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Women's issues at fore of DFL gubernatorial forum

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State Sens. Becky Lourey, left, and Steve Kelley, right, who are both running for governor, answered questions at a DFL Feminist Caucus event Sunday. (MPR Photo/Annie Baxter)
Issues of particular concern to women dominated the latest DFL gubernatorial forum. The forum held by the DFL Feminist Caucus on Sunday featured state Sen. Becky Lourey, real estate developer Kelly Doran, and state Sen. Steve Kelley. Minnesota Attorney General Mike Hatch, who couldn't attend due to illness, was represented by Lori Swanson, the state's solicitor general.

Audience members provided questions for the candidates on a range of issues, with emphasis on how the gubernatorial hopefuls would advocate for women's issues.

Minneapolis, Minn. — The DFL feminist caucus is an independent organization within the DFL Party, but the group's political endorsements tend to match the party's.

More than 100 people attended the caucus's forum with the DFL gubernatorial candidates. The contenders were given one minute each to answer questions written by the audience.

One of the first questions posed asked why it's important to have women involved in public policy.

Real estate developer Kelly Doran drew from his personal history for his answer.

"I was raised by a single mom with three older sisters, and I learned at a young age about women's rights," Doran explained. "And I assure you if I didn't, I got chased around the house."

Doran is a self-described centrist Democrat who joined the governor's race with no political experience. But he says his business background indicates his commitment to seeing women advance professionally. He says women have ascended to high positions in his company. And he asserted that his choice of a woman, Sheila Kiscaden, as his running mate for lieutenant governor, sends a strong signal about his commitment to sharing power with women.

That point prompted Lori Swanson, speaking on the behalf of Attorney General Mike Hatch, to highlight the women in high positions on Hatch's staff.

"I can tell you Attorney general Hatch's philosophy, and that's that the chief deputy attorney general is a woman. I'm the solicitor general, I'm a woman," Swanson said. "It's the first time I think in Minnesota's 147-year history that both of those positions have been filled by women."

Swanson went on to point out some of the legal measures Attorney General Hatch has taken to promote women's issues. She described a lawsuit he filed because an insurance company wasn't paying for treatment for eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia. She said Hatch succeeded in establishing a review panel for instances when insurance fails to cover such treatments. Swanson said that was an important move for protecting young women's health.

Health care overall figured prominently as a theme in the forum. State Sen. Steve Kelley, DFL-Hopkins, called for major changes to the health care system.

"I think men and women both, especially moms, want to make sure they're not worried day to day how they're going to take care of their family if someone gets sick," Kelley said. "That's why we need universal health care for all Minnesotans. We need a medical home where we can count on where people are going to get care for their kids if they're sick."

Kelly and State Sen. Becky Lourey, DFL-Kerrick, are close in their views on this point. Lourey says she would continue to push to help poor women and children get access to good health care.

"I was on the first health care access commission, so I designed and then was an author of Minnesota Care," Lourey reminded the audience. "I'm currently chair of the Health committee. I tell you I am the candidate who can move more rapidly than anyone else on getting universal health care in this state."

Overall, many of the differences between the candidates seemed to hinge more on details than on overall philosophy, though real estate developer Kelly Doran did differentiate himself from the others by proposing a public/private partnership as a solution to health care issues.

But on other points relating to women's issues the candidates were mostly in agreement. Each said as governor, they would seek to protect reproductive freedoms, especially in the event that the landmark Roe v. Wade decision were overturned.

The candidates will have further occasions to spell out their views at other upcoming feminist caucus forums.

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