The forum between four candidates in the governor's race drew several hundred people to the main tent at the farm trade show near Redwood Falls.
The economic backdrop for the debate is a rural economy trying to move forward, but slowed by rising costs for things like health care, education and farming.
Republican Gov. Pawlenty's JOBZ program is designed to help boost local economies with new jobs. It allows companies practically tax free business in designated JOBZ areas. Independence Party candidate Peter Hutchinson calls the program a giveaway.
"I think it's a terrible mistake to think of JOBZ as an economic development program," Hutchinson said. "JOBZ is a way in which we take your hard-earned taxpayer money and give it to somebody else."
Pawlenty calls JOBZ a success - an unprecendented economic development tool for rural Minnesota. He told the Farmfest crowd JOBZ is something that will help move small towns and cities forward.
"We want to give incentives," he said. "We want to encourage people to add buildings, add jobs, make capital invesments, grow businesses in greater Minnesota. Does it give special favor to greater Minnesota? You bet, they need it," said the governor. "To have everybody else say they're against this proposal...I think is ignoring a great success story," Pawlenty said. "Twelve thousand jobs as a result of this program either retained or added in Minnesota... hundreds of millions of dollars of capital invement."
DFL candidate Attorney General Mike Hatch said Pawlenty is claiming more success for JOBZ than it deserves. He called the governor's claim that the program has created more than 12,000 jobs an exaggeration.
Hatch says more accurately, JOBZ is moving jobs from town to town as companies choose the no-tax incentive. Hatch also took issue with the governor's approach to agriculture regulation. He was escpecially critical of the Pawlenty's livestock proposals.
"The advisory task for the governor did recommend taking away local control -- township control, and giving it to the Department of Agriculture as it related to feedlots," noted Hatch. "I disagree with that. I'm a big believer in local control. I'm a big believer in township government. I don't think St. Paul ought to be making decisions for rural communities as it relates to zoning issues," he said.
The governor said Hatch's statement is not true. Pawlenty said his goal is to encourage more Minnesota farmers to enter the livestock business.
Green Party candidate Ken Pentel said the farm policy he favors would help restore damaged farmland.
According to Pentel, "If a farmer grows locally, sustainably, organically -- protects wetlands, habitat, you will pay no property taxes under the Pentel adminstration. We are going to restore this state. I am here to protect it," he said. "I will no longer see a beautiful state, our precious resources, get undermined anymore by the dominant political parties."
Only endorsed party candidates were invited to the Farmfest debate. After losing the DFL endorsement, state Sen. Becky Lourey, DFL-Kerrick, announced she would run in the September primary. Lourey protested her exclusion in the forum. Farmfest officials let her speak for several minutes before the main event began.