about health-care reform, but only he has written a bill doing that.
  • Bakk tried to debunk GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s claim that he has not raised taxes. He said property tax increases can be laid at the governor’s feet.
  • Hann thought he stood out because he places a priority on education, but wants the system reformed instead of just pumping more money into it.
  • Kelley called for what he called innovative answers, such as making ethanol from algae grown on sewage.
  • Horner, a former Republican, criticized those calling for higher taxes because "if you start with the goal of raising taxes, you are going to end with higher taxes."

Crowded field finds seats