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government Alexandria, 56308
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Three candidates running for an open House District 11B seat and two vying for the District 11 Senate post tackled topics like taxes, the budget, local government aid (LGA) and economic development Wednesday night.

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They also responded to a couple of curveball questions - how their views differed from their political parties and if they've ever resisted peer pressure to stand up for what's right.

Sponsored by the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities, the discussion took place at Alexandria City Hall and included House hopefuls Mary Franson (Republican), Burt Pexsa (Independence) and Amy Hunter (DFL). They're running for the spot that's open after long-time DFL incumbent Mary Ellen Otremba stepped down from the job.

Joining them were Senate candidates Bill Ingebrigtsen, the Republican incumbent, and DFL challenger Jim Thoreen.

OPENING STATEMENTS

Franson, a mother and daycare provider in Alexandria, said that her firm belief in children's future prompted her to get in the race. She wants children to have the same or better opportunities that she had growing up.

She holds a psychology degree from the University of Minnesota Duluth and worked in the corporate world of AT & T before moving to Alexandria.

She said the state's $6 billion deficit is unacceptable and that she'd work for families and children.

Pexsa of Alexandria emphasized his background as a fourth-generation dairy farmer and 15 years as a tax accountant.

He said he's an avid sportsman and NRA supporter who would stand strong for American freedoms such as the right to keep and bear arms.

He said he'd listen to his constituents and do what's right.

Hunter, who was raised in East Bethel, has lived in Todd County for 34 years. She taught school in Eagle Bend for 15 years, worked for the Fresh Water Education District and at the Staples-Motley Chamber of Commerce. She's also worked with non-profit groups as a grant writer.

She said jobs and the economy are her priorities. She also supports sustainable agriculture, veterans, sportsmen and sportswomen, and strong economic development.

She said she supports the right to life from preconception to natural death.

Ingebrigtsen of Alexandria talked about his law enforcement background, serving 34 years with the Douglas County Sheriff's office, the last 16 years as elected sheriff.

He was elected to the Senate in 2006. He said he's concerned about the direction the state's economy has taken under the leadership of the Democratic controlled House and Senate.

He said that the state is struggling with ways to balance its huge deficit and that he plans to address it in a better manner than the Democrats have.

Thoreen said he's had the pleasure of being a public servant for more than 30 years. He was elected auditor in Beltrami County, served as a lobbyist for the Association of Minnesota Counties and has been deeply involved in local government issues.

He said he'd helped the Senate cooperate and collaborate to get things done.

Among his priorities, he listed preserving funding for K-12 and higher education, assisting veterans and growing good-paying jobs in Minnesota.

NAME AN ISSUE WHERE YOUR VIEWS DIVERGE FROM YOUR PARTY'S

Franson said that since she is running as a Republican, the party's platform replicates who she is. She added there would be times when she would reach across the aisle to the other party as long as she could uphold her moral values.

Pexsa said that as an Independence candidate, his party has only one rule: Don't accept any political action committee (PAC) money.

Hunter said that although she's endorsed by the DFL, she is pro-life and supports the right to bear arms. She added that the only money she's received for her campaign came from District 11 and Todd County.

Ingebrigtsen said that although he follows the Republican Party's direction 90 percent of the time, he has disagreed with its stance every now and then. He voted against a proposal to give $20 million to a park by Lake Vermilion and supports some form of gambling, such as a racino.

Thoreen said that although it goes against the DFL platform, he is pro-life.

HAVE THEY RESISTED

PEER PRESSURE AND STOOD UP FOR WHAT'S RIGHT?

Franson said she never took drugs in college. She also pointed to her first six months working for AT & T when she challenged some of the company's procedures, which she believed could be more efficient.

Pexsa said when he was working as a foreman in a mailing company, he went over his supervisor's head to propose a new procedure that cut mechanical costs in half and doubled productivity.

Hunter said that when she served on the Staples Historical Society Board, she believed the president and secretary were doing unethical things, such as signing contracts without consulting membership. She and others took the leadership to task by filing a lawsuit, which succeeded and forced the leadership to follow the bylaws.

Ingebrigtsen said that he resisted pressure in the Senate and defeated Metro Gang Strike Force legislation and a pork-filled bonding bill.

Thoreen said that as a Chisago County administrator, he was asked, in essence, to overturn a 3-2 vote approving a controversial building project. He didn't do it and the decision ended up costing him his job when new board members were later elected.

HOW THEY WOULD

SOLVE BUDGET CRISIS

Pexsa said that cuts should be based on needs rather than wants. He said he'd protect K-12 funding and the public school system. He said that health and human services should be reorganized to put the focus more on clinical care than emergency care. He said that it might be time to "shrink things down" for higher education, including the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU).

Pexsa added that tax increases alone won't balance the budget. He said a sales tax on more goods and services may be needed, and could be based on income.

Hunter said that everything needs to go on the table and spending needs to be examined with a fine-tooth comb. She said that while there are ways to streamline spending and duplication, more cuts will be difficult because there isn't much left to cut.

Hunter opposed cuts for K-12 and higher education, noting that Minnesota college students already pay higher tuition than other states. She said the state needs to look more at preventative care to rein in healthcare costs.

Hunter said that when it comes to taxes, everyone should pay their fair share. She said that households with incomes of more than $250,000 pay 7 to 8 percent in taxes while the rest of Minnesotans pay 10 to 12 percent. "That's wrong," she said. She added that a sales tax increase would be regressive but she would consider a luxury tax on some items.

Franson said that of all the candidates at the forum, only she and Ingebrigtsen would not raise taxes. She noted that the state has enough revenue - $30 billion this year and $33 billion projected next year. The problem, she said is that the DFL-controlled Legislature has a spending problem.

Franson said that breaking out the "taxpayer credit card" to balance the budget will place a burden on future generations. She said that the state needs to live within its means.

Franson said that the state can save money by cracking down on illegal immigration and tax-funded abortions.

Ingebrigtsen said that increasing taxes on job providers in Minnesota is not the right way to go. He said the DFL-controlled Legislature has put off making spending cuts for too long. He said that the state should pay schools instead of postponing payments but that it needs to make cuts. He said more privatization is needed but the Democrats have not done it.

Ingebrigtsen said that immigration costs continue to climb. He added that cities that refuse to enforce immigration laws should have their LGA taken away.

Thoreen said he'd like to ask Ingebrigtsen why the Republicans in the Senate didn't present a budget-balancing bill. He added that the DFL at least presented a bill that balanced the budget.

Thoreen said that citizens can get an idea of how difficult it is to balance the budget by going to the coalition's website, mymnbudget.com. He said that the budget can't be balanced without generating new income. Another looming problem, he said is the "tidal wave" of retirees that the state will have in the next 20 years.

See next Wednesday's Echo Press for the second part of the forum's discussion.

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Al Edenloff
Al Edenloff is the news and opinion page editor for the Echo Press. He was born in Alexandria and lived most of his childhood in Parkers Prairie. He graduated with honors from Moorhead State University with a degree in mass communications, print journalism. He interned at the Echo Press in the summer of 1983 and was hired a year later as a sports reporter. He also worked as a news reporter/photographer. Al is a four-time winner of the Minnesota Newspaper Association's Herman Roe Award, which honors excellence in editorial writing.  
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