Kahn, Bowman face off at U Law School

Sam Kean

Candidates for the East Bank area state House seat Ben Bowman and Phyllis Kahn discussed the University’s future, affordable housing, health care and transportation in a debate at the Law School last night.
The Minnesota Student Association-sponsored, hour-long debate included both prepared questions and those from the audience.
DFL incumbent Kahn is a former University genetics research associate and has represented the East Bank for 28 years. Republican challenger Bowman is a current University student majoring in entrepreneurship and former MSA president.
Throughout the debate, the candidates emphasized their differences. Kahn said she is proud to run on her extensive experience, while Bowman stressed the need for fresh opinions and said students would be best served by electing a fellow student.
Much of the debate focused on University-related topics. On affordable housing, Kahn, 63, favored rehabilitation of old buildings, and pointed to models of success around the country.
Bowman, 22, supported building more high-density units, citing University projects such as new residence halls on the river flats.
On education, Bowman said he would build coalitions in the House to ensure University funding. He also supports freezing tuition during a student’s career.
Kahn cautioned against the Legislature telling the University how to spend money. She favors funding in lump sums, rather than for individual programs, and would increase general funding to the University.
Outside University issues, Kahn said she supports universal health care, the same coverage “all elected officials and students have.”
Bowman agreed all children deserve coverage, but said those who can afford health care should have to pay for it.
On alternative transit issues, Kahn said the solution to current traffic problems is not more cars. She strongly supports light rail transit.
But Bowman was more cautious. He said new forms of transportation need to be attractive to the market to provide real solutions.
Audience members asked questions ranging from Gov. Jesse Ventura’s effectiveness to Iraqi sanctions to the status of democracy in America.
Bowman and Kahn agreed on some issues, including support of immigration and not allowing public funding for new sports stadiums.
The two also disliked the debate’s strict format, which allowed only one minute for each question’s answer and response. Each said they would have preferred a face-to-face discussion.
Debate moderator Matt Abdel said MSA chose this style to keep Kahn and Bowman focused on issues instead of straying into personal criticisms.
Abdel pointed out the quick response style allowed for a diverse number of issues to be addressed, which he said is important in a debate.
Abdel said he hoped the large contrast between the candidates in age, stances and experience would pique students’ interest.
Beforehand, he predicted a turnout of a few hundred people, but only about 20 showed up. Abdel and both candidates expressed disappointment in the number, but said with students’ mid-terms and the University’s Homecoming, they could understand why.
Those who did attend left divided between the two candidates.
University chemistry major Abbey Sullivan said she came in part because she knew little about either candidate. Afterward though, she was undecided, appreciating Bowman’s enthusiasm, but noting the importance of Kahn’s experience.