The three major party gubernatorial candidates squared off Thursday in Rochester. It was the first debate since Gov. Ventura announced he would not seek another term. Speculation continues over whether there are other contestants poised to enter the rate. But despite that uncertainty, the debate remained focused on issues.
DFLer Roger Moe, Republican Tim Pawlenty and Green Party candidate Ken Pentel spent close to two hours politely debating taxes, transportation, diversity and education. Each candidate presented comprehensive arguments on many points. With Gov. Ventura out of the race, issues dominated and personality took a back seat.
In his opening remarks, Roger Moe said it's the way he hopes to run his campaign. "If you want entertainment, I don't think you want to pick me. I'll admit that I'm not the most entertaining person in the world," Moe said.
The League of Minnesota Cities sponsored the debate as part of its annual convention. Audience members came from around the state. Many questions highlighted rural issues, however the candidates debated universal problems such as poor roadways and education needs.
Green Party candidate Ken Pentel stressed spending dollars locally to maintain vibrant communities. Pentel said part of that is maintaining a strong environmental focus.
"When we're talking about spending, recycling billions of dollars of energy every year, now you have pools of wealth on a local level; localizing agriculture rather than subsidizing. We localize dollars through community-supported agriculture, and our forests. We're giving them away. We wouldn't have landfills and incinerators if we charged what we should for our forests up in Northern Minnesota," Pentel said.
If there was a hot-button issue, it was transportation. All candidates seem to agree the current system needs improvement. But each propose a different approach. In particular, Moe and Pawlenty disagree on funding strategies. Moe favors a hike in the gas tax, while Pawlenty's solution draws on bonding and on tobacco endowment funds.
Pawlenty says Minnesota's Department of Transportation is in need of major reform. He said the department takes too long to move on important projects.
"So one of the things that I am going to ask Carol Molnau to do as my lieutenant governor is to go over the Department of Transportation and start kicking dome doors to find out how we're going to get these things delivered more quickly and efficiently in Minnesota," he said.
For his part, Green candidate Ken Pentel advocates a less car-dependent culture.
Gov. Ventura's name was rarely mentioned during the debate, but the candidates did speak about restoring respect and dialogue between the Legislature and governor's office.
Since Ventura announced earlier this week he will not seek a second term, former congressman Tim Penny and state education commissioner Christine Jax say they too are now contemplating joining the race.More from MPR