Business, other issues split south Washington County legislative candidatesCandidates in Cottage Grove-area legislative races laid out distinct positions on issues from job growth to education in their first two election forums of the 2012 campaign.
By: Scott Wente, South Washington County Bulletin
Candidates in Cottage Grove-area legislative races laid out distinct positions on issues from job growth to education in their first two election forums of the 2012 campaign.
Sen. Katie Sieben and her Republican opponent, Janis Quinlan, both said in a televised debate Thursday, Sept. 13, that their top priority if elected would be job creation but the Senate District 54 candidates offered different solutions.
Quinlan said too much “red tape” confronts new businesses and that excessive state requirements don’t make small business owners feel welcome. She did not specify state business regulations she opposes.
Also, Quinlan said, the state should recruit businesses and inquire what Minnesota can do to attract them, she said during the one-hour televised forum sponsored by Inver Grove Heights-based Town Square Television. Quinlan suggested a panel look for different businesses to recruit to Minnesota.
“That would be a priority, to get them in the door,” said Quinlan, a real estate business owner who lives in St. Paul Park.
Sieben, DFL-Cottage Grove, touted her work on the Minnesota Investment Fund, which provides state dollars to assist businesses hiring workers. That program can help grow the economy, she said. She also said state-funded infrastructure projects, such as the Highway 61 bridge replacement in Hastings, help the economy by providing jobs.
Sieben said increasing funding for education and providing schools with payments the state withheld during a budget shortfall also will help the economy by training future workers.
The televised forum also included two of three candidates running in House District 54A. Democrat Dan Schoen and Independence Party candidate Ron Lischeid, both of St. Paul Park, fielded questions; Republican candidate Derrick Lehrke of Cottage Grove did not participate in the televised forum.
On Friday, six of the seven candidates in Senate District 54 and House Districts 54A and 54B took part in a forum sponsored by the Cottage Grove Area Chamber of Commerce at Werner Electric Supply that focused on business issues. Quinlan did not participate.
In the televised forum, Schoen said government has a “strong role” in job creation and said state officials need to ask what the public can provide to improve job growth. He also said a quality transportation system is important, both for workers and businesses, and leaders need to have an open mind “to figure out how are we going to make this work.”
Lischeid, the IP candidate running in District 54A against Schoen and Lehrke, told the Chamber of Commerce audience that many small business owners feel like they’re “taxed to death” and an easy target when the Legislature looks for more tax revenue. He said he wants to eliminate credit card processing fees paid by businesses.
Lehrke, who said he owns a small business with his wife, Autumn, said the state needs to lower its corporate tax rate in order to bring more businesses to Minnesota.
“Our taxes are way too high,” said Lehrke, a Cottage Grove City Council member.
Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, said the “regulation and burden” placed on new businesses in Minnesota is a larger problem than the corporate tax rate. McNamara said he worked with Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton’s administration on legislation that relaxes some business permits.
“We’ve got to cut loose and be smart,” he said of regulation relief.
McNamara’s Democratic challenger in District 54B, Joanna Bayers of Hastings, works for the Minnesota Department of Revenue. She said the state’s corporate tax rate is too high.
“We do need that to be cut,” she said.
But Bayers also said she supports broadening the sales tax base to include more goods as an alternative to raising the tax rate on existing products, and said the tax system should be simplified so businesses understand what they are paying.
Split on amendments
The candidates participating in the televised forum disagreed on two proposed constitutional amendments – one preventing gay marriage and another requiring photo identification to vote.
Quinlan said she supports both amendments. She said she is Catholic and believes marriage is between one man and one woman. She said she did not like government involvement in the issue, but supports the amendment defining marriage as between a man and woman.
On the voter ID ballot measure, Quinlan said Minnesota is ranked No. 1 in voter fraud and “we need to do something about it.”
Sieben, Schoen and Lischeid said they oppose both amendment proposals. Lischeid said the issues should have been handled with a law and that the constitutional amendment proposals symbolize a breakdown of lawmakers’ ability to work together.
Schoen said state law already bans gay marriage and “there’s no reason for us to add an extra twist to the knife” to gay couples who love each other.
Sieben, who voted against both as a senator, said the voter ID measure will not prevent felons from voting because felon status is not displayed on photo identification.
A question about corporate campaign donations revealed another split.
Sieben opposes corporate donations and said she would support stronger campaign finance reforms, including a political contribution tax refund program that supporters say gives citizens more influence in campaign financing.
Schoen and Lischeid said they oppose corporate donations.
Quinlan said she sees nothing wrong with allowing corporate donations, but did say such contributions could help an “entrenched politician.”
However, she added: “As far as corporations and their money, I have no problem with that.”
State law currently prohibits direct corporate contributions to candidates.
Among other issues the candidates discussed in the televised forum:
Term limits: Sieben said she used to support them but changed her view after talking to lawmakers from other states where term limits are used. She said term limits can make lobbyists and government staff more powerful. She said elections serve as term limits.
Schoen said there are arguments on both sides but did not say whether he would support term limits.
Quinlan said elected officials who serve a long time can become “tainted” and disconnected from what voters want, but she did not specifically say she agrees with term limits.
Right to work: Quinlan supports so-called “right to work” efforts that prohibit employee unions from charging dues to nonmembers. Sieben and Schoen oppose the legislation. Lischeid said he needs more information before deciding his position.
Improving education: Schoen, a Cottage Grove police officer, also said stable funding is necessary, and schools should be repaid more than $2 billion in aid the state shifted.
Quinlan, a former teacher, said she supports vouchers that would allow students to use public money to attend a school of their choosing. That will create competition and improve teachers and schools, she said. Quinlan said a good teacher and create a good outlook in a child’s life.
Sieben said she opposes a voucher because “it creates less healthy, less robust schools for everybody else.” Sieben said the state should provide stable funding to schools, and Democrats need to work with Republicans on education proposals such as teacher evaluations. She said teacher evaluations can help teachers improve and benefit students.
Senate District 54 includes Cottage Grove, Newport, St. Paul Park, Hastings, Denmark Township, Grey Cloud Island, Afton and part of South St. Paul. House District 54A includes part of Cottage Grove, St. Paul Park, Newport, Grey Cloud Island and part of South St. Paul.