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Candidates disagree on how to approach public safety issues

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota's two major attorney general candidates agree public safety is important, but disagree on how much emphasis it should receive.

Jeff Johnson wants to emphasize crime fighting if he is elected. Matt Entenza, meanwhile, prefers balancing public safety with consumer protection needs.

Johnson, the Republican candidate, said during a Moorhead stop on Wednesday that easing the methamphetamine problem and getting tough on sex offenders are his top priorities. The Detroit Lakes native and current state representative from Plymouth laid out the beginnings of a plan to reduce methamphetamine use.

He said he would encourage more treatment for meth addicts, ask for stiffer penalties for bringing illegal drugs into the state, increase education about meth and work with neighboring states' attorneys general on a regional anti-meth effort.

Johnson promised that if elected he would complete his plan between the Nov. 7 election and the time legislators return to the Capitol in early January.

"We can all talk about meth, but the question is: Who is going to make it a priority?" he said.

A spokesman for Entenza, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party candidate, said Minnesotans feel that besides meth and sex offenders, issues such as identity theft are important. "It's a dual role," John Van Hecke said.

Entenza - who represents part of St. Paul in the state House and grew up in Worthington - said funding is needed to fight meth.

Funding issues

"My opponent's legislative votes cut Local Government Aid, which led directly to local law enforcement and Gang Strike Task Force funding cuts, putting communities at risk," Entenza said.

Johnson said he has sought more money for public safety programs, but has met resistance in the Legislature.

The attorney general's office would take the initiative on meth education, Johnson said. That would not need legislative approval, although he would seek money to help finance it. If lawmakers do not give him more money, Johnson promised to find funds within the attorney general's budget.

Johnson said he would emphasize showing youths the dangers of methamphetamine. Students now "roll their eyes" when told about meth being more dangerous than other drugs, he added.

"What you've got to teach your kids is the horrific affects of the drug," Johnson said.

Johnson led the House effort last year to put behind the pharmacy counter cold medicines that can be used to make meth. That law has nearly dried up Minnesota methamphetamine laboratories.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.