ST. PAUL -- Two of the four major candidates for governor said in the first televised debate Wednesday night that they would use the state's multibillion-dollar investment funds as leverage to hold corporations accountable.
Republican Tim Pawlenty and Democrat Roger Moe had the most specific action plans to deal with businesses caught cooking the books or committing other fraud.
Both said they would have Minnesota join with other public pension funds to either divest their holdings or use power as shareholders to shake up cheating corporations.
"If you join up with California and some of the other larger states, our state board of investment could literally have the power through proxy voting to throw out boards of directors," said Pawlenty, the House majority leader from Eagan.
Moe, the Senate leader from Erskine, said a multi-state alliance could help "create a standard of ethics that exceeds what the federal government does."
The Twin Cities Public Television-sponsored debate also included the Green Party's Ken Pentel, an environmental activist from Minneapolis, and former Democratic U.S. Rep. Tim Penny of Waseca, who is running in the Independence Party.
Pentel suggested establishing a review board that would revoke state charters of corporations that don't meet certain standards. Penny agreed that Minnesota's governor as a member of the National Governors Association could have a powerful voice in pursuing change, but he didn't lay out a specific state role.
The candidates stayed with their familiar themes during the debate, which covered everything from school funding to what they crave after a long day campaigning. (Moe said beer, Penny picked Honey Nut Cheerios, Pentel chose a watermelon slice and Pawlenty went with raw cookie dough.)
They kept personal jabs to a minimum, although Moe referred to Penny several times as Gov. Jesse Ventura's "No. 1 adviser" amid broader criticisms he and Pawlenty made of Ventura.
Segments of a taped exercise were aired throughout the debate that showed how all four candidates divvied up 100 one dollar bills into major budget categories. It was an unscientific peek at how each would designate some $14 billion a year as governor:
* About 4 percent of the state's budget now goes to transportation. Pawlenty devoted the most with $10 or 10 percent to transportation projects; Penny set aside $6; Pentel and Moe both earmarked $5. Pawlenty was the only one opposed to raising the gas tax.
* Funding for K-12 schools currently consumes roughly 37 percent. Moe, Pawlenty and Penny each set aside $38 of their $100 while Pentel put in $31. Higher education's 10 percent would stay even with Penny, jump to 11 percent under Pentel and Pawlenty and increase to 12 percent with Moe as governor.
* Health and human services programs now take about 27 percent of the budget. Penny and Pawlenty would keep that stable. Moe bumped it up to 33 percent and Pentel reduced it to 22 percent.
* Environment and agriculture's current take is 2 percent. Pentel threw $5 of his wad in that category; Pawlenty devoted $3; Moe and Penny each put in $2.
* The 12 percent now put toward tax credits would rise to 14 percent under Pentel but drop to 11 percent under Pawlenty and Penny and 10 percent under Moe.
* The remaining $12 of Pentel went into an "other" category, such as replenishing reserves. Penny had $6 for that purpose. Moe and Pawlenty had no money leftover.
Outside the public television studios five lesser-known candidates for governor complained about being excluded from the debate. Democrat Ole Savior, the Green Party's Richard Klatte, Republican Leslie Davis and the Independence Party's Bill Dahn all will appear on the Sept. 10 primary ballot. Independent Booker T. Hodges has submitted signatures to run in the Nov. 5 general election.
TPT has consistently limited its debates to candidates who have drawn at least 5 percent support in an independent statewide poll.
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