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Stadium Issue Enters 4th District Race
By Laura McCallum
October 12, 2000
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The candidates for Minnesota's 4th congressional district seat sparred during their first public debate since the primary. The hottest topic was funding for sports stadiums, despite the fact that it's not a federal issue.

Cong. Bruce Vento did not seek re-election because of his battle with cancer. His decision not to run, coupled with changing demographics in the district, as well as urban sprawl, has made the race one of the most interesting campaigns of the season. The 4th district includes Saint Paul's East Side as well as several inner-ring suburbs. Learn more about the race in Campaign 2000's 4th district section.
THE DAY AFTER the Minnesota Wild played its first regular-season home game in a new St. Paul hockey arena, talk of sports facilities dominated the 4th district debate, sponsored by the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce.

DFL State Representative Betty McCollum of North St. Paul says downtown St. Paul was bustling on the night of hockey's premiere in Saint Paul, and she's proud to have supported the hockey arena.

"I voted for that bonding bill. And I never ran away from it. It included a loan to the city of St. Paul to make that stadium a reality," she said.

But Republican State Sen. Linda Runbeck of Vadnais Heights charged McCollum with running from another vote - one to pay for a new Twins stadium with user fees during a 1997 special session. McCollum argues that she consistently opposed using tax dollars for a Twins stadium, and the 1997 vote was merely to put the matter on the ballot.

Runbeck disputes that.

"I think it's important to know that user fees, which is what the vote was, are, in fact, taxes; and they come from taxpayers, and they divert taxes out of the general fund, so that's what a user fee is, that's why the bill didn't pass. There were 100 people who voted against it, knowing full well these were taxes," Runbeck said.

Listen online to the entire 4th district debate.
Runbeck's campaign has targeted McCollum's vote in a television ad and in campaign literature, saying Democrats brought on the attack when the state DFL party sent out a mailing, criticizing McCollum's primary opponents on the stadium days before the election.

McCollum wasn't involved in producing the mailing, but said she didn't disagree with its content. After the debate, McCollum defended her vote.  

"I never voted to use taxpayers' dollars directly for a stadium," McCollum said. "I voted to put the issue on the ballot, people in my district knew where I stood, they asked me to do it, I listened to them and I did it."

Runbeck's campaign admitted that the next 4th district congressional representative will likely never vote on stadium funding in Washington, but says the issue is about priorities. Runbeck voted against stadium funding.

Independence party candidate Tom Foley largely stayed out of the Runbeck-McCollum dispute, but couldn't resist jabbing Runbeck, who used to live in the sixth district, with a carpetbagging claim.

"Linda, when you made that vote, you hadn't moved yet into the 4th district to enjoy the opportunities of the 4th district of Minnesota, so welcome to the 4th district," Foley said.

The former DFL Ramsey County attorney has painted himself as the only moderate in the race, saying that voters are tired of the two-party system.

"I don't run out to Dick Armey and Dick Gephardt, and say, 'What do I do now? Give me my marching orders so I know what programs to push.' I want programs that affect people's lives," he said.

Foley has released an economic plan that includes paying down the national debt, shoring up Social Security and Medicare, and targeted tax cuts. Runbeck and McCollum stuck to traditional party themes. Runbeck talked about tax relief and targeted programs to help low-income seniors who can't afford prescription drugs. McCollum stressed education, health care, and adding a prescription drug benefit to Medicare.

The three are vying to fill the seat of Bruce Vento, who died after battling lung cancer. The debate began with a moment of silence for Vento, and all three candidates praised his work on behalf of the district.