Candidates spar on higher education issues

Coralie Carlson

Higher education topped a debate among the three major candidates for governor Tuesday, as two of the three sharply criticized the only financial aid proposal on the board without offering alternatives.
Democrat Hubert H. “Skip” Humphrey III, Republican Norm Coleman and Reform Party candidate Jesse Ventura faced off Tuesday night before about 150 people at the Blake School in Hopkins. During the hour-long event, the candidates debated higher education, taxes and each other’s ability to govern.
One of the final debates scheduled before next Tuesday’s elections, the event became more crucial last week after the Star Tribune reported the results of a poll revealing the neck-in-neck race. The statewide poll of about 800 adults left Humphrey with 35 percent of the vote, Coleman with 34 percent, and Ventura with 21 percent; the margin of error was 3.5 percent.
At the debate, Humphrey declared that he wanted to be the “education governor” and reiterated his proposals to give $1,000 tax credits to college students. He said the tax credit would help provide education to students who otherwise couldn’t afford school.
“First and foremost, we must invest in our education system,” the attorney general said. Humphrey also advocated a tax credit to help pay for preschool.
But Coleman, who did not put out a position paper on higher education, criticized the plan.
Although Humphrey’s plan gives a tax break to a special group — college students — it doesn’t benefit the rest of the state’s population, Coleman said. Instead, the Republican mayor of St. Paul pledged a permanent property tax cut and across-the-board tax relief.
“There are all winners under the Coleman tax plan,” he retorted.
Like Coleman, Ventura refrained from presenting a higher education plan. But he criticized Humphrey’s proposal because it extends the government arm into private citizen’s affairs.
“I believe strongly that we have a separation between government and the private industry,” said the former Brooklyn Park mayor. “It seems like the Democratic philosophy is to begin at childbirth and to start educating our kids from that point on.”
Despite skepticism from his opponents, Ventura insisted that his four-year mayoral term in Brooklyn Park prepared him to run the state.
He said his distance from the other two political parties would benefit the people of the state because he would judge potential bills by merit without party loyalties.
Yet Humphrey and Coleman balked at the prospect of the former wrestler and actor running the $23 billion state government. Each pointed to his own record as evidence of their qualifications: Humphrey’s 16 years as attorney general and 10 years as state senator; Coleman’s 5 years as mayor of the state’s capital city and 17 years working under Humphrey.
Bill Gilles, College of Liberal Arts student and former chairman of the College Republicans, ventured to Hopkins for the debate. Gilles strayed from his partisan loyalty and conceded that Ventura won the debate.
“He’s the most charismatic and comes out the best,” Gilles said. “You got entertainment from Jesse.”
In his impassioned closing remarks, Coleman said the state sits at an incredible position of opportunity with a bright horizon.
“Folks are even talking about the Gophers going to a bowl game,” he concluded.