As the 2012 Election season heats up, local candidates are discussing and debating issues that matter to Patch readers at local public forums.
Patch attended the Oct. 4 public forum of John Benson (DFL) and Mark Stefan (GOP) vying for MN State House Representative 44B. The forum was hosted by Wayzata/Plymouth Area League of Women Voters at Plymouth City Hall.
The two candidates were asked questions submitted by the audience, collected by Girl Scout volunteers and given to the moderator throughout the forum.
Each candidate was given two-minute opening and closing statements, a minute response to questions, a minute rebuttal with one rebuttal each and 15-second responses during the lightning round.
Among the variety questions asked, topics included: improving education while addressing state budget shortfalls, supporting or not supporting the Southwest Lightrail project and the state's role in providing healthcare.
Stefan said the state can do a better job with managing unfunded mandates and returning more control to individual school boards.
"You can bring in businesses to help with the achievement gap," Stefan said.
He also talked about a vision of how technology can be used and how children can be helped, coming up with programs to bring them forward.
Benson talked about seeing the largest class sizes in the country.
"In a time of recession, it's hard to raise revenue," Benson said. "We must make investments in public education to move children forward."
As far as the Southwest lightrail project, Stefan doesn't support it, but Benson does.
"The federal government marked the southwest corridor among the 10 most important in the country," Benson said. "We've sent 50 percent of the money to the federal government already and I'd like to see it come back to us. It will provide more jobs and more workers here."
Benson emphasized the need to be competitive with other areas of the country and that "we can't keep going on two-lane highways."
Stefan spoke about the funding problem with the Southwest lighrail project. He said property taxes or a combination of property taxes and sales taxes would be used to fund it.
"Do we want to add debt for our children to pay for decades to come," Stefan said. "Studies I've seen have shown the lightrail has a negligible effect on traffic congestion. If we were in boon times, yes we could have it, but the money isn't there."
Maintaining roads and adding another lane to Interstate 494 is needed more, he added.
Benson said the state's healthcare system has one of the best programs, but it needs tweaking.
"Minnesota is an example of a state moving toward wellness programs and doing something about people getting help before getting so ill and needing emergency care which then charges us large premiums in our health policies," Benson said.
Stefan disagreed on the state's healhcare system and expressed concern for "Obamacare." He said the one size fits all approach won't work in Minnesota.
In their closing statements, Stefan spoke of his work experience working with a variety of clients to help them succeed and grow in their businesses.
"I know what it's like to work with different personalities and get people together to get the job done," Stefan said. "I'll work tirelessly for small government, free enterprise and individual rights."
Benson said the issue between Stefan and himself has much to do with their view of government.
"Voters in Minnesota want us to provide good schools for each child, decent transportation for commerce to flourish..and to take care of those unable to take care of themselves," Benson said
Wondering about more questions answered by the candidates? The forum was videotaped and will be replayed on Northwest Community Cable Channel 12. You can watch the full video from YouTube with this article.
(Editor's Note: This article is meant as an informative, brief recap of the public forum Oct. 4 and accompanies the full video of the entire debate for those who missed it or were unable to see the entire forum.)