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Social issues in the background of governor's race

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Although same-sex marriage was the most visible social issue in Minnesota in the last two years, it has hardly surfaced in the gubernatorial campaign in Minnesota.
MPR File Photo/Tim Pugmire

The only social issue that's come up in the debates is stem cell research. DFL candidate Mike Hatch wants the state to spend $100 million over 10 years on stem cell research, including embryonic research that harvests cells from human embryos.

"We have the first stem cell institute in the country, but ours is privately funded, because the Legislature and the governor haven't seen fit to start funding it with public dollars," Hatch said. "I want that thing publicly funded."

During a Rochester debate, Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty said he believes President Bush and Congress should provide federal funding for research on more stem cell lines.

"I know Mr. Hatch wants to make stem cells an issue, but I'm going to disappoint him, because we agree on the issue," Pawlenty said. "I support stem cell research."

Pawlenty seemed to be breaking with his conservative supporters. But he and Hatch don't completely agree. Pawlenty isn't calling for state funding for stem cell research, saying the state already funds broader bioscience research at the University of Minnesota and the Mayo Clinic.

Gubernatorial debate
Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Mike Hatch and Peter Hutchinson discuss stem cell research during a Rochester debate.
MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire

And Pawlenty's support for embryonic research hinges on a new technique that doesn't destroy embryos. The research uses just a single cell from an early-stage embryo to seed a line of stem cells, but Harvard researchers caution that the new approach is inefficient and deeply flawed at this point.

Aside from the stem cell debate, you won't hear much talk about social issues on the campaign trail. In fact, the Independence Party's Peter Hutchinson said they're so divisive that he doesn't want to talk about what he's dubbed the eight "G's".

"Guns, gay marriage, God, gambling, gynecology, green cards, stadiums for gladiators, and today, the guillotine," Hutchinson said.

Hutchinson said politicians use issues like abortion and the death penalty to manipulate and scare people into voting for them. Hutchinson is calling for a moratorium on any new laws dealing with social issues.

"Don't change the law," said Hutchinson, "because if we try to, even if I disagreed with any these laws, if we tried to change them, we won't get anything done on anything else, they will just take the air out of the whole debate."

This is Hutchinson's first run for office, so he's never had to take a stand on these issues. That's not the case for Pawlenty and Hatch, who have lengthy track records from their time in politics. Pawlenty served in the Legislature for ten years, and as House Majority Leader, he pushed for abortion restrictions such as a 24-hour waiting period that he later signed into law as governor. Pawlenty said requiring women to have certain information on the risks and alternatives to abortion isn't a radical idea.

"According to the Star Tribune poll, 60-plus percent of Minnesotans support that," Pawlenty said. "So there's some things that we can do that are kind of mainstream that I think help the culture in Minnesota be respectful and appropriate."

Small group protests petition drive
South Dakotans opposed to abortion support a law banning nearly all abortions.
MPR Photo/Cara Hetland

Pawlenty said he doesn't support a South Dakota law on the ballot this year that bans all abortions unless a pregnant woman's life is in danger. He said the law should allow exceptions for rape and incest. Pawlenty has also called for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

"Our society has benefitted from having traditional marriage, and to say that all domestic relationships are going to be the same as traditional marriage I think is not a wise approach," said Pawlenty.

Hatch said he too believes in traditional marriage. But Hatch doesn't think a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage is necessary, because Minnesota already has a law defining marriage as a civil union between one man and one women.

"I support the statute," Hatch said. "I support marriage is between a man and a woman, however I don't believe that we ought to be discriminating against people because they're gay or lesbian."

On the issue of abortion, Hatch has been accused of flip-flopping. When he first ran for governor in 1990, he said he would veto any bill that would weaken Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. Four years later, the anti-abortion group Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life endorsed Hatch, after he said he supported parental notification by minors seeking an abortion and a 24-hour abortion waiting period.

Hatch said the MCCL backed him because he was running in the DFL primary against two candidates, Tony Bouza and John Marty, who supported abortion rights throughout a woman's entire pregnancy. Hatch told MPR in 1994 that he welcomed the MCCL endorsement.

"I'm very comfortable with it, and very pleased with it," Hatch said." I think that there is a very basic difference between myself and Senator Marty and Mr. Bouza as it applies to abortion. Perhaps it's more in theory rather than law, but I think it's a fundamental issue as it applies to questions such as waiting periods."

The MCCL does not support Hatch this election, and blasts him on its Web site for supporting "an exteme pro-abortion position." Hatch said his position on abortion hasn't changed.

"I'm troubled about abortion. I wish there were a lot fewer of them. I believe we ought to work toward that end," said Hatch. "But fundamentally, in the end, a woman has a right to make her own decisions regarding those type of issues."

Hatch said he would not support efforts to overturn Roe v. Wade, and the two-term attorney general thinks an attempt to ban taxpayer funding of abortions is unconstitutional. Pawlenty is opposed to taxpayer funding of abortions, and has the endorsement of the MCCL's political action committee, as he did four years ago.

Perhaps the reason the candidates aren't pushing social issues on the campaign trail can be found in recent polls. A September MPR-Pioneer Press poll found the top issue in the governor's race for voters was taxes and the budget. Just 5 percent of voters listed moral issues as the most important.