The three leading DFL candidates for governor made their final public appearance together, before the endorsing convention starts in Minneapolis this weekend. The candidates were mostly polite to one another at the gubernatorial debate held at Macalester College in St. Paul.
The debate, sponsored by Minnesota Public Radio, was one of the last chances for DFL convention delegates and the public to learn more about Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe, state Sen. Becky Lourey and State Auditor Judy Dutcher.
This weekend delegates will cast their ballots and endorse one of the three for governor. All three have pledged to abide by the endorsement and stay out of the primary. That promise raises the importance of the convention, but it hasn't led to sharp exchanges among the rivals.
Dutcher asked both Moe and Lourey if they would join her in opposing a new rule sent down by the national Democratic Party that requires delegates to sign their ballots. She said a lot of delegates contacted her to say they are unhappy with the new rule.
"I wrote a letter to the chair of the DFL Party asking that we consider not imposing that rule so that people can feel free to cast their vote for who they think is the best candidate without fear of retaliation or intimidation, and I would ask if the other two camps would join me in requesting that people are allowed the anonymity in casting the votes this weekend," she said.
Both Lourey and Moe said they would support delegates challenging the DNC rule.
A member of the audience asked what the candidates thought of last year's property tax reform.
Moe said there were a few positives, such as providing property tax relief to some people in the state. But he added, overall, it did not deliver the kind of double-digit tax relief the governor and others promised. And he said, it severed the link between the education formula and property tax.
"And so now, more than ever before, school districts' economics fortunes are tied directly to the state's economic condition. And you can see what happens when the economy of the state is down, the revenues are down, and you have people in the Capitol who are reluctant to provide the necessary funding for schools, you end up with, last fall, 184 school districts going out for operating levy increases, and you will have at least 150 of them going out for the property tax increases this fall," Moe said.
Lourey and Dutcher both agreed with Moe that the general fund is an unstable source of revenue for funding education. Lourey noted she voted against the property tax measure last session.
The candidates were asked about how they would handle the changing demographics in the state. They were also asked to comment on concern among immigrant communities that local police are acting as INS agents.
Lourey said she's worried about Minnesota becoming a "police state," and that immigrants' rights are being violated.
"We have to be very, very careful. Since September 11th, we have done pretty damaging things to people of color. And I'm very concerned about making sure that everyone's civil rights and human rights are totally totally protected. We need to celebrate diversity," Lourey said.
Moe said he does not support extending INS power to local police. He said he believes the next governor will have to use his position to engage people on the subject of diversity.
Dutcher said it's important for a governor to keep her door open for communities of color. She added, if elected, she would have people of color working in her administration.
Undecided voter Randy Schubring of St. Paul says he liked Roger Moe's performance at the debate. But, he says he was also impressed with Dutcher.
"She does do a good job of appealing to the Independents and the more moderate Republicans. I think she would expand the DFL tent. Judy I find an attractive candidate as well," Schubring said.
Schubring says he will support whoever of the three is endorsed this weekend.