State House leaders debate at U

by Chad Hamblin

Two State House leaders debated in front of a crowd of approximately 70 people Tuesday at the McNamara alumni center.

Speaker of the House Rep. Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, and Minority Leader Rep. Matt Entenza, DFL-St. Paul, fielded questions varying from the environment, Minnesota jobs and the criminal justice system to health care. But the one issue that continually crept back into the debate was the University’s increasing tuition.

“These cuts have devastating impacts for the ‘U,’ ” Entenza said. “When we have an opportunity to help the University, that’s what we should do.”

Sviggum countered that tuition for many universities across the nation has increased and it was important not to raise state taxes.

“Folks, if you’re going to manage a budget, you need to make some tough decisions,” he said. “It’s not as easy as saying ‘We’re gonna take (money) from here and put it there.’ “

Sviggum and Entenza said they agreed they want to have a special session to address the bonding bill, which would give the University money for building projects. Otherwise, they said, they want to pass it at the start of the next legislative session.

Three panelists were allowed to ask the representatives questions. The panelists were Tom Zearley, president of the Minnesota Student association; Aaron Solem, from the Campus Republicans; and Noah Seligman, from University DFL.

University professor Larry Jacobs moderated the event. He also read questions on note-cards from the audience near the end of the debate.

One question from the audience asked how to get involved at the State Capitol.

“The Capitol is a very accessible place for students,” Entenza said.

Sviggum encouraged students to call or “snail-mail” their representatives because it’s “much more personal.”

“You are your own best lobbyist,” he said.

Fourth-year University student Joe Shenk said this was the first debate he’s attended, and he is just getting into politics.

“Tuition’s definitely going up pretty fast,” he said. “It’s one of the reasons I’m here.”

Stephanie Mahal, a second-year occupational therapy graduate student, said she was at the debate because her major is no longer accepting applicants because of a funding shortage.

“You can see it on the professors’ faces that their jobs are in jeopardy,” she said. “I’ll never have that chance to be a guest speaker (after I graduate). That’s kind of sad.”

Nolan Soltvedt said it was a good debate with a lot of substance.

“It kind of gives us a better idea what to expect with the coming legislative session,” he said.

Brian Peterson, a finance sophomore, said that although this year will be the first time he is able to vote, he thinks a lot of college students are getting “fired up.”

“Young people are feeling pretty passionate about their politics,” he said.

Jacobs said, “The conditions of students in Minnesota are very much affected by what happens in state government.”

The Student Public Affairs Coalition and the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs hosted the event.