Budget, immigration among topics at governor's debate

Sunday debate
(left to right) DFL candidate Mark Dayton, Independence Party candidate Tom Horner, and Republican Tom Emmer participate in a debate in St. Paul, Minn., on Sunday, October 4, 2010. The debate was sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council.
MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire

DFL gubernatorial candidate Mark Dayton says the federal government -- not the state -- needs to address immigration reform.

Dayton, Republican Tom Emmer and Independence Party candidate Tom Horner discussed immigration and an array of other issues Sunday, during a debate sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council and other organizations.

Dayton told the crowd of several hundred people that immigration enforcement would hurt community policing efforts. He blamed extreme right-wing politics for preventing a federal solution.

"That's where it needs to occur. That's under the U.S. Constitution," said Dayton. "It is a federal responsibility, and hopefully the environment will be such that that can be undertaken soon. Therefore, states taking their own initiatives separately I think is counter-productive."

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Republican Tom Emmer, who has praised Arizona's restrictive immigration law, said he doesn't want any new state immigration laws, but he would push for federal action if elected.

All three candidates told the crowd that if elected, they will lead a state trade mission to Israel. Emmer, the Republican, said Minnesota could learn from Israel about growing businesses and jobs.

"How are they being so successful? They have a great work ethic themselves," said Emmer. "We've got great people in this state, but we've created a system that frankly is holding down the entrepreneurs. I think Israel is a great example. Not only would I commit to lead that, but I would also commit that we're going to try to learn something from Israel."

Emmer criticized DFLer Mark Dayton for proposing to close the state trade office. Dayton said he wants to move those responsibilities into the governor's office.

The three also discussed their views on education reform. The IP's Horner credits the federal No Child Left Behind law for highlighting weaknesses in public schools, but he also said he's willing to consider bypassing that law.

Horner said No Child Left Behind has successfully identified racial achievement disparities in schools. But Horner added that he thinks the law's testing requirements too restrictive.

"If that means we need more flexibility on No Child Left Behind, or even that we turn our backs on No Child Left Behind and figure out how we replace those federal dollars, then we need to do it. Because we need to allow teachers to teach," Horner said.

All three candidates said they see early childhood education as a key to solving the state's achievement gap.