Debate attracts 20 gubernatorial candidates

Published 9:20 am Thursday, January 28, 2010

The unwieldy size of the Minnesota governor’s race showed Wednesday as 20 candidates answered a cattle call to debate less than a week before Tuesday’s precinct caucuses.

Ten Democrats, six Republicans and four Independence Party hopefuls filled two long banquet tables at the front of a hotel conference room in Bloomington, fielding questions about everything from foreclosures to the state’s budget problems and divided government.

The race is wide open, with GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty moving on after two terms.

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Minnesota News Council Chairman Tony Carideo opened the debate by joking that the lineup looked like “either a Senate panel or a telethon.”

The group was so big that organizers grouped them in four sets, with each set getting different questions. Toward the end, they went through a lightning round of yes-no questions on issues including gun laws, gay marriage, voter identification requirements and public spending for a proposed new Vikings stadium.

The format hampered direct engagement between candidates, so few sparks flew.

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, a Democrat, criticized Republican state Rep. Tom Emmer during questions about foreclosures, saying GOP-backed state cuts to local government aid resulted in local property tax increases.

“You and I both raise taxes — it’s just the Democrats here are telling the truth,” Rybak said.

Emmer had to wait to respond until a later round of questions. “Those that suggest that higher taxes are the answer are the ones that have turned a deaf ear and a blind eye to Minnesota families,” he said.

All major-party candidates were invited, and all but a handful showed up.

The Democrats included Rybak, former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton, House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, state Sens. Tom Bakk and John Marty, state Reps. Tom Rukavina and Paul Thissen, Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner, former state Sen. Steve Kelley and painter Ole Savior.

The Republicans were Emmer, state Rep. Marty Seifert, state Sen. David Hann, former state Rep. Bill Haas, environmental activist Leslie Davis and businessman Phil Herwig.

Independence Party candidates who participated were publisher Rob Hahn, public relations executive Tom Horner, businessman John Uldrich and frequent candidate Rahn Workcuff.

A couple hundred people attended the forum, sponsored by the News Council and the League of Women Voters Minnesota Education Fund. The event was held during the Minnesota Newspaper Association’s annual conference.

Precinct caucuses will start the process of electing delegates to endorse candidates at state party conventions this spring.