Questions run the gamut at 39B forum

Gazette photo by Avery Cropp
Kathy Lohmer and Tom DeGree greet each other before the 39B debate begins at Boutwells Landing Thursday.

OAK PARK HEIGHTS — A variety of issues were on the minds of a large audience at the District 39B State House candidates forum at Boutwells Landing Thursday night.

The debate featured incumbent Republican Rep. Kathy Lohmer and her Democratic challenger Tom DeGree, a teacher and small business owner.

The first two questions submitted by the audience addressed gridlock concerns, asking how the candidates would work across the aisle to solve problems.

Lohmer said she feels that gridlock is a perception, although it’s one of the issues always brought up to her.

“There is a perception that we are in a gridlock and being down there for two years, I know it wasn’t true,” Lohmer said. “The times we voted on green boards was 140 times that we voted all together. Most people think its gridlock there are definitely times we don’t agree but they’re not as frequent as you might think.”

DeGree agreed that it is an issue people are concerned about, but it exists and is not perception.

“One thing we’ve seen in the past year is gridlock and we need to get people working together. I feel that we as Minnesotans have an independent mind and we want moderate people to represent us, this is what I believe in.” DeGree said. “There was a government shutdown for three weeks and my understanding of issues as a Democrat and business owner can be helpful.”

Both candidates were asked about their stance on school vouchers.

DeGree, a fourth-grade teacher in the Saint Paul School district, and also the owner of Wilde Roast Café in Minneapolis, does not agree with school vouchers.

“We can’t afford a voucher system. We need to support our public schools,” he said. “We’re already $2.4 billion short for our current systems and we can’t afford another system.”

“I think it’s up to parents to make the right decision for where their kids can go to school,” Lohmer said. “I support vouchers when parents want to send their kids to a school that aligns more closely with their beliefs.”

When it comes to economic development, Lohmer supports allowing Minnesota residents to access resources such as minerals and logging. DeGree said he supports lowering property taxes and looking closely at where revenue streams come from.

Fiscal balance was also addressed

“As a small business owner I know what revenue means for a company and how business works,” DeGree said. “You have to look at the whole revenue streams and not just increase taxes to correct the revenue stream.”

“What the Republicans did this year was make reforms and look at waste and fraud,” Lohmer said. “We also set up a sunset commission to look at agencies that we may not need anymore.”

Hydrofracking was also brought up. Both candidates said they couldn’t talk specifically about the issue because they felt the state’s water agencies had a better handle on the issue. Lohmer said she’d look to those agencies for guidance and DeGree agreed.

To keep in touch with their constituents DeGree and Lohmer both said they have enjoyed meeting new people and engaging in their community throughout the election season and would continue doing that.

Both candidates had two minutes to close.

“I will be the voice of small business, which is something that we haven’t heard at the capitol; someone who took $50,000 and a dream and worked hard to set up a business and employ 80 people. I’ve seen what has worked and what hasn’t worked. I want to stop the partisanship and work together with people. As an educator, with education reforms coming up in the next few years I am someone who knows what we need on the administration front and in the classroom and I understand what schools need.” DeGree said.

Lohmer cited her endorsement by the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce in her closing speech. The chamber said that Lohmer was the best choice for small business in Minnesota.

“I care about business and I care about Minnesota,” she said. “This is not a part time job for me. I don’t have another job right now and I am committed to this job and making Minnesota great.”