Candidates for Minnesota House District 12B sparred on the issues of health care, education and the economy Monday in a televised debate at Brainerd High School.
Rep. Al Doty, DFL-Royalton, and his Republican opponent, Little Falls City Council President Mike LeMieur, questioned each other and fielded questions from members of the Brainerd High School debate team.
Doty expressed hope, in his opening statement, that the tough economic times would encourage lawmakers to break new ground and to engage in sensible spending.
"The economy will trump everything," he said.
Republican candidate for House District 12B Mike LeMieur (left), and Rep. Al Doty, DFL-Royalton, (right) listened as Brainerd High School debate team member Brian Ashburn asked the candidates about their stance on education funding Monday in the Brainerd High School Little Theatre. The debate was moderated by Brainerd High debate coach David Borash.
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LeMieur introduced himself as a lifelong resident of Morrison County and the co-owner of a family business who is pro-life and in favor of gun owner rights. He called for less government and more local control.
The Little Falls candidate called for adequate funding for education at all levels including higher education - an area in which LeMieur said the state's proportion of funding has decreased in recent years.
"We have to make tuition affordable," he said.
LeMieur also wanted to eliminate the inequities in funding between rural and metro school districts.
Doty noted that education funding was the Legislature's constitutional duty and the state's share of paying for school buildings has been decreasing.
"Equal education for all students is a priority," Doty said. "The goal is to put money into education where it does the most good. I think education funding formulas, quite frankly, are broken."
LeMieur asked Doty why he voted against amendments that would have dealt with the funding inequities between rural and metro districts. Doty responded that 4,260 amendments to bills were introduced during the session and there were many flawed amendments that came late in the game.
The Republican candidate called for a weakening of the teacher tenure system "so districts can get rid of teachers that are not doing a good job," bringing more parents into the system and funding the higher education system.
Doty said "there is a great deal of push" behind a bill that was introduced late in the last legislative session that would take much of the education funding burden off the property tax system. The bill could lead the education system to a more equitable distribution of funds over a period of years.
Turning to the economy, LeMieur said the focus should be on small business during a period where the state may facing "a deep, painful recession."
LeMieur pledged to oppose increasing taxes and to encourage smart spending.
Doty said he has worked on initiatives to help small farmers stay profitable.
"There is no magic silver bullet," he said.
LeMieur criticized Doty's support of increasing per diem payments. Doty said he was taking less per diem than his predecessor and was only claiming housing for when the Legislature was in session, unlike some lawmakers.
The 12B challenger said higher taxes would decrease job growth while the incumbent said spending on WPA projects helped spur the economy during the Great Depression.
"When the economy is in a downturn the last thing you want to do is raise taxes," LeMieur said. "I would work to hold the line on taxes."
"The last thing any of us want to do is to raise taxes," Doty agreed.
He said, however, it didn't make sense to pledge no new taxes and then bond for every project.
"'Cut taxes' sounds great but what we ended up doing is borrowing," Doty said. "We need to do sensible spending instead."
LeMieur said bonding could work if used effectively.
"I would work to keep more money in your pocket," he said.
Responding to a question on health care, LeMieur said he did not want to see a government-controlled health care system. He advocated tax deductions for all medical expenses including the purchase of health care insurance.
Doty said he would have to know how the state was going to pay for that before he could support such a measure. He favored a Medicare model for health care because it has worked effectively.
"The status quo is to ration health care to the wealthy," Doty said. "We need to get better health care for everybody.
Monday's debate was sponsored by the League of Women Voters of the Brainerd Lakes Area, the Brainerd High School Chapter of Students for Political Awareness, Kids Voting Brainerd Area and the Brainerd High School debate team.
Debate team members who questioned the legislative candidates were Brian Ashburn, Chelsea Holub and Tom Freeman. The program will be rebroadcast on Charter Communications and on CTC's cable network.
Tuesday's 7 p.m. debates, which will also be televised live and then rebroadcast, will feature the District 12A candidates, Rep. John Ward, DFL-Brainerd and Republican David Allan Pundt of Baxter.
David Borash, the BHS debate coach, was moderator of the debates.
MIKE O'ROURKE may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5860.
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