Thursday, October 09, 2008

Benson and Grogan spar at forum

Brian Grogan (photo: submitted)House District 43B incumbent Rep. John Benson (DFL-Minnetonka) and Republican challenger Brian Grogan provided the most confrontational exchanges of Tuesday evening's Wayzata/Plymouth Area League of Women Voters (LWV) forum in the Plymouth City Council chambers. Participating were candidates for seats in House Districts 33A, 33B, 43A, and 43B, and Hennepin County Commissioner District 7. Only thirty minutes or a little less was devoted to each race, so the affair felt a little like a political speed dating session.

Benson used his introductory time to highlight his "friend of education" awards from the Association of Metropolitan School Districts, which lobbies on behalf of Twin Cities school districts, and the Education Minnesota teachers union, the state's largest political lobby.

Benson was president of the Education Minnesota local in Edina and the pre-merger Minnesota Federation of Teachers in the 1990s, and state president of the Minnesota Federation of Teachers from 1987-1995. He taught social studies in the Edina public schools for over thirty years. Benson currently sits on the education policy and education finance committees in the state House, in what must be a very direct route from the union's lips to the Legislature's ear.

Grogan highlighted the state budget deficit, unemployment, and the economy as reasons to reject Benson and vote for Grogan. He questioned the wisdom of bigger government in light of the DFL-controlled Legislature's insatiable appetite for more spending and higher taxes.

The LWV moderator posted questions to each candidate, alternating who answered first. Each candidate only had a minute or so to respond.

Areas of government needing reform: Grogan said that an education system that consumes more and more taxpayer money while delivering poor student performance needs reform, and the welfare system needs further reform to reduce fraud and waste. Benson said that reforms should be made in the areas of teacher recruitment and retention.

Priorities in education policy and funding: Benson said that suburban districts need more state aid to cover higher operating costs. Grogan said that the emphasis needs to be on accountability for the achievement gap between white and ethnic minority students.

Homelessness and affordable housing: Grogan did not respond to this topic, instead challenging Benson's characterization of last session's transportation bill, which passed on an override of Governor Pawlenty's veto, as "bipartisan." He also attacked the new DFL education bill, known as the "Minnesota Miracle II," for dropping the Q Comp alternative compensation program for teachers, which has been successful in the Wayzata school district. Benson responded that he supports Q Comp, but because the governor has not been "helpful" with the bill, Q Comp was dropped to bring him into the negotiations. He said that he expects it to be added back into the final version of the bill.

Transportation: Benson reiterated his claim that the transportation bill was a bipartisan bill because of the six Republicans who voted to override the governor's veto (also known as "The Override Six"). Grogan again challenged the bipartisan nature of the bill, which increased as taxes, license fees, new car taxes, and sales taxes by $6.6 billion. He said that none of the licensing fee increases or sales-and-use tax increases will fund road and bridges, instead they will fund mass transit outside the district.

Aging population: Grogan said that a strong (taxpaying) workforce (implying a friendly business climate) is needed to ensure that the growing Baby Boom generation is properly cared for. Benson said that increased aid to nursing homes will be needed.

Economy: Benson said that government's ability to deal with a downturn is limited. Grogan responded with a laundry list of how businesses in Minnesota are overregulated and overtaxed, and cited several examples of businesses leaving the state or locating new operations out-of-state for more business-friendly states, including Marvin Windows, Northwest Airlines, and Polaris. Benson said that reducing regulation and taxation on businesses is the best way for the state to improve the economy.

Child care for low-income families: Grogan said that in order to better care for low-income families, fraud and waste needs to be eliminated from aid programs. Benson called for increased spending for Early Childhood Family Education (ECFE) and all-day kindergarten.

Attendance at the forum was depressed by the coincidental scheduling of the nationally televised second presidential debate between Barack Obama and John McCain. The forum will be rebroadcast on Comcast channel 12 and LMCC channel 21. Channel 12 also has forum archives for viewing on their web site.

1 comment:

Mark said...

Benson is a teacher's union stooge. It's too bad Minnetonka has gotten more liberal these past years. If Grogan can get out some literature with a picture with him, Abrams, Ramstad and Koblick and call Benson for what he is--a socialist--maybe there's hope.