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DFL gubernatorial candidates talk issues in Detroit Lakes

Gubernatorial candidates Matt Entenza, Steve Kelley, Sen. John Marty and Rep. Paul Thissen spoke at a forum and fund-raiser sponsored by the Becker county DFL Party at the Historic Holmes Theatre Sunday evening. (Brian Basham/DL Newspapers)1 / 3
DFL governor candidate Sen. John Marty answers a question as Rep. Paul Thissen listens Sunday afternoon. (Brian Basham/DL Newspapers)2 / 3
Gubernatorial candidate Matt Entenza listens to candidate Steve Kelley answer a question at Sunday's forum at the Historic Holmes Theatre. (Brian Basham/DL Newspapers)3 / 3

The four Minnesota Democrat-Farmer Labor gubernatorial candidates who showed up for a forum at the Holmes Historic Theatre in Detroit Lakes on Sunday afternoon said there goal is to bring a message of hope to voters.

Taking turns answering audience-submitted questions, the main theme was how prioritize state spending at a time when the budget deficit is projected at nearly $5.5 billion in the 2012-3 biennium. The forecast for the current biennium is $1.2 billion.

"There is no money to spend on new programs," said former state Sen. Matt Entenza. "You can't raise $7 billion."

The candidates favored increasing the state's income tax and lowering property taxes, saying such an approach is fairer.

"Cuts are not sustainable," said state Sen. John Marty.

While developing a budget is about determining what program is more important than another, Marty said cutting is tough when you get down to values in Minnesota.

"We set a budget," he said. "We can't say education is more important than health care."

State Rep. Paul Thissen, chairman of the Health Care and Human Services Policy and Oversight Committee, said reforming health care can deliver savings that can be directed to education.

"It's growing at an unsustainable rate," Thissen said of health care costs.

He cited paying doctors and nurses to manage chronic health conditions, something that isn't being done now.

"It's really what the ballgame is about," Thissen said of the budget and how it plays into the campaign.

He said that part of the budget process is devolving more power to cities and counties.

"Legislators don't have the answers to all of the problems," Thissen said.

Former state Sen. Steve Kelley said the budget is the state's priority.

"We have to stay focused on how to save more on health care," he said.

The federal Race to the Top initiative, which would give hundreds of millions of dollars to a handful of states to improve education, is a can of worms, at least from what the candidates said.

"We need to take the focus away from testing," Thissen said.

He said there needs to be a conversation on what makes a great teacher.

"No Child Left Behind has been an abomination," Entenza said.

In one of his first acts if elected, Entenza said he would issue an executive order removing Minnesota from No Child Left Behind.

Kelley said that Gov. Tim Pawlenty's administration has given up on education with shifts.

"Federal money is important," Marty said. "We need to make sure we do it in the right way."

Environmental policy came into play with a question on tax incentives for solar and nuclear power.

None of the candidates spoke out in favor of lifting the state's moratorium on new nuclear plant construction.

Instead, they said much can be down with building wind and biomass plants as alternative sources of energy.

"We need to look to institute a tax on carbon," Kelley said.

Marty said nuclear power isn't a good option.

"You are never going to have a solution for nuclear waste," he said.

Energy conservation and efficiency are one of the "low-hanging" fruits that can be used to drive down demand, Marty said.

Thissen said energy production can be localized more, with wind turbines placed in many communities.

"We have to move away from the principle of big power plans connected by big transmission lines," Thissen said.

Incentives should be developed for solar, wind and other renewable energy sources, Kelley said.

Entenza echoed a major plank of his campaign calling for more wind farms that are locally owned.

"We need to spend our energy money here," he said.

He said cash-for-clunkers can be supplemented by cash-for-caulking to encourage energy efficiency. Entenza said power demand could be reduced by 30 percent by conservation alone.

The candidates also talked about how Democrats have struggled getting their message out.

"It isn't about looking about potential matches, but it is the strategy," Marty said in response to a question about a DFL candidate facing former Sen. Norm Coleman in the general election if Coleman gets in the race.

Coleman announced late Sunday that he is not running for governor.

He said he doesn't want an Independence Party candidate to take votes away from the DFL due to problems getting a straight message out.

Thissen said the DFL has been too cautious in the past when countering Republican arguments.

"We play not to lose instead of not to win," he said.

Partisan grudges get in the way of progress as well.

"We need a leader who is going to be strong," Entenza said.

Kelley said Pawlenty has put his personal ambitions ahead of what's good for the state.

"I've though about inviting Tim Pawlenty to take my class, but I don't like flunking students," Kelley said.