ST. PETER - Candidates running for Minnesota House District 19A brought three distinct voices to the sometimes testy candidate forum held Tuesday night in St. Peter.
The St. Peter Chamber of Commerce and the League of Women Voters hosted the debate. The participants were DFL candidate Clark Johnson, Republican candidate Allen Quist and Independence candidate Tim Gieseke. The special election is scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 12.
Johnson focused on criticizing the "no new taxes" pledge by Republican leadership in the Legislature over the last decade. He said the approach underfunded the education system and pushed costs to property taxes. He said the state flourished for 20 years due to the Minnesota Miracle of the 1970s with a mixed, balanced budget that used tax increases and spending cuts. He said this approach is needed again to end chronic budget deficits.
He also said government had a role in promoting industry by providing more future workers with higher education, by creating infrastructure and by creating methods for up-and-coming businesses to obtain the capital needed to expand.
Gieseke focused on seeking a stable budget and his proposal of ?"shared governance," which focuses on the government partnering with private business to hand off the local end of its operations in an effort to create more efficient approaches.
Quist differentiated himself from the other candidates with locally focused treads of his arguments from his losing campaign for Congress last November. He objected to any tax increase to solve funding issues, stating that any of the deficits or expense could be dealt with by the money recaptured by ending waste and fraud in governmental programs.
He also argued that increased government involvement in the economy only meant locking in high unemployment and slow economic growth.
On Gov. Mark Dayton's tax proposals, Johnson said he supports most tax proposals if they are in context of creating a long-term balanced state budget. He said he specifically supported raising income taxes on the top 2 percent of income earners. Gieseke said he supported expanding the sales taxes to better reflect consumption, but objects to limits like only taxing clothing over $100. He also objected to business-to-business tax for creating a cascading effect of increased costs.
Quist said he objected to any tax increase and said the state could balance the budget with only spending cuts. He said lowering but expanding the sales tax did not work because it was too easy to later raise taxes back up.
On where the state should invest in education, Johnson said investing in early education helped all through the education system. Quist disputed Johnson, arguing that studies had shown no benefit from early education past the third grade. He said the investment should instead focus on the Gifted and Talented programs, which he said have been underfunded due to No Child Left Behind. Gieseke said the focus should on personalizing education to student needs with new technology like iPad tablets.
On health care exchanges, Gieseke said health care concerns are why he entered politics and that the implementation of the Affordable Care Act would bring thousands of people into health care coverage. He said preventative health care measures will start addressing the spiraling health care costs. Quist said the health care exchange proposals were unworkable. He said families of four will have to pay $20,000 annually for health care, resulting in them either dropping coverage due to cost or divorcing and living together to gain higher benefits for unmarried couples. He said this would gut the funding, causing the whole system to collapse. Gieseke said the current system is not working and said he was supportive of preventative health care, since it emphasizes personal outcomes.
Gieseke said to focus on background checks and preventing mentally ill or criminal individuals from obtaining guns. But, he was skeptical a gun registration database could work. Johnson did not directly answer the question on what he would support, but said it was complex debate that should be handled in civil manner. He said an emphasis on background checks makes sense and there needs to be increased focus on addressing state mental health needs.
Quist, who attended the hearings in St. Paul in support of anti-gun control proponents, said the research of John Lott shows that gun control does not curb violence and occasionally increases violence in areas. He said the focus needs to be on high number of school shooting attackers who play violent video games as a potential cause.
(Josh Moniz can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org)