Call it Minnesota Nice.
Maybe it was the setting -- the relaxed atmosphere of one of the state's largest resorts. Or it could have been the cozy, cushioned, stately green chairs. Perhaps it was the stares from the framed photographs adorning the walls featuring the mugs of all of Minnesota's governors.
Whatever the reason, the gubernatorial debate Friday morning in the Governor's Ballroom at Madden's on Gull Lake was more a congenial exchange of general information.
There was no clear winner among Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe, DFL; House Majority Leader Tim Pawlenty, Republican; Tim Penny, Independence Party; and Ken Pentel, Green Party.
Midway through the debate, Penny did garner applause for his comment about too much regulation and paperwork in the health care industry. Later, Moe received the other round of applause for his comment about the quality of health care in Minnesota.
"Thank you. Thank God I live in Minnesota," he said to the health care professionals, noting no apology was necessary for the quality of health care in the state.
The event, part of the Minnesota Health and Housing Alliance and the Minnesota Hospital and Healthcare Partnership annual meeting, was deemed a success by many of the more than 300 people who attended the one-hour forum.
It gave health care professionals a first-hand opportunity to see and hear Minnesota's four major party gubernatorial candidates.
The debate was only an appetizer, not much of a meal.
Jim Davis, St. Cloud Hospital vice president network development, dubbed the debate a "friendly forum."
"It didn't seem like a debate," he said.
He said the event may have been more beneficial if dialogue or discussion was allowed among the candidates.
After a two-minute introduction, the candidates politely answered questions in a conversational tone. None of the candidates interrupted another's response.
"They sound an awful lot alike except for some minor differences," Davis said. "My impression was that the Green Party candidate was the only one that set himself apart from the others."
To learn more about the candidates, Davis said St. Cloud Hospital invited all the major candidates in for individual interviews.
The opening remarks from the candidates were presented in alphabetical order, beginning with Moe.
Moe noted the presence in the audience of former U.S. Sen. Dave Durenberger, R-Minn., now of Crosslake. Subsequently, Pawlenty and Penny remarked on Durenberger's presence.
"I don't know Dave Durenberger," Pentel said, adding he'd like to get to know him and perhaps they could sit down and talk later.
Durenberger was equally impressed with the candidates, although less so with Pentel.
"I think we have an exceptionally good choice of candidates for governor," Durenberger said. "This is as good of choice of candidates that we've had in a long time."
He said he believes Minnesota is not ready to swallow Pentel's idea of a single-payer, universal health system.
Of Moe, Pawlenty and Penny, Durenberger said the gubernatorial winner would be well off to ask the remaining two to serve in his administration.
A question that was not addressed, Durenberger said, was where medicine and long-term care rank on the candidates' list of priorities.
After the television lights went down and the microphones were turned off, audience members expressed mixed reactions in regard to the debate's influence in their decision-making.
Mark Skubic, Park Nicollet Health Services vice president of government relations in Minneapolis, said the debate did not change his opinion or choice.
"I didn't hear anything new," he said.
Tom Reek, Cuyuna Regional Medical Center chief executive officer in Crosby, said he was impressed by all the candidates, although he believed some did better than others.
"It changed my opinion," he said.
Lynn Sefcovic, Virginia Regional Medical Center director of nursing, said, "I thought it was very informative, helpful to get views."
She said the debate changed her opinion about the candidates. "It was a good thing I was here today, which indeed did surprise me."
Lorry Massa, Rice Memorial Hospital chief executive officer in Willmar, said the debate provided a picture of who the candidates were and an opportunity to see them respond under pressure in the debate format.
"As far as substance, we didn't get a lot of specifics today," he said.
Massa said his choice did not change.
Kathy Anderson, St. Francis Health Services of Morris housing director in Duluth, said the debate was worthwhile and informative.
She, too, said her choice did not change but her knowledge base of the candidates was expanded. "It did give me insight into each candidate," she said.
Brad Pauley, of Bridge Rehabilitation in Duluth, said the debate provided a baseline of information on each candidate's health care stance.
He said he was encouraged by some candidates' comments about the excessive amount of paperwork and documentation that is bogging down the industry.
"Health professionals know how to provide health care," he said.
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