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State house candidates diverge throughout forum

There was little back-and-forth between the two candidates for the state House of Representatives District 11A seat at the Cloquet Area Chamber of Commerce candidate forum Oct. 25. Incumbent Democrat Mike Sundin of Esko chose not to seek another term, so now perennial Republican challenger Jeff Dotseth of Kettle River will face DFL-backed Pete Radosevich of Cloquet.

The two spent about 30 minutes answering questions from moderator Tony Sertich. It was the final portion of an evening that featured candidates for city and school positions in Cloquet.

Dotseth and Radosevich rebutted comments only a few times.

The strongest one came from Radosevich after comments from Dotseth on looking at changing tax laws that make Minnesota one of the highest-taxed states in the nation. Radosevich said taxes were high for a reason.

"We live in one of the best states in the country - we're high-taxed, we've got clean government, and we've got a high quality of life," Radosevich said. "I'm not saying we should increase taxes. I'm not saying we shouldn't look seriously at where we spend our money. Our responsibility to the taxpayer is that we're spending those dollars wisely."

Dotseth talked about bringing "common sense" to St. Paul. Radosevich talked about finding "common ground" at the capitol in an age of political polarization. Both agreed that whoever wins the House seat should be a representative to the entire district, not just those who may agree with them politically.

The two then instantly disagreed on who was to blame for the $9.2 billion tax-surplus issue being left unsolved before the last legislative session ended. Radosevich said there was an agreement on the table, but Republicans backed out of it. Dotseth said it was the governor's office that blinked.

On K-12 school funding, Dotseth said: "I don't want to just throw money at the situation and think that money is going to fix the problem. I think there needs to be some sort of accountability." He then said there are "great teachers" out there.

Radosevich said the next legislature needs to look at school funding formulas and make sure districts are getting the proper amount of money to function.

Both men recently visited care homes in the area, including Inter-Faith Care Center in Carlton. Again, Radosevich said, there needs to be changes in funding reimbursements so seniors can "have a nice, safe place to live." He said an entire wing of Inter-Faith sits empty today because it can't afford to keep residents there.

Dotseth said there is a lack of employees coupled with inadequate state funding. But, as he did on many questions of the night, he wants to "take a look at" other issues. He said there is "waste going on" at care facilities and he wants to analyze it.

"It's not waste," Radosevich said in reply. "It's the funding formula."

"We can't just throw money at the situation," became a repeated phrase for Dotseth. It's what he said about the rising cost of child care in the state. He suggested looking at the "faith-based communities," but didn't elaborate.

"There's a system we need to look at but we need to do it right," Dotseth said.

Radosevich said he was surprised by informal polling at the Carlton County fair this past summer which showed child care costs as a top issue among county residents. The state needs to step in and help parents who have to choose between a job and child care, Radosevich said, adding society would benefit from state-subsidized day care assistance.

"The effects would be fantastic," Radosevich said, calling it, "great for our economy."

Both candidates seemed lukewarm on the idea of legalizing marijuana and opening up the state to sports gambling.

Radosevich said he wasn't sure if the time was right to legalize marijuana, but that taking on the issue may be inevitable as bills come into St. Paul. Dotseth called legalization a "Pandora's box" and is opposed to it.

Radosevich said there's plenty of gambling in the state, especially on tribal lands, where it has been a boon to those communities. Gambling was at the "level it should be," Radosevich said. Dotseth wasn't for or against expanded gambling, saying he would need to look at who the "stakeholders" were to form an opinion.

Both candidates are personally against abortion. "I'm pro-life," Dotseth said, adding that the state has constitutionally protected the right to an abortion and he doesn't see that changing. Radosevich, a Catholic, said his religion guides his feelings on abortion, but that it wasn't "right for me to impose my religious beliefs" on public policy. He said it's a right in the state and he doesn't want that to change.

The final question dealt with the voting process in Minnesota, and a bright line was drawn between the two candidates.

"There is no problem with Minnesota voting," Radosevich said. "There's no reason to change the system."

Dotseth said that to resolve any grumblings about the system, the state should implement an identification requirement in order to vote.

Radosevich blanched. "There isn't a problem, so why require a voter ID?" he said.

Dotseth said he differs "completely" on the issue, saying voter ID "might give a little pause on concerns a lot of people have about the voting process."