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Higher ed debate frames candidate differences in race for governor
By Laura McCallum
Minnesota Public Radio
October 9, 2002


Minnesota gubernatorial candidates debated higher education and workforce development issues in St. Paul on Wednesday. DFLer Roger Moe, the Independence Party's Tim Penny and Green Party candidate Ken Pentel agreed on the need to educate Minnesota's workforce. Republican Tim Pawlenty didn't attend the debate, but he unveiled a new campaign vehicle earlier in the day that jabs both Moe and Penny.

The latest gimmicky campaign vehicle hit the road Wednesday. It's a rusty 1974 Buick LeSabre that Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Pawlenty is using to highlight tax-raising votes by his opponents. See larger image
(MPR Photo/Laura McCallum)

Roger Moe, Tim Penny and Ken Pentel had a cordial discussion before several hundred higher education, business and economic development leaders.

With Pawlenty absent, there was none of the fireworks usually found at events with all four major party candidates.

Moe, Penny and Pentel agreed on the importance of investing in Minnesota's higher education system. Penny, a former DFL congressman, pointed out his lengthy relationship with higher education, most recently as a senior fellow at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey Institute. But Penny said with the state facing a budget deficit that could top $3 billion, he can't promise that higher education won't feel the pain of budget cuts.

"Obviously we want to do well by the state university and our other higher education systems in this coming budget cycle, but I don't think we can promise in the near term that there won't be some additional tuition hikes beyond the rate of inflation," he said.

Penny says the University of Minnesota can't be everything to everyone. He said his son will graduate from the U, but is taking some general education requirements at Minneapolis Community College. Penny said the state has a system of schools that can and should be used to prepare students for the U or other four-year institutions.

The Green Party's Pentel has said in the past that he thinks all higher education should be free. Pentel didn't make the case for no-tuition college at this debate, but said he wants to reduce debt for students, and would like to create a GI bill for nurses.

(MPR Photo/Laura McCallum)

Pentel, an environmental lobbyist, is the only gubernatorial candidate who doesn't have a college degree. He says he dabbled in show business after high school until he became involved in the environmental movement.

"Once I got involved with Greenpeace, then I went back to college. I went for a little over two years at the University of Minnesota, and look at what I've become - I want to be governor now. That's effective teaching," he said.

In this and other debates, Pentel has gotten the most laughs out of the crowd. Like Minnesota's current governor when he ran four years ago, Pentel will also sometimes tell audiences he needs more information on a particular issue. He told the Workforce Minnesota conference he can't say right now whether the University of Minnesota is underfunded.

A blue-ribbon panel created by the 2001 Legislature reported last week that the state needs to give the U more money.

DFLer Roger Moe, who has consistently supported more money for higher education during his 32 years in the Legislature, motioned toward Pawlenty's empty chair when reacting to the report.

"Well, I wish the author of that study was here to explain how he was going to do that without raising taxes, but... Rep. Pawlenty was the author of that," Moe said.

Pawlenty has said he supports the overall findings of the Commission on University of Minnesota Excellence. He says the state can't ask the U to do all things and get great results. Pawlenty is the only candidate who has pledged not to raise taxes to balance the budget.

Prior to the higher education debate, he unveiled a new campaign vehicle, dubbed the "Penny-Moe-bile". It's a 1974 Buick LeSabre painted orange and black. One side lists the taxes Penny voted to raise while in the state Senate and Congress, the other details the tax hikes Moe voted for in the Senate.

Pawlenty says the gas-guzzling car points out the differences in the campaign. "Minnesota taxpayers under a Pawlenty governorship should expect more value and results and accountability for the money that we're currently spending. Now my opponents in this race - the Tax Twins - take a very different view of this," he said.

Penny dismissed Pawlenty's vehicle as "silly." Moe says he has no problem debating his record, but says voters want to know candidates' views for the future of the state.

More from MPR
  • Audio: The debate Listen to the complete debate on higher education, held on Oct. 9, 2002.
  • Campaign 2002