Debate: GOP Candidates for Governor

From reporter Tim Pugmire:

With less than two weeks until the Aug. 12 primary, the four Republicans seeking their party's nomination for governor are starting to sharpen their attacks on each other.

During a debate Wednesday on Minnesota Public Radio News, businessman Scott Honour, former state Rep. Marty Seifer, former House Speaker Kurt Zellers and Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson each said they are the best choice to take on Gov. Mark Dayton in the fall.

All four candidates have pledged to cut taxes and reduce state spending. But their competing strategies for meeting those goals are starting to cause some campaign friction.

Honour, who is in his face race for office, said he has a "bold agenda" for making "real reductions" in state spending. He wants a 10-percent spending cut, and plans to focus on administrative costs. 

But when Honour claimed he was the only GOP candidate calling for reduced spending, Johnson took exception. Johnson, who has the Republican-endorsement, criticized Honour's across-the-board approach as neither realistic nor wise.

"I think that some things government does well and some things government doesn't do well," Johnson said. "Some things government should do. Some things government shouldn't do at all, and so to say that they're all the same and we're going to treat them similarly -- I don't think we should be cutting roads and bridges at all."

But Honour, a first-time candidate, accused Johnson of having a "defeatist attitude" toward government reform, and an overly cautious and slow approach to the budget. He said that's a problem shared by people who have been in government too long.

"One of the things I learned in business is when you see something going in the wrong way, change it quickly," Honour said. "We need to get the scale of this government reined in. We need to reduce spending. We need to have government go back to a more limited role and do the things that it needs to do well."

There was some additional friction when Zellers boasted that he passed a two-year budget in 2011 that "cut the size of government by 6 percent" and "reduced the cost of government by 8 percent." That budget also ended a state government shutdown. Seifert took exception with Zellers and his numbers.

"I would have vetoed the budget that Kurt Zellers passed in 2011," Seifert said. "It did not downsize government enough. It did not reform government enough. It borrowed from tobacco bonds. It borrowed from the schools. I would have vetoed the budget and returned it to the Legislature. I would have vetoed the stadium bill that also passed."

Zellers quickly countered that Seifert and Johnson both voted for budgets that included making delayed payments to schools during their time in the Legislature. But Zellers said he wanted to keep his focus on Dayton, rather than his primary rivals. He also reminded those rivals that they still need to work with a DFL Senate.

"Whatever you're going to get passed, whatever you're going to accomplish, whether they be specifics or platitudes, is going to have to get past [Majority Leader] Tom Bakk and a Democratic-controlled Senate, for at least two years," Zellers said. "So, whatever you're saying here today sounds great in the studio, on paper, but what is he going to sign?"

The GOP candidates also emphasized their support for voluntary union membership, fewer regulations for businesses, greater accountability for public schools and a transportation spending plan that focuses on roads rather than light rail.

They will meet Thursday for a radio broadcast in Duluth, and at next week’s FarmFest near Redwood Falls.
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