U district candidates hold ‘heated’ debate at Coffman

by Chris Vetter

One is a 21-year-old University student. The other is a 24-year incumbent state representative. And they rarely see eye to eye on the issue of public policy.
Republican Tom Gromacki, a College of Liberal Arts junior, and Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minn, squared off in a debate Wednesday afternoon in Coffman Union for the 59B seat in the state Legislature. The district encompasses all of the University’s Minneapolis campus, except for Middlebrook Hall. Most of the 40 people who attended were from the College Republicans or U-DFL.
Kahn said she runs on a record of which she is very proud.
“I’ve been a leader for women’s rights, women’s rights to choose and I address the needs of the city, the poor and the students in the district,” Kahn said.
Kahn listed her funding for parks, the environment and battered women’s shelters as some of her accomplishments in the Legislature.
Gromacki said that he is aware of the issues surrounding the University, and can serve the students well in the Legislature. “I’ve been entrenched in the issues of the University, and I’ve been an activist in the area,” Gromacki said.
He said the government is too large and intrusive, and must leave families alone to govern themselves.
“The government forces both family members to work,” he said. “One has to pay for the family, one has to pay for the government.”
Kahn and Gromacki answered several questions from a panel of Minnesota Daily journalists on University issues, ranging from steam plant renovations to the University budget.
Both candidates said the University’s request for the biennial budget was too high. Kahn said she would try to secure as much funding as possible, but said that the proposed 19 percent funding increase was high and might not be granted.
Gromacki said the University should privatize more activities to minimize costs to the state.
Neither candidate would be likely to vote for funding for a new baseball stadium for the Twins.
Beyond that, the candidates agreed on little. They disagreed on student vouchers, affirmative action and solutions to crime.
One of the debate’s heated moments came when a question from the audience sought the candidates’ positions on abortion. Kahn reiterated her belief in a woman’s right to choose, and said she would continue to fight for that.
Gromacki responded that he does not support abortions. “Killing children never has been, nor never will be, good public policy,” he said.
Kahn has won recent re-election bids with about 68 percent of the vote. However, several College Republicans said Gromacki could win.
College of Biological Sciences senior Ben Powers, a College Republicans member, said Gromacki will win if he can organize the students.
“Tom has to unify the campus to support a fellow student and to get the conservatives in the area out to vote,” Powers said.
The debate was sponsored by the College Republicans and the U-DFL. Because there is not a Reform Party group on campus, the Reform Party candidate Alan Shilepsky was not invited to speak, he was in attendance.
“What they are doing at the state representative level is the same as what is happening at the senate and presidential level,” Shilepsky said. “The two major party candidates don’t want third-party alternatives heard. They want themselves as the only choice.”
The final debate before the Nov. 5 election is scheduled for Oct. 29 in Coffman Union.