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Tonight, I attended the St. Cloud Times/League of Women Voters forum for the candidates from SD-15, HD-15A and HD-15B. Rex Newman of Speed Gibson made a roadtrip to watch the debate, too. Make sure you check Rex’s blog for his notes. He was taking notes as fast as I was.

After the candidates’ opening statements, they went directly to audience questions. The first question was about the budget deficit. Each of the DFL candidates, Bruce Hentges, Ann Nolan and Carol Lewis, said that “we need to take a balanced approach” to solving the problem, meaning tax increases were required.

Bruce Hentges said that we had to redesign government, then asked whether we “needed 87 counties and 341 school districts.” That’s a great sounding answser but it misses the point. It isn’t that county and city governments can’t be reformed. It’s that Hentges didn’t identify anything in the state government that should be reformed.

John Pederson made the point that there isn’t a deficit yet because the money hasn’t been appropriated yet, that the deficit is just a projection based on what the outgoing legislature wanted to spend. King followed by saying the people who say that we need to take a balanced approach are really saying that “they want you to throw YOUR WALLET in to PAY FOR THEIR SPENDING.”

Q2. What parts of the budget can be cut?

Bruce Hentges, the DFL endorsed candidate for SD-15, said that “denying that we have a problem prevents us from solving the problem.” He then started criticizing John Pederson, his opponent. Mostly, he slipped the question without saying what parts of the budget could be cut.

John Pederson highlighted Hentges’ reply, saying that he’d “actually answer the question”, saying that nothing in the budget should be off the table.

King said that he’d prefer using Zero-based budgeting because he’d want each agency to explain why the money they spent the last biennium needs to be spent again this biennium. King then noted that overregulation, overspending and overtaxation are costing Minnesota jobs.

King’s opponent, Carol Lewis, said that it wasn’t the legislature’s job to put a budget together, that it’s the governor’s responsibility to put it together. King later noted that the governor’s budget “has no more weight to it than if I submitted a budget from my office.”

Steve Gottwalt said that the most important thing needed in St. Paul are legislators who will say no to the special interests. He then said that “if you don’t think regulations and taxes aren’t driving businesses from the state, then you aren’t talking with employers.”

Bruce Hentges and Ann Nolan talked briefly about closing tax loopholes for people making $250,000+, which led to the next question from a small business owner. She asked that they identify the loophole that’s supposedly letting “the rich” get away without paying their fair share.

The woman then said that it sure didn’t feel like they weren’t paying their fair share. Finally, she asked how taking money from the private sector would help grow jobs.

Bruce Hentges dodged that question, too, saying that “those who propose not raising taxes are really proposing raising property taxes.” He also talked about sustainable budgeting. Carol Lewis repeated her “balanced approach” answer.

Q7: Hentges was asked about “accepting the $1.4 billion for Early MA”. He was then asked what we’d do when the federal money disappeared.

True to form, Hentges ignored the question, saying only that we should take the money before saying that St. Cloud doesn’t get its fair share returned from the state. John Pederson, his opponent, said that keeping more of the money here in the first place would mean St. Cloud would get its fair share.

Steve Gottwalt said that Early MA is just emblematic of the problem, saying that “we’re making promises we can’t keep with money we don’t have.”

The final question of the night dealt with education funding. King said he couldn’t understand how the DFL (my words, not his) could brag about the high ACT scores in one sentence, then say that education is underfunded the next sentence.

Steve Gottwalt said that parental involvement, good teachers and smaller class sizes were the key to better educational outcomes, noting that you can’t legislate parental involvement. Ann Nolan then replied that you can legislate parental involvement through the right type of legislation.

Frankly, Nolan’s answer stunned me because legislating parental involvement in students’ lives, no matter how well-intentioned, is government overstepping its bounds. By alot.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

Bruce Hentges’ answers were evasive more often than not. He came across as having too high an opinion of himself.

John Pederson cited his work on the St. Cloud City Council and how he made a point of talking with people from both sides of the issues before making a decision. His demeanor was that of a reasonable, informed person.

Steve Gottwalt emphasized living within our means as the way to growing jobs. He reminded people of the “common sense solutions” that he’d offered his first 4 years in office before reminding people that (a) most of his proposals still haven’t been adopted and (b) they’d “save Minnesota’s taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.”

King had a strong performance, proving he has a detailed understanding of public policy on issues like the economy, health care and education. His ability to think on his feet was also in full view.

Carol Lewis’ answers were predictable. I came away thinking that she’s a cookie cutter EdMinn politician.

Finally, if tonight’s audience was an indicator, then the surging enthusiasm that Larry Jacobs talked about in his MPR-Humphrey Institute poll doesn’t exist.

UPDATE: Rex from Speed Gibson has a great post about last night’s debate. You’ll definitely want to read it.

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One Response to “SD-15 Debate Notes”

  • Miles Rost says:

    I’m not surprised Hentges would have a high opinion of himself and would be evasive.

    I happened to be a student at Tech High School when he was the Assistant Principal. He was mostly ineffective, highly stuck up, and a complete opening in the posterior. While he was not the worst, he also was not the best.

    I hope the people of the 15th district go with John Pederson. It would behoove them to do so.

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