Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Bonoff, Johnson reveal views at forum

Well, I thought things were getting a little dry around here.
Although both Terri Bonoff and Judy Johnson have pledged to put constitutent concerns over partisan politics if elected to the Minnesota Senate from SD 43, both candidates leaned away from dead center at last night's sparsely attended League of Women Voters candidate forum in the cavernous (for the attendance) auditorium at Wayzata Central Middle School in Plymouth. The nonpartisan nature of the forum was emphasized, and the audience was cautioned to refrain from personal attacks, cheering or booing, demonstrations, etc., although considering the attendance it would have been difficult to make much of a ruckus for or against either candidate.

So since chances are you weren't there last night, here is the best coverage anywhere of this forum:

In opening statements, Bonoff emphasized her business experience, stay-at-home-mom decision, and service on the Hopkins Legislative Action Coalition and Minnetonka Planning Commission. Johnson highlighted her nine years on the Plymouth City Council (including the last three as mayor), her recent term as League of Minnesota Cities president, and her endorsement by the entire Plymouth City Council and Minnetonka mayor Karen Anderson. She is also a licensed Realtor, mother of four, and partner with her husband in a moving business. Johnson also corrected a story about her in the Star Tribune, by stating that she is not in favor of teaching intelligent design in the schools, and has never challenged public school science curriculum.

The candidates were given two minutes to respond to each of nine written questions from the audience. The moderator had the candidates take turns responding first to each question, and addressed the married women as "Miss Bonoff" and "Miss Johnson," (it is the League of Women Voters, after all).

  1. Top three legislative priorities — Johnson would pursue transportation funding (I-494 upgrades, "sensible" mass transit), public safety, and stable funding for education. Bonoff would emphasize funding for early childhood family education (ECFE), reducing health care costs, mass transit funding.

  2. Carrying of concealed weapons — Bonoff said that in spite coming from a family of hunters and in spite of the Second Amendment, she is "against conceal-carry legislation." Johnson pointed out that because the conceal-carry law (Minnesota Citizens Personal Protection Act) passed, was challenged in court, and passed again by a wide bipartisan margin, arguments for or against the law are moot. She reminded the audience that the current law is actually more restrictive than the old law. Johnson said, "I am not worried about law-abiding citizens with guns. What concerns me are the criminals who have guns."

  3. Separation of church and state in light of "faith-based initiatives" — Johnson said that she supports "the separation of church and state as intended by our Founders," but she thinks it is important to fund non-religious social services provided by faith-based non-profit groups because "government can't provide answers for all people," especially in light of funding cuts. She cited Interfaith Outreach and Community Partners (IOCP) and People Responding In Social Ministry (PRISM) as examples of public-private partnerships. Bonoff, while stating her strong Jewish faith, said that there is "a bigger problem right now. I think that ideology is getting into government, and that we have groups of people who are faith-based that are shaping the politics." As an example, she said that she supports faith-based initiatives for social services, but would be worried about a faith-based group providing abstinence-only counseling. She would trust a secular organization to provide "whatever [family planning] services she needs to make the best choices for herself...We must stop the ideologically-based thinking from getting into our politics."

  4. State-funded vouchers for private schools — Bonoff opposes state-funded vouchers for use in private schools. She said that it's a matter of accountability: when a school is labeled "non-performing," students are allowed to take funding with them (in the form of a voucher) to a private school "where there is no accountability," it hurts the public schools. Johnson said, "I don't want to undermine public education," but added, "I believe that we do need to inject some choice into opportunities for children."

  5. Stadiums — regarding the Twins stadium proposal, Johnson believes that Hennepin County voters should be allowed, as required by state law, to vote on the local option sales tax increase that would partially fund the stadium, especially since cities are required to go to the voters to raise a local tax to build a fire station, a community center, or a library. A Gopher football stadium would be a state-owned asset, so Johnson would take a "closer look" at a state funding proposal. She views a Vikings stadium proposal from a statewide perspective, not just a local one. Johnson said that she is generally not in favor of public dollars for professional sports teams, while acknowledging that those teams are valuable, statewide economic assets.

    Bonoff seemed conficted about the Twins stadium proposal. She is "for building a new stadium in Minneapolis for the Twins." She is such an outdoor baseball fan that she takes her children "all over the country to see outdoor baseball: Yankee Stadium, Wrigley Stadium, in Seattle, in Boston, everywhere." She is not sure that the current proposal is the best, especially in the light of calls for a referendum, yet she seems to support it. "We are a representative government, so once elected we don't take everything to a referendum...I am afraid if we do a referendum we have a chance of losing the Twins. On the other hand, I represent the people." She is "open" to the Gophers stadium. Vikings: "not right now."

  6. "If Roe v. Wade is overturned and abortion is remanded to the states to decide, what will your position be?" — Bonoff said, "I'm the pro-choice candidate...To quote the Clintons, make abortion safe, legal, and rare...I am not for [abortion]; however, I am for keeping women's right to choose." Johnson said she is pro-life, with exceptions for the life of the mother, rape, and incest. She is very sensitive to the plights of women in need, saying "I have been a single mother, and I have been someone who has been in need." Johnson feels that women who choose to keep their children need to be supported. "I think that in the pro-life community it's important that we don't just say we're pro-life and then walk away when the children get here...I am pro-life, with some consideration for women in difficult situations, but I certainly would not be for aborting children in the third trimester in any event."

  7. Keeping the Legislature moving, avoiding special sessions, refusing per diem during a special session — Johnson said that legislative leadership needs to end the partisan bickering that results in special sessions in the evenly divided Legislature. Johnson cited her experience in nonpartisan government, uniting people, and focusing on issues. She would forfeit her per diem during a special session. Bonoff would use the business philosophy, "process defines behavior" to fine a vision, set goals and objectives, and obtain "buy-in" to get the work done. "I know that using that process will have the fighting and bickering fall away. Nobody ever fought when they worked for me." She would also forego her per diem in the event of a special session.

  8. Affordable housing — Bonoff would use her experience on the Minnetonka Planning Commission to model the "best practices" from Minnetonka and Plymouth for addressing this issue statewide. Johnson said that state, local government, and private sector can work together to provide affordable housing, and that much hinges on coordinating funding cycles with the state. Moving beyond building affordable housing to operating it affordably, Johnson said that she would work very hard to help local governments to hold property tax increases to a minimum, presumably by carefully weighing the impact of reduced funding from the state to local governments.

  9. "In the event of an economic downturn, what would your budget cutting priorities be?" — Johnson said that she has a lot of experience managing and cutting budgets, in the Johnson household, in her husband's moving business, in the City of Plymouth, and for the League of Minnesota Cities. She bristled at Bonoff's implication earlier that she was a "career politician" with no business experience. Before raising taxes, Johnson said she makes sure that the city is working efficiently and creatively with non-profits, school districts, and other partners. She said that the most vulnerable should be protected from budget cuts, and that "education can't take any more cuts." Bonoff said that we must get health care costs under control. "My vision is that each and every citizen has health care insurance." Bonoff cited Sheila Kiscaden's (IP-Rochester) bill (SF 1638) based on a plan by the American Medical Association for universal health insurance, as a way to cut health care costs. Bonoff also has learned of a state fund dedicated to MinnesotaCare that has a surplus, which she says could be tapped for community clinics to reduce health care costs.
There were no closing statements. The forum was covered by local cable TV Channel 12.

See also my post on last month's TwinWest candidate forum, the candidates' first public meeting.

The Senate District 43 special election is Tuesday, November 22. To find your polling place, see the Minnesota Secretary of State Pollfinder.

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