A clear difference in philosophies

Democrat Bunn, Republican Housley differ often on issues at forum

Gazette Photo by Erik Sandin
Julie Bunn and Karin Housley participate in Boutwells Landing candidate forum on Friday.

OAK PARK HEIGHTS — When state Senate District 39 candidates Julie Bunn and Karin Housley ended their hour-long forum Friday in the Boutwells Landing auditorium, one thing was clear.

The two state Senate hopefuls offer the district’s voters two very different political philosophies.

Bunn, a Democrat, touted her legislative experience in the state House of Representatives and described herself as a moderate willing to work with both Democrats and Republicans at the State Capitol.

The Republican Housley reminded the forum audience of her work in the community, business experience in real estate sales and repeated the GOP call for lower taxes and fewer regulations on business.

Bunn, who was defeated in 2010 by Rep. Kathy Lohmer, R-Lake Elmo, said in her opening statement that she would offer a moderate voice in the Senate and work to end “gridlock” in St. Paul.

Housley said she decided to enter politics four years ago because she felt that lawmakers then were not working for business.

“A lot of those legislators do not have real-life business experience,” she said.

Housley last ran for office in 2010 and lost to incumbent Democratic Sen. Katie Sieben.

Audience questions centered on State Capitol issues that have cropped up during the last two legislative sessions: gridlock between Republicans and Democrats, the state’s budget situation, reforming education and the candidates’ position on the Voter ID constitutional amendment on the fall ballot.

On the gridlock question, Housley said her ability to work with different people in her real estate job would translate to working at the State Capitol.

“I think I have a proven track record. We all do business differently, but we all have the same goal. Get the job done. I believe that government comes from the people up,” she said.

Bunn countered by saying working to get things done locally is different than working to achieve goals at the State Capitol.

“It’s one thing to work at the local level in a non-partisan way. But to work at the Capitol, you have to come with an open mind and look at the evidence,” she said. “We, at the Capitol, have extremists in both parties. We need members with open minds and willing to listen.”

Bunn also reminded her audience that despite the state budget surplus touted earlier this by Republicans in the legislature, the state faces a $4 billion deficit in 2013.

“We’re facing another significant deficit. We cannot continue to borrow against our assets. We will absolutely have to make cuts in government,” she said.

Housley said the best way to get a handle on the state’s budget is for lawmakers to continue reforms started by the GOP-controlled legislature.

“I think what needs to be done is continue the reforms. Just have a Republican legislature being fiscally responsible should continue,” he said. “What we have to do is be fiscally responsible. We have to look at reforms in our budget. We just have to be more efficient.”

“There is no surplus,” Bunn said, adding that the legislature’s practice of shifting money away from schools hurts school districts and the state.

“School shifts have real implications for (school) districts. It depleted school districts reserves,” she said.

Questions about the state’s health-care system and how the two candidates define wealth had Bunn and Housley respond by talking about boosting the state’s economy and reforming its tax system.

“Once the economy gets going, that’s when things happen,” Housley said. “We have to take the handcuffs off our businesses.”

Bunn said during her time at the Capitol, lawmakers did not increase taxes, but instead reduced the revenue tax to conform with federal law and lowered industrial property and corporate taxes. She added that lawmakers need to take another look at the corporate tax rate.

“Corporate taxes are even more regressive than the property tax,” she said.

When asked about the state’s education system, Bunn and Housley offered very different opinions. Bunn pointed out that the state’s per-pupil spending has not kept up with inflation.

“Our U.S. Education system needs reform,” Bunn said. “By national standards, Minnesota is doing well. Our country is falling behind (the world) and Minnesota is falling behind.”

Housley argued that the many state and federal mandates and rules hamper the ability of school districts to educate their students.

“We don’t need Washington, D.C., in the Stillwater school district,” she said.

And when asked about the voter ID constitutional amendment, the two candidates again were on opposite sides.

“I haven’t thought a great deal about this issue. I would let the people decide this fall,” Bunn said. “I do think it is a very serious issue in this state. But it should not be placed in the (state) constitution.”

Housley supports the amendment.

“It is common sense,” she said. “Voting yes for voter ID upholds the integrity of our elections.”

Lastly, both candidates said they would take different approaches to working in the state Senate if elected.

“When I’m in there, there won’t be any gridlock. I get things done,” Housley said. “I really have a track record of getting things done.”

“ Not having gridlock means you have legislators who have an open mind,” Bunn said. “In terms of gridlock, it depends on how partisan you are. I always take each idea on merit.”