Senate candidates emphasize moderate stancesThe two Minnesota Senate District 21 candidates focused on goals of bipartisanship in a polarizing political climate during a debate Thursday.
By: Danielle Killey, The Republican Eagle
The two Minnesota Senate District 21 candidates focused on goals of bipartisanship in a polarizing political climate during a debate Thursday.
Less than two weeks before the Nov. 6 election, incumbent John Howe and challenger Matt Schmit publicly debated at the St. James Hotel and talked about their willingness to meet in the middle, though they have different ways of going about it.
“Too many of us are somewhere in between these two parties,” Schmit said, while Howe said, “I think my record shows I am not an extremist.”
The two agreed that the state budget is the biggest issue right now. As part of that, Howe focused on tax reform. He advocated a shift from heavy reliance on income and property taxes to more of a consumption tax such as sales tax and other similar revenue options.
It would provide “a more stable revenue stream,” he said.
Schmit said he would be open to such a shift eventually, but “we cannot pursue tax reform that will hurt us in the short run.”
“I think all options should be on the table,” he said.
Other major issues the candidates listed included jobs, the economy and education funding.
One distinction was evident in discussions about the proposed constitutional amendments before voters, one to define marriage as between one man and one woman and another to require IDs when casting a ballot.
Howe, who voted to move both amendments forward when they came before the state Senate, said he heard the message that people wanted a say on the issues.
But Schmit said the amendments should not have gone through.
“We don’t send (legislators) up there to pass the buck,” he said, adding the issues shouldn’t be enshrined in a document as permanent as the Constitution.
The candidates also were asked to talk about natural resources and environmental issues.
“We need a balanced approach between economic development and protecting our environment,” Schmit said.
Howe said one of the main environmental concerns is clean water.
“We need to really focus on keeping our clean waters clean,” he said.
During the discussion there was some tension as the candidates discussed negative campaign literature and ads distributed throughout the district.
“This campaign here has not been good,” Howe said, saying many claims in them against him are “just a bunch of lies.”
Howe added to Schmit, “The ads that are running against you are terrible.” He said people don’t like negative campaigning, but “it works.”
Schmit said many of the fliers and ads are independent ventures from groups outside the candidates’ campaigns.
“My campaign is focusing on voting records and the facts,” he said. The two often came back to the theme of pulling away from party lines, especially as constituents are frustrated with gridlock and partisanship at the Capitol.
“That’s probably my strong suit. I reach across the aisle,” Howe said, mentioning his collaboration with Democrat Gov. Mark Dayton and other DFL lawmakers.
Schmit said votes should be about what is right, not about a party’s agenda.
Howe pointed out he has a lot of experience, including time as Red Wing’s mayor, and said he is “establishing a reputation as an independent, as a moderate.”
Schmit said he also has an understanding of how things work in St. Paul after working for years in public policy.
“I’m prepared to make a difference from day one to help Minnesota get back on track,” he said.