The cold, windy Minnesota State Fair atmosphere sharply contrasted Friday with a heated governor candidate debate in which the three top contenders mixed it up like never before.
The Minnesota Public Radio debate at the State Fair made it more obvious than ever that the two leading candidates agree on little and may show the most contrast ever in a Minnesota governor’s race.
But that does not mean what Democrat Mark Dayton or Republican Tom Emmer want will come to pass.
A long-time political observer said that the two, from the far left and right of the political spectrum, will find they cannot implement extreme policies.
“The Legislature will moderate what the governor does,” former Detroit Lakes Mayor Larry Buboltz said. “The Legislature is going to decide all of this.”
From his picnic-table seat behind hundreds of fair-goers, in one of the biggest political debate turnouts in at least a decade, Buboltz said the energetic debate filled with out-and-out arguing did not change his mind. He still favors Dayton, a former U.S. senator.
Nathan Hancock had a much better seat. The Jordan man, a Bemidji native and former Fargo-Moorhead area resident, asked one of the few audience questions sandwiched in between the arguing (when candidates at times even shouted down moderator Gary Eichten).
Hancock said he was leaning toward state Rep. Emmer, but wanted to know what the trio would do to help small businesses.
Afterwards, Hancock, whose father is running for Legislature in northwestern Minnesota, said that government needs to get out of businesses’ way. He also said that tax increases on couples making $150,000 or more, as Dayton wants, would hurt.
By the time he was done talking to a reporter, Hancock admitted that what he wants matches what Emmer says, so he likely will back the Republican.
Many of the people at the debate were like Buboltz and Hancock: They came with a candidate in mind and the hour-long event did not sway them.
The debate produced ever-changing alliances among candidates:
— Emmer and Tom Horner of the Independence Party teamed up against Dayton’s tax plan, which has been the cornerstone of his campaign.
— Horner and Dayton complained about Emmer’s lack of a budget plan, when they two of them have produced at least partial plans. Emmer’s campaign says he will begin releasing his budget next week, and it will be doled out in increments.
— Emmer and Dayton pounded away at Horner harder than ever, and seemingly harder than needed against a guy who earned just 13 percent in the latest poll, compared to 34 percent for each of them. However, Buboltz said, the race likely will be close and the two need to hammer Horner hard to earn votes because a percentage point or two that he takes away could determine the outcome of the Nov. 2 election.
Hancock’s question of how to help small businesses produced arguments about the two key elements of the 2010 campaign: the state budget and taxes.
“We need to stop killing” businesses with property tax increases, Dayton said. He blames Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty for cutting programs so much that local governments must raise taxes, and he says Emmer will be at least as bad.
Emmer had a different view: “The problem is that government got so big in Minnesota that it is suffocating business.”
Horner promised to eliminate some taxes, such as a sales tax on some equipment, that businesses say hurts their bottom line.
Emmer, who brought along the loudest cheering section, was on the warpath against taxes. He said Dayton’s tax-the-rich plan would have to include a top-tier income tax of 17 percent to 18 percent on couples earning more than $150,000 annually if the Democrat’s plan would get the money he wants to plug a $6 billion budget hole.
“Until you provide your plan, I think it is hypocritical for you to criticize ours,” Dayton retorted.
Dayton promised to keep the top income tax bracket to 11 percent, that of Hawaii, which now has the highest income taxes. He said that raising taxes on the rich would make a fairer tax.
Horner, a public relations executive and former Republican, said that he proposed a variety of tax increases because a leader must do what is needed. “I’ve been willing to put myself out there.”