Sunday, January 29, 2012
Candidate Debates in 58B
Post by the Hawthorne Hawkman, video from the Senate District 58 website.
Last week we had candidate debates for district 58 A and B - although we don't know for sure where the boundaries will be for the house districts for a few weeks more. On Tuesday night, four candidates for 58B debated at UROC. Nancy Pomplun, Ian Alexander, Terra Cole, and Raymond Dehn attended the debate. Former state representative Willie Dominguez is believed to be running as well. He was invited but did not show.
At this point in the election, I'm not sure who of the candidates in attendance I support. (Although I am predisposed to elect someone new instead of returning Dominguez to office if he continues to run.) In fact, I have personal and professional relationships with all four candidates and may therefore refrain from openly endorsing anyone - at least until after the district convention.
The full debate video is posted above, and my impressions were...
...that we are fortunate to have (at least) four candidates who would all serve our district well if elected. I took notes throughout, and made stars next to the answers I personally liked best. The first question dealt with economic development, and while Dehn's answer made sense, it didn't speak to me. Ian Alexander wrote a graduate thesis on this topic, and while I agree with much of what he wrote, it's hard to condense the paper into a quick answer. Terra Cole's answer emphasized access to jobs.
I felt Nancy Pomplun had the strongest answer to this question, focusing on industrial jobs along the river. Employers haven't been willing to hire from the community, nor were the employees willing to cross the highway to patronize businesses in north. There were strong relationships between education, mobility, existing employment, and the stability of home ownership and quality employment. She got my first star of the night.
The second question dealt with restoring funding to public safety. What would each candidate do to restore such funding. Cole and Alexander spoke well about issues surrounding violent crime and public safety, but didn't directly answer the moderator's question. Dehn and Pomplun did address the specific question, but Dehn's answer was more comprehensive - he would author bills to restore funding as well as take a hard look at disparities regarding incarceration rates. Pomplun would work to undo cuts to local government aid. I felt Dehn gave the best answer here.
Question number three asked what candidates would do with a projected surplus. Alexander began by expressing support for a stadium, albeit not under our current fiscal situation. He alluded to the need for education reform and a need to invest there. Dehn was the first candidate to remind the audience that our last two budgets shifted funds from our schools in an accounting trick that deferred payments to our schools. The current projected surplus would only cover about half of that deferred cost. Paying those funds back now will decrease education costs in the long run.
Pomplun and Cole agreed with Dehn. In some ways, this question reflects the luck of the draw in debates. I believe this question had the easiest, most straightforward answer and Dehn got to the most pertinent policy detail first. For the second straight round, he had the best answer.
The first question from the audience dealt with how each candidate would improve the lives of ex-felons, the homeless, and people living in poverty. Kind of a tough one to deal with in one minute, and answers tended to focus solely on ex-felons.
Dehn spoke eloquently about his own compelling story. He was a convicted felon due to bad choices surrounding drug issues thirty-five years ago. He wants to make sure that people in similar situations have chances to turn their lives around. I felt that Pomplun didn't give a strong answer here. Cole emphasized differences in funding regarding incarceration vs. rehab, and that she would focus more on rehab to keep offenders from repeating. Alexander spoke about the clients he deals with as a family law attorney. Ex-felons have no safety net and few real choices. It's also an issue of cost, as incarceration is incredibly expensive.
While Cole, Alexander, and Dehn all gave very solid answers here, I thought Terra's was the best. She got the star in my notes this time around.
The audience's second question dealt with revitalizing downtown Minneapolis. Pomplun answered first, and spoke well about the need to address foreclosures and vacant businesses downtown. Cole said we need to stop separating downtown from north Minneapolis. What's good for one is good for the other, and downtown does face similar livability issues as we do here. Both Alexander and Dehn spoke about how a stadium (if funded right or without taxpayer money) could bring needed improvements to the district. Those answers might resonate more with downtown residents, but I liked Terra's answer best.
The third question asked about science in relation to the district. Alexander had a good response about research and development needs, and generated maybe the biggest laugh of the night ("Like all attorneys, I have no experience in science."), but Cole's answer beat out his by a hair. However, the question itself was so poorly worded that I'm not sure it added much to the debate.
I submitted a question about what each candidate would do to improve West Broadway as an economic corridor. In fairness, Broadway is a county road. Most of the development issues will be dealt with at a county and city level. So a question like this is similar to asking what a city council person would do to improve education, in that the most direct answer is "You should ask that question at a school board candidate forum instead." For me, however, developing West Broadway as a commercial corridor is so important that it will be the foundation for every single elected official I decide to support in NoMi.
While I thought Cole articulated her point well, she said we should focus on other corridors as well. That was not the answer I was looking for. She did place emphasis on pedestrian safety though. Ian Alexander tried to rent space on Broadway, and could only get space from the infamous Keith Reitman. He called the corridor the heart of north Minneapolis, and elected officials have to develop connections with the business community. Dehn called for a large investment along West Broadway. While it is a county road, he would use his position as a legislator to lobby for changes along the corridor. Pomplun made a parallel example of how she is approaching her work with businesses along the Central Corridor. Her idea didn't seem to apply here.
Alexander's and Dehn's answers were my favorites, with Ian Alexander beating out Dehn by a hair.
Finally, a question was raised about the Crown Hydro issue on the Mississippi River in the downtown area. Alexander spoke in support, Dehn said we need to be sure it provides the kind of clean energy we want, and Pomplun and Cole both said they need more info on the issue. I agreed with Alexander's answer more.
So the final score was Terra Cole with three stars, Dehn and Alexander received two each, and Pomplun had one. I made little check marks next to answers that I liked a lot but that didn't get a star. Dehn got three of those to Alexander's two. Under my entirely arbitrary scoring method, Terra Cole won the debate, Raymond Dehn came in second, Ian Alexander third, and Nancy Pomplun fourth.
That being said, remember that public speaking is not necessarily equivalent with a grasp on the issues or a direct measure of how well a candidate may serve our district. Each of these four would certainly represent us well at the Capitol, and we'll have more chances to decide which would do so the best.