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Marquart will face Sandman in state House race

DFLer Paul Marquart faced off against Republican Paul Sandman in a Minnesota Senate District 4 candidate forum last week at M State, sponsored by the League of Women Voters and the Detroit Lakes Regional Chamber of Commerce.

In his opening statement, Sandman said his family is the fourth-generation living on the Sandman farm near Hawley. He has had a long sales career, first in autos and now in radio advertising.

He is the youngest of three children and "I always said that I would be the one to move back to rural Minnesota," he said. He said he is blessed to live in a place where he can hunt deer without leaving his house.

Sandman said he is blessed to be able to "carry the torch in the 'right' direction.

"I see the Democrats as too liberal. I want to be more focused on issues, not social issues. I'm not worried if gays should be married."

In his statement, Marquart noted that it was "true dedication" for people to show up at the forum, since there was a Vikings game going on at the same time.

During his 12 years as a legislator, he said, "it's been an honor and a privilege to represent Detroit Lakes and all of District 4B.

"They say to win an election you need the support of 50 percent of the voters plus one -- so the first person I always ask before I run is my wife -- I wouldn't be here without the support of my family."

Marquart said that he promised 13 years ago before his first election to always put his focus on this area, and he has kept that pledge.

"I have put rural Minnesota first on every vote I take and every issue I look at," he said. "That's what I've done for 12 years."

Marquart noted that 10 years ago, U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone died in a plane crash.

"He was a person who voted from his heart and had the passion, and we need to remember that," Marquart said.

The candidates were asked what changes at the state level would establish more equivalent funding for rural Minnesota school districts.

"That's a huge issue," Marquart said. "We have not kept up with even inflation, it's been very erratic -- it's a huge economic issue in rural Minnesota. In many communities, the schools are the biggest employers."

More funding for K-12 education should come from the state and less from local property taxes, he said.

When schools are overly-reliant on property taxes, students in property-poor districts pay for it.

"You have the haves and the have-nots across the state -- disparities between rich and poor areas," Marquart said. "We have to get back to finding ways to properly invest in education."

Sandman said the issue "concerns all of us. We have to pay back our schools and do it in a timely manner." The state needs to stop solving budget shortfalls by delaying payments to school districts.

"They borrow from the schools and don't pay it back," he said. The best way to avoid a budget shortfall is to "get people back to work," he added.

"We need to have a strong control of Republicans in the House and Senate to keep money flowing to outstate schools -- otherwise we can't overcome what the Democrats in St. Paul are doing."

The candidates were asked what three steps they would take to balance the state budget.

Sandman said he supports fewer entitlements and would work on "welfare reform -- quit the money we pour out for welfare and everything else and get people back to work," he said. "We don't have a deficit problem in this country, we have a spending problem."

Minnesota needs more businesses and more jobs, he added.

Marquart said the state lost 156,000 jobs in the great recession and has recouped about 80,000 of them.

The first step to balancing the budget is to think outside the box. He said a state redesign committee is doing good work, and there are "tens of millions of dollars," to be saved by re-thinking the way things are done.

The next step is to "prioritize spending," and make cuts to the least important programs.

The third step is to "cut unfair spending" on tax loopholes, which cost the state some $11 billion a year. That money could be used to lower tax rates and increase investments, he said.

The candidates were asked how they would work with Gov. Mark Dayton to implement the federal Affordable Care Act.

Under the law, states have the option of setting up a health insurance exchange -- a marketplace where people can shop for health insurance -- or letting the federal government do it. Dayton wants to move ahead on the exchange.

Sandman noted that "'Minnesota Healthcare' has endorsed me -- it's a group that came up with an idea to combat DaytonCare."

Sandman added that "we can't afford ObamaCare in our state ... It's a tax, we can't afford it. We don't need more new regulations in the state. There are some good things in there, but lots that shouldn't be in there. I'm not saying we have to start over (but changes need to be made). There should be no taxes on medical devices."

Marquart said "if it's a good idea -- whether it's a Democratic idea or a Republican idea -- I will look at it and work with it."

The Affordable Care Act is certainly worth looking at, he added. The state has saved $52 million by being early-in on Medicaid and will save another $117 million on that in the next biennium, he said.

There are 52,000 young adults (up to age 26) in Minnesota who would likely have been without insurance but are now covered under their parents insurance plan, and 61,000 older Minnesotans who benefit from the end of the "donut hole" in Medicare's prescription drug coverage, Marquart said.

There are still 300,000 Minnesotans without health insurance, and that hurts work productivity and stunts student performance, Marquart said.

Parroting phrases like "DaytonCare" just shows a closed mind, Marquart added.

Asked whether they support the Voter ID amendment, Marquart said "It should not pass -- it's a solution looking for a problem."

He said there are 144,000 voters who are now able to go to the polls but who do not have a photo ID.

"Ten percent of them are veterans," he said. "Others are seniors. I will not place an address hurdle in front of veterans and seniors to go out and do a basic right like voting. Never in the history of Minnesota has there been a (voter) impersonation case in Minnesota." He said Becker County Auditor-Treasurer Ryan Tangen estimated the cost of implementing the Voter ID measure in Becker County as high as $500,000. That could mean a levy hike of as much as 5 percent if the state doesn't pick up the cost, Marquart said.

Sandman said Voter ID proponents are "not trying to take anyone's vote away from them ... If everyone was honest, we wouldn't need to do it. I believe there's a senator sitting in Washington, D.C., right now that's there because of voter fraud," he said in an apparent reference to Minnesota Sen. Al Franken.

"Why don't people have a picture ID? Everyone should have one," Sandman said.

Asked whether they support reinstating the Homestead Tax Credit, Sandman said "current market value was one of the most corrupt things we had in St. Paul. We've gotten rid of it and it was one of the best things we did in Minnesota."

Regarding the Homestead Tax Credit, Sandman said that Greg Davids, chair of the House Tax Committee, told him that "it didn't work, let's reform it."

The new system provides "tax relief for poorer homeowners," and 2013 will bring "the most property tax relief we've seen in years," Sandman said. "I call that property tax reform."

Marquart said the "Homestead Credit is a rural life and blood program." Turning to Sandman, he said, "Paul, you have to start talking to people in this area to find out what this program is all about."

Under Republican leadership, property taxes increased by $370 million around the state -- $260 million of that directly as a result of killing the Homestead Tax Credit, Marquart said.

"It's one of the few programs where we (rural Minnesota) actually get more than the metro area," Marquart said. "We need to stand up for our rural communities."

In his closing statement, Marquart said he stays grounded by knocking on doors and talking to people.

"One of the most important things I do in the Legislature is going door to door. I do that every year -- it keeps me grounded in putting rural Minnesota first."

He talked about a woman in Detroit Lakes who told him she feared losing her home because of rising property taxes. At another home he talked to a disabled man whose wife was working two jobs -- one mostly for the health insurance.

"I promise Detroit Lakes residents, every time I vote, every time I make a speech -- I'm thinking of you," Marquart said.

Sandman said "when asked to run, I thought and prayed about it for a week. I know Marquart's record of knocking on doors, I wish there was some other way to do it -- I'm not a teacher, I have to work in the summer."

There is one "definite difference between Paul and I," he said. "I can't compromise on pro-life and pro-family," as required by the Affordable Care Act.

"Other than that I will compromise and work with Democrats," to help Minnesota solve its problems, Sandman said.