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DFL Debate Reveals Too Much Candidate Similarity
By Michael Khoo
July 27, 2000
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The four major DFL candidates for U.S. Senate faced off last night during a citizens' forum debate. State senator Jerry Janezich, the party's endorsed candidate joined trial attorney Mike Ciresi, Minneapolis businesswoman Rebecca Yanisch and former state auditor Mark Dayton. In this debate however, the candidates found themselves struggling to differentiate themselves to voters.

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THROUGHOUT THE U.S. SENATE RACE the various DFL contenders have spoken in relative unison on education, health care, and saving social security. Their ideological harmony was on display again during a particularly revealing portion of the debate. Each candidate was asked to provide a "yes" or "no" answer to a series of policy positions in what was billed as the event's "lightning round."

Do you approve of the medicinal use of marijuana?

JANEZICH: Medicinal meaning health care? Yes.

Do you support having a photo ID be a requirement for gun registration?


Are you in agreement with a policy that suspends the federal death penalty?


Complete public financing of U.S. Senate races was the only issue to divide the quartet in their yes or no responses. Ciresi and Janezich favored the idea while Yanisch and Dayton rejected it. That spot of disagreement however, was not enough for Nothando Zulu to cast her vote. Zulu was one of the citizen participants invited to join the debate, co-sponsored by Twin Cities Public Television, the Star Tribune, and WCCO Radio.

"What is important to me is that I'm not really hearing any differences," Zulu said. "I'm a passionate type of person, so I need something that's going to help me decide who I'm going to vote for. You know, I don't really need to vote for any one of them as far as I can see right now."

In response, Yanisch downplayed the similarities in their policy proposals. Instead she asked voters to examine the candidates' prior experiences and she returned to a common theme in her campaign, retelling her experiences as a young, single mother.

"Many of us talk about where we are right now, where our votes will be, and again, the contrast against Rod Grams' vote. But I think more important than that is the voice that we bring to the issue and the perspective we bring to these discussions. When I talk about health care systems letting us down, I talk about the perspective of giving birth to a child without health care and having a system fail me," Yanisch said.

Janezich says he's set apart by his experience in the state Legislature. He and Dayton are the only two candidates to have held elected office and Janezich is the only one to have served as a lawmaker.

"There's only one of us that's been doing this job," Janezich stated. "There's only one of us that has a voting record. I mean, there's only one of us that's put people in a room to bring them to consensus on issues of, well, almost every issue that we've been talking about."

Ciresi turned the discussion back to the hot topic of health care and prescription drug costs. There he used his experience as a trial attorney to distinguish himself.

"I have taken on the drug companies. Everybody here has said they want to be an advocate. I have taken them on and set national and international standards and people know that and it's been recognized. I did take on the drug industry. I did take on the chemical industries. People know that when I go to Washington. They'll know who I am and I know who they are and they know that I'll stand up to those interests," Ciresi said.

Ciresi has sued the industry over defective birth control devices and a polio vaccine, but Dayton strove to differentiate himself along policy lines. Remaining on the topic of health care, he claimed to have the most comprehensive proposals for providing health insurance.

"To my knowledge I'm the only one who supports employer mandates requiring health insurance to be provided by employers," Dayton asserted. "And absent that I've said tonight and I've said before we need a self-insurance so we provide health care, not incrementally. We provide health care for every one of our citizens in America and if I were a senator, if I had the vote to make it, it'd start today. It'd start tomorrow."

The other three said Dayton's call for immediate, universal health care was too ambitious. They said the pacing should be slower, more incremental. Yet on the need for lower drug prices and better coverage, they all agreed.