Monday, February 6, 2012
Candidates Debate in 58A
Post and video by the Hawthorne Hawkman, video done on behalf of the Senate district 58 DFL.
Before diving into the candidate debates, two things should be made clear. First, the way the videos are labeled on the District 58 DFL website is not entirely accurate. I did the recording at this forum and know that the questions preceded the candidate "introductions." Our moderator slipped up and forgot to give the candidates time to introduce themselves. Since she jumped into the questions immediately, she suggested that the candidates be given two minutes' worth of closing statements instead of a one-minute introduction and a one-minute closing remark. The candidates agreed to the change in format.
Second, unlike in 58B where I am still neutral, I do have a candidate I support: the incumbent Joe Mullery. I support Mullery because our district is already losing its seniority of a senator and one representative. That seniority means something in terms of committee memberships, and I don't want to see NoMi have three freshmen legislators who are at the bottom rung when it comes to influence. Second, no legislator knows more about the housing crisis and mortgage technicalities than Joe. I believe we need that expertise. Joe's been around a long time and the time will come when we should hand the reins over to someone new. I don't think we're there yet.
In describing the debate, I'll try to be fair, but readers should know my bias and be able to take that into account.
The candidates in attendance were David Boyd, Marcus Harcus, Joe Mullery, Jon Olson, and David Younk. The moderator led off her questions with one about...
...jobs and unemployment. What would each candidate do to address unemployment in the district?
David Younk led off, answering that he'd connect people with existing businesses, beef up workforce development so that people in the community are qualified for available jobs, and he would support Governor Dayton's plan to incentivize hiring the unemployed.
David Boyd had the most interesting answer out of all the challengers. He started with the expected rote comments about attracting businesses, educating our workforce, and using green technology. But he offered a specific proposal that he would author as a legislator: He'd give corporations a 5-10% tax break if they hired 25% of their workers from the community and maintained that level for up to ten years.
Jon Olson pointed to many of our successes in north, such as Coloplast and the Park Board headquarters, but admitted that the businesses that moved away were proof that we've failed in some areas as well. His emphasis was on educating the workforce so that they would be qualified for available jobs.
Marcus Harcus pointed out that the local racial disparities of unemployed Caucasians vs. unemployed African-Americans are the worst in the nation. And while that aspect is a basic element of our unemployment problem in the district, I didn't hear a specific solution proposed.
Joe Mullery responded that he's been working on this issue for twelve years, and is authoring a bill to add the unemployed as a protected class in hiring, making it illegal to make hiring decisions based on whether someone is currently unemployed. He'd also give tax credits to businesses hiring the unemployed, thus adding both a carrot and a stick to his proposals.
I thought Mullery and Boyd had the best answers, as they offered the most detailed proposed solutions and went beyond just talking about generalities that most voters already know.
The moderator asked a follow-up question about whether or not the candidates felt that enforcement of affirmative action policies would make a difference in unemployment in the district. All candidates gave the obvious answer of "yes," but Olson went into detail about the struggles of the Park Board in hiring minorities for higher-paying administrative positions. Openly admitting an issue like this takes guts, and Olson garnered my respect for putting it out there first.
Question number three dealt with ex-felons, and what kind of funding allocations would candidates introduce or restore that would decrease recidivism. All of the candidates gave stock answers about mental health and drug addiction, and job access, as serious problems for felons who are re-entering society. Mullery and Olson were able to draw on their track record as elected officials, and Boyd spoke of having an employee of his own who is an ex-felon. But this was a question where I didn't find much that separated the candidates here.
The final question from the moderator was in regards to the Webber Park Library. The most interesting answers came from Olson, Boyd, and Mullery. Olson took credit for working on the issue for nine years on the park board, making sure there is community input, and keeping space for the library when it's ready to move forward. Boyd deftly criticized Olson for losing money every year the library doesn't get built and costs increase, but also thanking him for working on the issue. Mullery claimed he was the one who negotiated deals to keep the library open all this time.
The first audience question asked why construction workers have not been allowed to apply for jobs on sites such as city hall or the Target Center. This was a very detailed question, and worded in a way to make its answers too narrowly focused. No specific violations were even mentioned. If anyone wants to point to specific documentation that such actions have occurred, please post them here.
The second question from the audience asked if candidates supported a constitutional amendment requiring a "supermajority" to raise taxes. All were opposed to such an amendment.
The audience next asked what each candidate would do to respond to the foreclosure crisis and whether they felt there was a racial component to foreclosures and bad mortgages. The candidates all agreed that discrimination has played a significant role in the housing crisis. I could be biased here, but I thought that Harcus and Mullery gave the strongest answers to this question. I've worked with Harcus through the Northside Community Reinvestment Coalition, and sat on Mullery's 2008 panel that helped to introduce changes to the mortgage and foreclosure processes in Minnesota. Harcus called for more principal write-downs to help people underwater in their mortgages. Mullery spent enough of his time talking about all the things he has done, and could only say that he's introduced two bills with six more coming in. Before he could give more details, the moderator cut him off for being over time.
An audience member asked what the candidates would do to finish the work of tornado recovery. I have to admit, I didn't hear anything specific that stood out from any of the candidates. "We have to find money and rebuild," was about the extent of their answers. If I had to pick a winner for this question, I'd go with Younk for talking about inclusion of minority contractors in the process.
The final question asked what the stance of each candidate was on the Bottineau Corridor (light rail) and how would they work to ensure that it benefits 58A. This was kind of a loaded question, because one of the two final route possibilities might not even enter the district. Mullery pointed this out, and Olson reminded us that we have to make sure LRT does not destroy the fabric of our community like the freeway did.
I'll let the opening/closing remarks speak for themselves, so if readers want to know about those, watch the second video (or first, if you're looking at the DFL district site). It's only eleven minutes and you've made it this far.
In terms of how I'd rank the candidates, I already stated my support of Joe Mullery, and nothing I saw during the debate changed that position. Jon Olson seemed to be the strongest contender, being able to draw on his own years of public service. David Boyd was the most intriguing of the newcomers, and made the strongest first impression on me. I didn't feel like David Younk offered enough beyond the basic generalities that are commonplace at such debates. And while I appreciate Marcus Harcus's work in our community, I didn't see much in the forum that would indicate he's up to the job. I like him and see great potential there, but he hasn't shown that he's ready yet.
Coming up tomorrow, the summary of Champion vs. Parker for the senate seat.