Gay marriage and anti-bullying legislation were two topics that surfaced Monday as four Senate District 12 candidates faced off at the League of Women Voters Brainerd Lakes' candidate forum.
Taylor Stevenson, the DFL-endorsed candidate, said he would support anti-bullying legislation and pointed out he was the only candidate who supported gay marriage. He said discrimination was behind much of the bullying and he did not favor denying people rights because of who they are. The 22-year-old said that his differences with the other candidates on gay marriage may be generational.
His comments followed an answer to the bullying question by Rep. Paul Koering, the incumbent senator and former Republican who is now running as an independent, registered write-in candidate. Koering, who is gay, noted that it seemed fashionable to pick on gays lately. He said he would "absolutely" support anti-bullying legislation and told the audience that he didn't suddenly wake up and decide to be gay.
"This is who I am," he said.
Responding to Stevenson's comments on gay marriage, Koering said he wanted to push his constituents' agenda and not his own.
"My constituents want me to be opposed to gay marriage," Koering said.
Stevenson responded to that statement by contending a lawmaker's job was more than that of being a servant.
"We need to lead," he said. "I'm offering something different."
Paul Gazelka, the Republican-endorsed candidate, said he had a daughter who had suffered from bullying but that he would have to see the specific legislation.
"Bullying always has been wrong," Gazelka said. "Hate is always hate."
He said he favored letting the people of Minnesota decide whether the state should have gay marriage.
Park said he favored strong criminal sanctions against bullies. He didn't weigh in on the gay marriage issue.
Stevenson didn't shy away from pointing out his age during the forum. He addressed the issue after Gazelka spoke of being a small business owner for 20 years and being married for 28 years.
"I haven't been married 28 years," the bachelor said. "I haven't been alive 28 years. I'm 22."
Stevenson said it was one thing if people chose not to support him because of the issues but if he lost support because of his age then we need to question what we're doing in the electoral process. The Baxter DFLer said he is offering voters his passion, ideas and energy.
"I think I can do the job," he said.
Steve Park, 63, the Constitution Party candidate, emphasized that government, particularly at the federal and state levels, wasn't working.
"If you think government is broken, I'm your man," he said.
He said there were good ideas that could be used to address the expected budget shortfall at a website called www.minnesotabudgetsolutions.com. He said welfare programs should be cut back and favored a funding voucher system for education.
Stevenson called for a balanced approach to the budget favoring raising revenue and cutting programs. He said people who earned $30,000 a year pay 12 percent of their income in taxes while those earning $30,000 pay eight percent.
Koering said there is still some fat to be cut and streamlining of government programs that could be accomplished.
"I believe we can live within our means," Koering said.
Gazelka said welfare abuse should be cut, a waiting period should be established for welfare recipients who move in from other states and government agencies should be reorganized.
The candidates all addressed how they would help bring more jobs to Minnesota.
Park said the corporate tax should be eliminated and the state and federal government should get out of the way and let decisions be made at the local level.
"Let's keep the dollars and help our businesses," he said.
Gazelka, 51, said businesses have been leaving our state because of high taxes and permitting problems.
"We've got to be competitive, at least with our neighbors," Gazelka said.
Stevenson said the budget shortfall is made up by all cuts, unemployment will increase. He said a bonding bill with shovel-ready projects would bring jobs.
Koering, 45, said there was no easy fix to the unemployment problem. He said many people have grown used to using credit cards for instant gratification.
"I do favor lowering, not eliminating, the corporate tax," he said.
Each candidate was asked what they would like to do if they could accomplish just one thing at the Legislature.
Gazelka said he wanted to turn Minnesota into a job-friendly state and added that he'll offer legislation calling for term limits for legislators.
Stevenson said securing more jobs was his No. 1 priority and then countered Gazelka's comment on term limits.
"We do have term limits," he said. "I call them elections."
Koering said he just wanted to be the best legislator he could be, continue with constituent service and not author bills just for the sake of doing so.
"I think we have enough laws," he said.
Park said if he could accomplish one achievement it would be for Minnesota to declare state sovereignty. He praised the Virginia attorney general who was challenging the federal government on the issues of recent health care legislation and on immigration.
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