Constituents few and far between at candidate debate

by Coralie Carlson

With eight days remaining until election day, three candidates vying for the state Legislature outnumbered interested constituents at Monday’s on-campus debate.
Republican candidate Robert Fowler, a second-year law student, said he saw two audience members that were not campaign staffers, party activists or debate workers.
A total of about 20 people gathered in the Ski-U-Mah lounge to watch Fowler, Democrat incumbent Phyllis Kahn and communications senior Eric Hanson, an independent candidate, debate for the District 59B House seat. This district encompasses the East Bank of the Minneapolis campus and several surrounding student-saturated neighborhoods.
The three candidates expounded on higher education funding, affordable housing, crime and taxes during the 37-minute debate.
“I wish it would have reached more people,” Fowler said. “I wish students would vote.”
The Minnesota Student Association, who sponsored the debate, hung posters, placed an ad in The Minnesota Daily and talked to classes to advertise for the event.
Sam Tuttle, MSA legislative affairs committee chairman and College of Liberal Arts senior, said the goal was not to attract large numbers of students, but rather interested ones.
But the candidates said they didn’t expect a full house.
Hanson helped organize a debate for the same office two years ago as vice president of MSA — but didn’t attend the event. Hanson said his response would have been similar this year if he wasn’t a candidate himself.
“I don’t think I would have shown up,” Hanson said. “It’s really just not that interesting, it’s distant for these people.”
But the issues discussed, such as University tuition hikes, directly affect students. Last year tuition went up 4 percent, double the rate of inflation. The state Legislature funds the University and under-funding has led to tuition upswings in the past.
Hanson suggested freezing tuition increases at the rate of inflation as well as freezing other prices — from coffee to parking passes — at inflation rates. He said the University officials could manage the school’s money better to make up any difference.
Kahn said school officials should try to keep tuition rates even with inflation, but doesn’t favor any overreaching regulations.
“I’d be really cautious with freezes because the world isn’t frozen,” she said.
Fowler said University officials should manage their finances better, putting cash toward classroom improvements rather than faculty salaries.
Ryan Sutherland, an Institute of Technology freshman, was studying in Coffman Union when the debate took place. He said the debate was a welcome break from his homework and he got a feel for the issues and candidates, though he never closed his books.