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District 7A candidates spar at debate in Duluth

The Chemistry Building on the UMD campus was the site of Thursday's debate in the race for Minnesota House District 7A's open seat. It was an appropriate venue. Because as the debate wore on, it was evident DFL candidate Jennifer Schultz and Repu...

Candidates debate
Jennifer Schultz (from left) watches as Kristine Osbakken speaks and Becky Hall listens during a debate by candidates for Minnesota House District 7A on the campus of the University of Minnesota Duluth on Thursday night. The UMD Center for Ethics and Public Policy sponsored the debate. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

The Chemistry Building on the UMD campus was the site of Thursday’s debate in the race for Minnesota House District 7A’s open seat.
It was an appropriate venue. Because as the debate wore on, it was evident DFL candidate Jennifer Schultz and Republican Becky Hall did not mix well. The two sparred often from their positions atop lab stools on either side of Green Party candidate Kristine Osbakken.
“I’m the only candidate here to open up a listening post in Lakeside,” Hall said.
That comment drew a swift challenge from Schultz.
“I didn’t open an office in Duluth because it’s expensive,” Schultz said. “And I’m going door-to-door instead.”
Their positions were as different as their campaign strategies.
Schultz, an associate professor in the Economics Department at UMD, appealed to the many students in the lecture hall by stressing education.
“Making education work on all levels for all of Minnesota is critical,” said Schultz, who repeatedly said an educated, skilled labor force is the key to job growth and a good economy because it attracts businesses to the state.
Hall is a mother of five who has experience working in economic development in the private sector. A candidate for public office multiple times, she finds answers for economic growth by lessening the burden on entrepreneurs and businesses.
“I think there are things that can be done to reduce taxes for our companies,” Hall said.
The Republican candidate played to her reputation for being fiscally conservative and full of energy. She struck a big note early in the debate when she said, “Minnesota doesn’t have a revenue problem, it has a spending problem.”   
It was rare when the major party candidates found common ground. They did converge on one idea. To lessen the burden of paying for college, both called for pre-tax savings accounts for parents of students who plan to enter post-secondary education.
Osbakken wasn’t buying any of the major party politics when it came to economic solutions.
“Trickle-down does not work,” she said. “And both parties have done it.”
The debate, sponsored by UMD’s Center for Ethics and Public Policy, veered out of its own district as the topic of precious metals mining on the Iron Range came to the forefront. Osbakken was dismissive of the practice that has been a hot-button topic for being potentially lucrative as well as risky for the environment.
“We can think beyond that,” Osbakken said.
But Hall said it was high time to embrace mining’s potential.
“They’re passing muster,” Hall said of the proposed PolyMet mine on the Iron Range. “It’s time to support PolyMet and stand behind them.”
Schultz’s support was conditional, provided strict standards were in place as well as an independent regulatory body that could ensure immediate attention to defects in the process. She said she wanted to make sure “taxpayers are not paying for cleanup.”
The three women are vying to replace longtime DFLer Tom Huntley, a noted supporter of universal health care. It was yet another point of disagreement for Schultz and Hall. Schultz called current health care reforms a good start and said she would fight to create more competitive insurer options in MNsure that she reasoned would help lower the costs. She said the Affordable Care Act will help create more entrepreneurism now that health insurance doesn’t have to be tied to a person’s workplace.
Hall was “dissatisfied” with the ACA and called the MNsure website a failure. She said control over MNsure needs to be “back in the hands of the Legislature,” rather than safeguarded by an unelected board she felt lacked transparency.  
Finally, the candidates clashed over taxation.
Osbakken said corporations needed to be taxed aggressively. Schultz said a “more progressive tax system” is required to ease the burden on the lower and middle classes.
Hall disagreed.   
“We need someone,” Hall said, “who appreciates the businesses.”

Audience
The audience watches a debate at UMD on Thursday between candidates for Minnesota House District 7A. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

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