The Minnesota House DFL Caucus wants to talk about jobs and education. The House Republican caucus wants to talk about lowering taxes and making government more efficient. But at a pair of League of Women Voters forums Monday night in Edina — one each for House districts 49A and 49B — voters wanted to hear about a lot more: the environment, gun control and big money in politics.
The seats, currently held by DFLers Ron Erhardt (49A) and Paul Rosenthal (49B), are targets for both parties. The GOP is particularly keen on regaining Erhardt’s seat, which covers the heart of Edina.
Voters in the area are classic moderates. Erhardt is a former Republican, and his GOP challenger, Dario Anselmo, as well as Rosenthal and his Republican challenger, Barb Sutter, all hug the middle road of partisan politics.
And the middle right now is worried about the environment. Of the 15 topics offered for debate, four related to the environment: on climate change, invasive species, green energy initiatives and recycling.
In response, the four candidates expressed support of environmental protection, with the Republicans sounding a cautionary note of wanting to see the results of current alternative energy policies.
Another deviation from the political handbook was on the topic of gun control. The question was, “What can be done to reduce gun violence?” The candidates’ answers were similar – enact laws that keep guns away from criminals and the mentally unstable.
Most candidates don’t like to talk about abortion. But the voters in suburban Minneapolis apparently do —or at least they want to be clear about where the candidates stand. Erhardt, Anselmo, and Rosenthal are pro-choice. Sutter supports abortion in the case of the life of the mother.
Even education, usually a hot topic in Edina and Bloomington, prompted a question with an angle — how to close the achievement gap. Education funding, a battle ground in the legislature, was not addressed specifically; and taxes and spending came up once in each of the forums.
“I was surprised how little discussion there was on tax policy, they just touched upon it,” said Edina resident Jeff Werbalowsky, who said the environment and education were his top concerns.
Several attending the forum noted the similar views expressed by the candidates, which is not surprising in a moderate district. That was certainly the case on the subject of campaign finance reform. When asked if there was too much “big money” in politics, all four of the candidates — all of whom appear to be bracing for a barrage of attacks from independent expenditure groups — agreed that there was. It was a sign that the candidates as well as the voters sometimes want to deviate from standard political practice.