Candidates spar at University debate

Higher education and the state’s budget deficit dominated the event.

Gubernatorial candidates Mark Dayton, Tom Emmer and Tom Horner debate on October 16 at the McNamara Alumni Center.

Gubernatorial candidates Mark Dayton, Tom Emmer and Tom Horner debate on October 16 at the McNamara Alumni Center.

by James Nord

A dire message for higher education resonated from the three major gubernatorial candidates at a University of Minnesota debate Friday afternoon.

The event, hosted by the Minnesota Broadcasters Association and various student groups including The Minnesota Daily, delved into the candidates’ positions on higher education, the stateâÄôs economy and social issues.

No matter the topic, discussion quickly turned to the importance of quashing the stateâÄôs projected $5.8 billion budget deficit. Higher education was no exception.

Promises of support to quell rising tuition were long-term as they said the next governor will need to address the huge deficit first. Each candidate said efficiencies in the system could be found to cut costs.

Republican nominee Tom Emmer said administrative costs at the University should be examined and a more student-centered approach should be applied to higher education.

âÄúPerhaps we should look at some of the administration, perhaps we should look at how we make this more affordable, because inflation on college campuses is running way beyond what is going on everywhere else,âÄù Emmer said.

EmmerâÄôs budget plan would cut $417 million from state higher education spending in the next budget biennium.

Independence Party nominee Tom Horner and Mark Dayton, the DFL candidate, have less specific proposals, but both listed education as a priority after the stateâÄôs path has smoothed. 

âÄúWe have a nearly $6 billion shortfall in the next biennium,” Horner said. “To suggest that we are going to be able to use that money to significantly reduce tuition in the short term is not honest to you, so I wonâÄôt make that promise.”

Horner also noted the next governorâÄôs opportunity for higher education reform as the University and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System transition into new leadership.

An innovator in the field of higher education who could be recruited from an existing institution would make an excellent University presidential candidate, he said.

Emmer supported a private sector candidate for the position, while Dayton said a proven leader who could âÄúdistinguishâÄù Minnesota should get the job.

Departing from the norm in this seasonâÄôs debates, discussion turned to social issues âÄî hardly surprising at a college campus.

Emmer and Dayton followed party lines in their views on gay marriage and abortion, while Horner said he supported fewer restrictions on both.

Emmer attempted to dodge questions social issues, rounding his answers back to the stateâÄôs budget deficit and economy.  He and Horner sparred, as they have in the past, over EmmerâÄôs non-answers nearing the end of the debate.

âÄúThose are always fun,âÄù Horner said afterward.

When pressed on abortion by a heckling crowd member, Emmer relented.

 âÄúIâÄôm pro-life, IâÄôm the only one that is,âÄù he said.