By Ivan Raconteur
CARVER COUNTY, MN The nine Republican gubernatorial candidates assembled at the Chaska High School Thursday evening for what turned out to be a lively debate on issues ranging from global warming to local government aid.
The event, sponsored by the Carver County Republicans, drew about 125 residents.
Organizers lamented the fact that the event conflicted with the first Chanhassen home football game, which they said reduced attendance, but what the crowd lacked in numbers, it made up for in enthusiasm. It seems unlikely that these candidates will find a more receptive crowd in their race to the governor’s office than they did in what has been billed by the Carver County Republicans as “Minnesota’s conservative county.”
After some brief opening remarks from Frank Long, chair of the Carver County Republicans, and an invocation by Watertown Mayor K J McDonald, they were off and running.
The moderator for the evening was Dave Thompson, a panelist on KSTP-TV’s “At Issue,” political program, and former conservative talk show host.
The candidates who have filed to run for the office of Minnesota governor are:
• former state auditor Pat Anderson of Eagan.
• State Representative and former assistant minority leader Tom Emmer of Delano.
• former state representative Bill Haas of Champlin.
• State Senator David Hann of Eden Prairie.
• Phil Herwig of Milaca, who ran for congress in the 8th district.
• State Representative Paul Kohls of Victoria, who represents much of Carver County.
• State Senator Mike Jungbauer of East Bethel.
• State Representative and former minority leader Marty Seifert of Marshall.
• Leslie Davis, an environmentalist from Minneapolis.
Not surprisingly, there was widespread agreement between the candidates on many of the issues that were discussed.
All of the candidates except Davis said that they do not believe in man-caused global warming.
Most said the government should end subsidies for corn-based ethanol.
“Government should not be involved in picking winners and losers,” Anderson said.
The anti-subsidy position was equally strong when candidates were asked if government should subsidize a stadium for the Minnesota Vikings.
The candidates said government should not subsidize buildings for private companies, and several said they opposed government involvement in the Twins stadium as well.
Emmer said he has been on the board of the Delano Sports Arena for 10 years.
“That is a private facility, and that’s the way it should be done,” Emmer said.
Several topics elicited passionate responses from some of the candidates.
One of these was whether the candidates, if elected, would turn down federal funding to avoid some federal control.
“Yes, I would turn down federal money. They are bribing us with our own money,” Hann said.
Kohls agreed. “There is no such thing as federal money,” He said. “It’s your money.”
Some said by accepting money from the federal government, local governments give up control.
“The federal government only contributes 2 to 3 percent of school funding, and then they get to control the whole school system,” Herwig said. “If there are any strings attached, we won’t take the money.”
“We need to return schools to local control and get parents more involved,” Kohls said.
“We need to get the federal government out of our state’s business,” Jungbauer commented.
The health care debate has been a huge issue lately, and Thursday was no exception.
All of the candidates said that they would opt out of “Obama care,” although it was never clearly defined what that means, since no health care reform bill has yet been passed.
“If it is authored by the federal government, it is not going to be the best thing for us,” Davis said.
Some of the candidates said federal health reform would reduce the quality of health care for Minnesotans.
“We have the best care. We don’t need it (a federal plan),” Seifert said.
“We don’t have a problem in Minnesota,” Jungbauer said.
Some candidates also said there should be more choice in health care.
“If you can buy your car insurance from a lizard in Maryland, you should be able to buy health insurance wherever you choose,” Seifert said.
Anderson predicted that if federal health care reform is passed, the federal government will prevent states from opting out by using the federal tax code.
“They are fighting the wrong fight,” Anderson said. “The problem is cost.”
Several candidates expressed frustration with the way local government aid (LGA) is handled, but most said they would not eliminate it completely.
“We need to downsize and reform, but we need to represent the whole state. Small, rural communities have a very limited tax base,” Seifert said.
“There are some things government needs to do,” Kohls said. He gave the example of the town of Hamburg in southwestern Carver County.
“They only have 200 homes, but they need more than $1 million in sewer upgrades,” Kohls said. “They need help.”
Emmer said a form of LGA has been around since the 1950s.
“It was intended for police and fire protection,” Emmer said. “It’s out of control.”
He said he has already introduced a bill to phase out LGA over five years.
“It’s an issue we need to look at,” Haas said. He said the cities of Virginia and Champlin are roughly the same size, but Virginia receives significantly more LGA than Champlin.
“The more a city receives in LGA, they more they spend on non-essential government services,” Anderson said.
Another issue that elicited passionate responses from the candidates dealt with so-called “sanctuary cities” that allow illegal immigrants.
“It’s irresponsible,” Haas said. “City councils have no authority not to obey the law. Let the police do their job.”
“I’ve been the chief author of a bill to eliminate sanctuary cities,” Kohls said.
He added that he is not against immigration, but said “They need to come here in an orderly, lawful way.”
“The thing that baffles me is why our attorney general will not uphold the law,” Emmer said. “We need to get an attorney general who will enforce the law and protect our citizens.”
Seifert said government should put an end to sanctuary cities.
He said the way to do this is to take away their LGA, and veto any tax bill “unless it has a provision that says we will not have sanctuary cities.” He said he is not against immigration, but said immigrants should come here legally, not illegally.
“We should not be afraid to say we are for the rule of law,” Seifert said.
Herwig said there are not just sanctuary cities, there are sanctuary employers.
“We need to attack the job market,” Herwig said. “Employers know who is legal and who isn’t.”
The final question involved the Metropolitan Council. Most candidates said members of the Met Council should be elected, or the council should be eliminated.
Many said the role of the Met Council should be reduced.
“It’s not a matter of electing,” Emmer said. They need to be eliminated. They need to go away.”
“Be gone, Met Council, and improve my life,” Davis said.
The nine candidates responded to rapid-fire questions from Thompson for more than two-and-a-half hours.
There may not have been any major surprises during the event, but the format was fast-paced and provided some insight into the personalities and positions of the candidates.
The event also seemed to accomplish one of the goals that organizers identified at the beginning of the evening, which was to require candidates to provide specific answers for which they can be held accountable in the future.