Two pictures of the previous legislative cycle quickly emerged at a Wednesday-night forum, with the three Democratic challengers describing the last two years on Capitol Hill—punctuated by the state shutdown and the Michael Brodkorb dismissal and lawsuit—as dysfunctional and scandal ridden.
"Republicans have focused on social issues and tried to bury their own failings," said Jim Carlson, DFL candidate for senate in District 51.
The Republican incumbents, on the other hand, pointed to the state's budget turnaround, more per pupil funding for Minnesota schools despite continued borrowing from school districts and an overall decline in the unemployment rate over the last two years as proof that their policies were having a positive impact.
"We're moving the right direction, no doubt," said Carlson's competitor, incumbent Sen. Ted Daley (R). "Our funding for schools is getting better, not worse."
Such was the tenor of the discussion at the Dakota County Regional Chamber of Commerce's forum at Rasmussen College, whch drew a standing-room-only crowd. Joining Carlson and Daley were House District 51A candidates Rep. Diane Anderson (R) and Sandy Masin (DFL) and House District 51B candidates Rep. Doug Wardlow (R) and Laurie Halverson (DFL).
When asked to name their top priorities if elected, most of forum participants selected job creation and the economy as their answer. But how the government can help bolster private sector growth was a subject of disagreement between the candidates. Wardlow, Daley and Anderson advocated heavily for the elimination of unnecessary regulations, addressing what they believe is a burdensome tax climate in the state and streamlining business permitting processes.
But Carlson argued that the state should instead use its annual bonding bill process as an opportunity to create jobs. Both he and Masin also felt pending health care reform could prompt small business growth in Minnesota by reducing the cost of health care access for small business owners and employees. Halverson said she wants to simplify the state's tax code to make the system easier to navigate for businesses.
While the candidates generally agreed that the state needs to create a better education climate and address a paucity in school funding, they sparred over whether teacher seniority or job performance should be the basis of layoffs.
"We need to reward teacher excellence, and we need to make sure there are consequences for teachers who are performing poorly," said Wardlow. Layoffs, when they do occur, should be based on teacher performance and other factors besides seniority, Wardlow said.
Masin and Halverson opted for a wait-and-see attitude until the state adopts a new teacher accountability program that will likely be implemented in 2014.
Masin added that legislators should focus on reducing class sizes, rather than addressing teacher performance.
"We’re talking about the wrong issues," she said.