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Crookston Times - Crookston, MN
  • Minn. GOP governor debate turns on ideal vs. practical

  • Republicans vying for Minnesota governor tangled Wednesday over whose vision for the state would be achievable while presiding over a government split between parties.
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  • Republicans vying for Minnesota governor tangled Wednesday over whose vision for the state would be achievable while presiding over a government split between parties.
    The notion of what is ideal versus what is practical was an undercurrent during the four-way debate on Minnesota Public Radio. The primary is less than two weeks out, yet no clear front-runner has emerged to take on Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton in November, making it the first competitive GOP primary for statewide office in two decades.
    The race has been fairly tame so far, but the candidates are starting to sharpen their barbs as the election nears.
    First-time candidate Scott Honour, a former investment company executive, said he wouldn't shy away from pushing a boldly conservative agenda as he criticized Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson as being too timid in his approach. They were responding to a question about whether Wisconsin-style changes that curtailed collective bargaining for most public employees should be brought to Minnesota.
    Johnson said "in a perfect world" he would move that way, but he said the state's current political dynamic made him doubtful it would succeed anytime soon. No matter what happens in the governor's race, the state Senate will remain in Democratic hands for the next two years because no senators are up for re-election this year.
    "Jeff, you have a defeatist attitude here," Honour said. "And that's the problem with people who have spent too much time in St. Paul."
    Johnson, who carries the Republican Party's endorsement, responded: "There's a big difference between having a defeatist attitude and just being honest with people about what's possible. People get tired of politicians who make promises they can't keep."
    Former House Minority Leader Marty Seifert said he isn't in favor of removing bargaining rights for public workers. But he said employees should get more of a choice about whether they want to be in a union.
    "It's very hard to have good morale for the people who work for the governor when you come in and beat them up with a lead pipe every day," Seifert said.
    Kurt Zellers, a legislator and former House speaker, said he supports a "right-to-work" law that would make union membership optional, but he said even that would be politically difficult unless party control flips to Republicans in the Legislature.
    Earlier in the debate, Johnson challenged Honour over his call to make across-the-board cuts in government spending. Johnson said that wasn't "realistic or wise" and that a governor must prioritize rather than bluntly cut. Honour responded by saying his career in business taught him to move quickly to change course when he felt things weren't faring well, a philosophy he said he would adapt to government.
    This is the first competitive Republican primary for statewide office in two decades. While the race for the nomination has been fairly tame so far, the candidates are starting to sharpen their barbs as the election nears.
    Page 2 of 2 - Seifert and Zellers clashed over the state budget adopted while Zellers led the House. That budget, signed by Dayton after a three-week government shutdown, erased a deficit without raising taxes while also deferring aid payments to schools and borrowing against a legal settlement with tobacco companies.
    "I would have vetoed the budget Kurt Zellers passed in 2011," Seifert said.
    Zellers said he was in favor of slimming spending even more but agreed to the IOUs and borrowing to get a no-tax deal with Dayton.
    The GOP contenders were in accord in most areas, calling for law changes that reduce taxes and easing regulatory hurdles. They also said they would move to eliminate taxpayer funding for some abortions and stressed they support a traditional definition of marriage but wouldn't make repealing Minnesota's gay marriage law a priority.
    The four were to meet in at least three more forums ahead of the Aug. 12 primary.

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