Candidates get fired up in first debateby Tom Scheck, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Last night, Democrat Mark Dayton, Republican Tom Emmer and Independence Party candidate Tom Horner took part in a feisty debate on Twin Cities Public Television, and it showed the candidates clearly disagree on taxes, the budget and the future of the state.
The debate was the first since the August 10 primary, and the three candidates for governor are scheduled to debate the issues again Saturday at GameFair in Anoka.
The three candidates talked over each other, interrupted and even dismissed the moderator's questions. From the start, Democrat Mark Dayton, Republican Tom Emmer and the Independence Party's Tom Horner outlined their different visions to fix a projected $5.8 billion budget deficit.
Dayton stood by his plan to raise income taxes on individuals who have an annual taxable income of $130,000 or more, and couples with taxable incomes of $150,000 a year or more. That prompted Emmer to suggest that Dayton, heir to the Dayton's Department Store and Target Corporation, wasn't mindful of the businesses in the state.
"It's amazing to me that your family created a great business, created one of the best businesses in the state of Minnesota, nationally and maybe even internationally, and now what we're suggesting is that we're going to put a target on the back of Target Corporation," Emmer said. "You're going to put a target on the back of every business in this state."
Dayton responded by recounting a story where his uncle Ken explained to the family, after looking at their collective family income that, "'... we should want to pay more taxes because that means we're doing better. And if we're doing better we have the responsibility to pay more in taxes.'"
Dayton said his plan is better than increasing property taxes or sales taxes. He also criticized Emmer for not putting forward a full budget proposal.
"You've been in the Legislature for all of these years under Gov. Pawlenty, a conservative Republican governor, and you're basically saying that there's $6 billion of waste and excess in his operating budget that you can identify and remove and nobody is going to notice the difference," Dayton.
Emmer hasn't specified how he would balance the budget without raising taxes, and he's proposed tax cuts that would increase the deficit in the short-term. He also said he wouldn't expand gambling in Minnesota to balance the state budget.
"The problem with talking about expanding gambling right now is that the professional politicians, the career politicians, all look at as another way to solve the problem that they're not willing to address which is redesigning government," Emmer said.
Tom Horner, with the Independence Party, said he wants to cut the overall sales tax rate, but would expand the sales tax to clothing and personal services like hair cuts. He said his plan is better than the alternatives proposed by Emmer and Dayton.
"Rep. Emmer talks about the status quo, he's right. But all we hear over here is 'Let's just cut the status quo and everything will be better" and from the other side it's 'let's just make the status quo bigger and everything will be better,'" Horner said. "I believe most of us in Minnesota are saying we need something different than the status quo."
Several times during the debate, Horner tried to claim the middle ground, but Dayton challenged that. In past years, Democrats and Republicans have largely dismissed or ignored the IP candidate. If last night's debate was any example, Dayton won't take the same approach.
Dayton said Horner was using PR sound bites, a shot at Horner's time as a public relations executive. Horner took issue when Dayton challenged him to release his past client list, something Horner has refused to do.
"I know you like to minimize public relations, but let's remember that I created jobs for many, many people," Horner said. "I met a payroll, I understand what it takes to create a job. For the last twenty years, I've been a building a very successful business while you were in a job that you said you were a failure at or running for other offices."
Unlike past gubernatorial elections, the three candidates all appear eager to debate each other. There are at least two more debates scheduled over the next week.