GOP hopefuls square off in 2nd debate

MARSHALL – Republican gubernatorial candidate Marty Seifert said Wednesday’s Minnesota Public Radio debate went “extremely well” and that he received positive commentary from numerous people, some of whom weren’t even Seifert supporters.

Seifert of Marshall, the former House Minority Leader, was joined in the debate by fellow candidates House Speaker Kurt Zellers, first-time candidate Scott Honour and Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson, all looking to be the one to unseat incumbent Gov. Mark Dayton.

“This debate was all about contrasting our visions,” Seifert said. “We had a variety of contrasts, and it helps a lot of the voters who don’t know the candidates very well learn about us.”

Seifert, who has never lost in the general election, says he has the most practical experience of all the candidates, as he brings to the table experience as a small business owner, as a teacher, a realtor and someone who spent 18 years on the farm.

The debate wasn’t without a twinge of tension. While Johnson challenged Honour over his call to make across-the-board cuts in government spending, Seifert called out Zellers’ budget in 2011, which Seifert said he wouldn’t have supported because it relied too much on borrowing from schools. Zellers wrapped up a summary of his accomplishments in the Legislature by saying with him as Speaker, the Legislature passed a budget that cut the size of government by 6 percent, reduced the cost of government by 8 percent and turned a $6 billion deficit into a $3 billion surplus while not raising taxes “on a single Minnesotan.” He was then interrupted by Seifert, who said he disagreed, prompting a frustrated-sounding Zellers to say, “Marty, I didn’t interrupt you”

“We had some tussles with each other, but nothing over the top,” Seifert said. “I think that startled everybody. But I’m not a borrow-and-spend Republican. If you want something, it needs to be paid for.”

Seifert, who says resolving persistent transportation issues in the metro area will be a high priority for him if elected, said the average Minnesotan doesn’t care about statistics concerning state finances, budgets and unemployment nearly as much as what’s going on in their personal lives.

“We have middle class, working families that are paying more for their health insurance – their co-pays and deductibles are skyrocketing,” Seifert said. “Their pay raises are anemic at best, they’re paying more for energy because of Mark Dayton, they’re paying more for their healthcare because of Mark Dayton. They don’t feel that their schools are doing as well as they could.”

Seifert said if elected he will push to restrict abortion, saying he would do what he could to protect life. He touted his 100 percent voting record with the MCCL (Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life). He also said he would restrict taxpayer funding of abortion.

On education, Seifert said schools needs to narrow the achievement gap more by fully engaging students who struggle with the English language and helping them better learn the language. He said he isn’t in favor of removing bargaining rights for public workers, but employees should get more of a choice about whether they want to be in a union.

Wednesday’s debate was only the second of the campaign season – the other coming about a month ago on PBS’ “Almanac.” The foursome will go at it again Tuesday at FarmFest and once more after that in a WCCO debate before the Aug. 12 primary.