The spirited and free wheeling debate focused on everything from health care - which the candidates say every American should have - to which DFL candidate they support for governor - Mike Erlandson and Keith Ellison say Mike Hatch, Paul Ostrow and Ember Reichgott Junge wouldn't say.
Ellison and Erlandson both say they support single-payer government funded health care. Paul Ostrow says he wants Medicare available to every American but thinks there should be a place for private health insurance. Ember Reichgott Junge, a former state senator, says those types of plans will never pass Congress. She says it's better to require every state to create a universal health care model by 2018.
"The federal government is hand-tied by the special interests and the drug companies and they're never going to get it done," Reichgott Junge said. "You have to go to the states. Some of the state are already taking the lead on that and that's why I think it's important. So where do you get the funding Mike? You get the funding from those tax breaks that go to the very wealthy."
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But Mike Erlandson, a former DFL Party chair, says reversing a portion of the Bush tax cuts isn't enough to pay for Reichgott Junge's idea. He says members of Congress need to pass some sort of new tax increase if they want to provide health insurance to everyone.
"We spend at minimum $1.4 trillion annually on health care," Erlandson said. "It's enough money in our country to insure the 47 million Americans that don't have it and everybody that does. We do need to have a card in everybody's pocket but we're going to have to have a tax to pay for this. Either a payroll tax or some sore of value added tax, and I propose it's one of those things."
On the war in Iraq, Reichgott Junge says she wants all U.S. troops home in 12 months. Erlandson is calling for an unspecified deadline for a troop withdrawal. Ostrow, a Minneapolis City Council member, says he doesn't support a time certain deadline but wants the U.S. to start withdrawing some troops. That touched off an exchange between Ostrow and Keith Ellison, who has called for an immediate pullout of all U.S. troops.
"Now that folks know that the American people know that this war is terrible, and now I got company and I'm glad you guys now agree with me, but the fact is that I've always been someone who said bring the troops home now," Ellison said.
Ostrow replied: "But the key is we need an exit strategy and the exit strategy relates to what Senator Biden talked about, we don't have time to go there, but let's have a real exit strategy in Iraq that does not result in chaos."
"We got chaos now Paul," Ellison resonded. "What do you call what we got now?"
All four candidates say they support Israel's decision to defend itself against the recent Hezbollah rocket attacks. But they differ on the best path to peace in the region. Ellison says the U.S. State Department needs to start talking to all of the parties, including Iran, which does not have diplomatic relations with the U.S. Reichgott Junge says there won't be peace in the region until Hezbollah is fully disarmed.
"We all want peace in the Middle East but the prerequisite to peace has got to be that we don't have an organization, that is ready, with all of this ammunition, to kill. That is what we have Hezbollah," Reichgott Junge said.
A spike in crime in Minneapolis, especially on the city's North Side, has every candidate also talking public safety. They all support plans to provide federal funds to cities so they can hire more police officers. They also praised Mayor R.T. Rybak for putting 43 more police officers in his budget proposal. Erlandson asked Ellison if he supported the community's negative reaction to Rybak's proposal earlier this month. Ellison represents north Minneapolis in the Legislature and has worked to create a civilian review board to oversee police brutality complaints.
There will be several more debates before the Sept. 12 primary. Gregg Iverson, Andrew Vincent Favorite and Patrick Wiles are also running as DFLers. Whichever DFLer wins the primary will face Republican Alan Fine, Independence Party member Tammy Lee and Green Party candidate Jay Pond in the November election.