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District 8B candidates state their case

House District 8B candidates Mary Franson (left) and Gail Kulp participate in a forum on Tuesday, Oct. 2. (Al Edenloff / Echo Press)

Those looking for differences in the race for Minnesota House District 8B found them at a candidate forum Tuesday.

Incumbent Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, and DFL challenger Gail Kulp of Alexandria clashed over a wide range of topics from health care and unions to taxes and how they run their campaigns.

The 75-minute debate, sponsored by the Alexandria Area League of Women Voters and the Alexandria chapter of the American Association of University Women, featured questions submitted by the audience, along with opening and closing statements — and plenty of rebuttals by both candidates.

Introductions

Franson: A mother of three seeking her fifth term. Adores working for the people of 8B and cited endorsements from the National Federation of Independent Business, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, the National Rifle Association and others.

Kulp: Born and raised in Douglas County, had a passion for music and reading in her youth, attended the University of Minnesota and the University of Utah. Married to Jay for 41 years and they faced many challenges, including a son who had severe brain damage. She wants to speak for others in St. Paul. "It's not about me — it's about us."

Gridlock

A question asked about partisan gridlock and how it seems to stop bills from being passed until the final days of the Legislature.

Franson: There are more polarizing views at the national and state level these days. The political process isn't meant for "holding hands" or "singing Kumbaya." DFL Gov. Mark Dayton was extremely partisan by vetoing an omnibus bill at the end of the last session that addressed school safety, the opioid epidemic and child care issues.

Franson: Requiring bills to address a single topic may seem like a good idea but would make it difficult for part-time legislators to get everything done at the end of the session.

Kulp: Wants to see more single-issue bills that are clearly identified in the title of the bill. Lumping several different issues into one omnibus bill goes against the state's constitution. Legislators need to be willing to work together without accusing or demonizing others who see issues differently. No one has bought her votes. She is dedicated to the people.

Priorities

Kulp: Most concerned about health care. The Legislature should be attacking the problem, not just picking at the Band-Aid. Favors a health care plan that covers all Minnesotans' needs, including mental health. Should be more transparency in state government. Big money is buying elections and threatening democracy.

Franson: Health care is a priority. Republican measures have helped reduce the 2019 individual insurance market rates from 7 to 27 percent. Moving to a single-payer system would cost $37 billion and result in the lost of 48,000 jobs. Other priorities are protecting and advancing gun rights and pro-life issues.

Rebuttal: Kulp said the state had to pay the insurance companies a $550 million subsidy to lower the premiums.

Campaign conduct

Franson: On her campaign Facebook page, DFLers have been calling her names and referring to her as a right wing extremist. One of Kulp's supporters harassed a Franson supporter at his place of employment. Kulp has also referred to her as a "troll."

Kulp: Talked to the individual about the workplace incident. Franson has referred to her as "gun grabbin' Gail" — a ridiculous and irresponsible statement. "I want to be honest. And I don't take my (Facebook) page down when I'm embarrassed by it."

PolyMet mining

Kulp: Opposed to mining in the Boundary Waters. The company doesn't have a good environmental track record. If a problem happens, it could spoil the lakes and hurt tourism.

Franson: Supports mining. PolyMet's process has been vetted yet government is stalling while people in that area are screaming for jobs.

Rebuttal: Kulp said there are other options for jobs there that don't threaten the environment, such as solar panel systems.

Reaching out to constituents

Franson: Constituents can make an appointment to visit her in St. Paul during the session. Holds coffees and uses social media to stay in touch. Used to hold town hall meetings but that ended last year when a discussion on buffers led to screaming and someone calling her a liar. Prefers smaller one-on-one venues instead of large gatherings. These days, Republicans are being harassed at restaurants.

Kulp: Hasn't been able to get an appointment with Franson or responses through emails. Others have experienced the same problem. "They don't feel represented," she said. If elected, would hold monthly get-togethers during the session and meet quarterly with constituents the rest of the time.

Climate change

Kulp: Climate change is real. Even the U.S. military is making plans to address is as a threat to national security. That's why it is important for the state to keep moving to clean energy and reduce carbon emissions.

Franson: "The climate is always changing, people!" The government can't control weather patterns. Reducing carbon emissions would be costly and impact every area of the state differently.

Gas tax

Franson: Doesn't support government's "big appetite" for raising taxes. Government should look at its own budget. Republicans put together a big transportation bill without raising taxes.

Kulp: Republicans' bill relied on taking sales tax revenue that should be kept in the general fund. It wasn't a long-range plan and amounted to "taking money from Peter to pay Paul." Instead of putting money toward transportation, Republicans supported a 7 percent cut for those with disabilities.

Rebuttal: Franson said that Kulp didn't answer the question whether she supported a gas tax increase. Kulp said she would support a modest one but would include rebates for those who would be hurt by the tax.

Leadership abilities

Kulp: Is open, welcomes new ideas and is ready to roll up her sleeves and work at the Legislature instead of "just nibbling around the edges."

Franson: Has good rapport with constituents when she's out and about in the community.

Education funding/college debt

Franson: Every year there never seems to be enough money for education. Supports school choice — a plan that would allow tax dollars to follow the children, even if they choose a private school. Giving more money to pre-kindergarten programs would hurt the private child care industry.

Kulp: If a school is not up to snuff, parents should be able to take their children to another school. Wouldn't support having government pay for private school education.

Kulp: Likes the idea of making the first two years of college free but students must be ready to learn, not just party.

Franson: Students in high school use PSEO to get college credits and a jump on their careers. Not everyone needs a four-year degree. Does not support two-years of free tuition.

Rural/urban divide

Franson: Rural Minnesota, especially farmers, are under attack by Gov. Dayton. In order to "save birds," Dayton's buffer plan was a land grab of agricultural property.

Kulp: Some campaigns are not transparent. Some rural legislators are in the pockets of the metro area. Legislature must find ways to work together. Bring local government aid back to 2002 levels.

Pro-life stance

Franson: Believes life occurs at conception and continues until natural death. Taxpayers should not fund abortions. Gov. Dayton vetoed a bill that would have allowed women to see an ultrasound of their baby. Birth control should be accessible.

Kulp: State needs to make birth control more accessible and more affordable. Do more education to prevent unwanted pregnancies.

Pro-guns

Kulp: Is not anti-gun. Wants to protect the rights of gun owners while keeping guns out of the hands of those who would use them irresponsibly.

Franson: Supports Second Amendment. Has a Winchester 12-gauge, a 9mm gun and has applied for a .380 pistol. A rape whistle or saying no is not enough. "The only way to stop a bad person is with a gun in my hands."

Political mentors and heroes

Kulp: Former U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone for his passion, working for the people and fighting for mental health insurance coverage. Sen. John Marty for recognizing the health care system is broken.

Franson: Keith Ellison, accused of domestic abuse, is not her mentor. Jesus is our hope. Has good relationship with Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen and Rep. Paul Anderson. Admires Sen. Lindsey Graham's passion for sticking up for Judge Kavanaugh at the confirmation hearings.

Rebuttal: Kulp asked, "You write off Ellison but not Kavanaugh?"

Universal health care/women's health

Franson: A one-size-fits-all approach doesn't work. Government couldn't even handle the switch to a new vehicle licensing system, MNLARS. Questions the state's new Real ID rollout. It has a box for people to check if they are male, female or X for those who do not want to identify as either. "The only X-Men I know are from the super hero show."

Franson: Supports women's health issue. Worked with the Somali community to author a bill to prevent female genital mutilation or FGM.

Kulp: Supports universal care. Cost wouldn't be as high as Franson claimed because the Legislature would have to reimburse insurance companies. It works for most industrial countries.

Kulp: More research needs to be done on women's health issues such as heart conditions. Research has only looked into male patients. Referring to Franson's FGM statements, Kulp asked how many in the audience from District 8B had relatives impacted by FGM.

Rebuttal: Franson said asking that question was an injustice. She said that the lives of little girls are forever changed through FGM and that it affects their health and ability to have children. "I have a heart," Franson said.

Taxes

Kulp: Not in favor of repealing the estate tax. Also opposed Trump's tax cuts where 87 percent of the cuts went to the rich.

Franson: The tax cuts put more money in the wallets of working Minnesotans.

Rebuttal: Kulp said that the money went to those with incomes in the top 1 percent who control 99 percent of the wealth.

Final statements

Kulp: Learn from past mistakes and successes. Don't repeat things unless they work. Don't take every day for granted. Be grateful for it. Invest in the future. We can't govern through a rear-view window. Be bold and grab opportunities.

Franson: If elected, would work hard to keep taxes low, protect and advance gun rights, lower health care costs and advocate for pro-life rights. Business tax cuts benefit everyone because businesses give raises to employees. Doesn't want Minnesota to be the highest-taxed state in the nation.

Al Edenloff

Al Edenloff is the news and opinion page editor for the Echo Press. He was born in Alexandria and lived most of his childhood in Parkers Prairie. He graduated with honors from Moorhead State University with a degree in mass communications, print journalism. He interned at the Echo Press in the summer of 1983 and was hired a year later as a sports reporter. He also worked as a news reporter/photographer. Al is a four-time winner of the Minnesota Newspaper Association's Herman Roe Award, which honors excellence in editorial writing.  

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