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GOP candidates debate health care at the fair

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Phil Herwig
Phil Herwig
MPR Photo / Ambar Espinoza

Candidates at a GOP forum at the State Fair observed a minute of silence Monday afternoon for Officer Richard Crittenden, who was shot and killed when he responded to a domestic dispute call.   The Republican gubernatorial candidates then took an opportunity to introduce themselves to people on the last day of the Minnesota State Fair. 

The forum kicked off with introductions of the eight GOP candidates present, including well-known faces, such as former House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, State Sen. Mike Jungbauer and David Hann, three-term State Rep. Tom Emmer, and former State Auditor Pat Anderson.   The first topic at hand was health care. All of the candidates opposed the public option in the ongoing health care reform debate. Seifert said in order for the party to defeat the Democrats' proposed health care legislation, they must offer more than vocal opposition. 

  "We need to come up with positive alternatives: tort reform, we need to come up with tax credits for people who can't afford insurance, universal shopping for insurance," Seifert said. "If you can buy your car insurance from a lizard down in Maryland, you should be able to buy your health insurance from another state as well."  

Seifert says four health insurers have a monopoly in the state. He says that's about 88 percent of the private health market. He wants the market to open up to more companies so that people have more affordable health care choices. 

Hann said that the federal government has no business interfering with how states run their healthcare system. 

"In addition to what we're trying to do at the national level with healthcare, in addition to that being unconstitutional, it doesn't work, I can't think of one thing that federal government has done where we can say they are the most efficient and lowest cost provider of a good or service," said Hann. "Why we would turn over a huge sector of our economy to the federal government, to politicians and bureaucrats, is beyond me."

  Rep. Emmer said the real issue at hand has to do with competition. He said there shouldn't be any government mandates and people should have the power to make their own decisions.   

"We've got the best health care in the world folks," Emmer said. "The issue, if there is any, is access and cost. So let's address access and cost. And I would hope that my friends who are up here with me would all take the stand that if they are governor, Minnesota they will not accept a federally mandated health care system. We can take care of Minnesota ourselves."  

The candidates described similar views on taxes, education, balancing the state budget, and personal responsibility. People from the crowd submitted questions to the candidates. There were also online questions. Long-time environmentalist Leslie Davis, who has now registered as a Republican, responded to a question about how he would take care of veterans.  

"And one specific thing that was brought to me that I would support is eliminating taxes on veterans' retirement funds, so when a veteran gets his retirement and they take state taxes out of that, I will fight vigorously to eliminate that," said Davis.

  People also wanted to know how the candidates would solve the state's deficit. Anderson had a simple answer.

  "Shrinking government, that's the priority. We're going to have a $4 [billion] to $7 billion deficit facing the next governor," said Anderson. "And there is no room for shifting and picking around the edges so we have to fundamentally downsize our state government."  

Anderson says the state cannot afford to raise taxes and it should live within its means. State Rep. Paul Kohls of Victoria said the state should tackle the highest priorities and learn how to do those things well. He said he's running his campaign with three priorities: public education, public safety, and roads and bridges.  

"We need somebody who is willing to set priorities and somebody who is willing to say no to things that aren't priorities because sometimes no is the right answer," said Kohls. "We have to do certain things and we have to do them well. We have to be willing to take some risk and do them better tomorrow than we are doing today if we want Minnesota to be a better state."