Liebling, Pulham offer contrast of work styles
District 24A candidates square off in League of Women Voters forum.
ROCHESTER — Many of their political positions differ, but what differentiates two candidates in Minnesota House District 24B the most are their contrasting work styles. Those were put on display at a League of Women Voters candidate forum Wednesday night at the Rochester Public Library.
DFL incumbent Tina Liebling, chairwoman of the House Health Finance and Policy Committee, defined herself again and again as a fighter — for legal and economic equity, for affordable health benefits, and most significantly in her view, for reproductive rights, a theme she said resounds from constituents she's met during her campaign.
"I'm a person who stands up to the big money," Liebling said. "I work for the people of the district."
Her opponent, Katrina Pulham, a Republican and first-time candidate for state Legislature who has run previously for city office, described her stance as to be one who listens to all sides before making up her mind. "Our community needs strong leaders who are willing to work together and keep open doors for all," she said. "I think that is incredibly important right now."
The hourlong forum included statements from the candidates and 14 questions from the audience, the League of Women Voters and its partners, the Post Bulletin and Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce. Some highlights:
- Views on gun violence divided the candidates, with Liebling attributing it to availability of assault weapons, something she would support closing off if the opportunity presented itself. She credited Minnesota with enacting background checks and "red flag" laws for keeping guns out of more hands. Pulham, meanwhile, said public mass shootings, to her eye, point to a mental health crisis that needs to be solved.
- Candidates were asked how they'd work to hold health care costs in check. Pulham said she'd support expanding availability of health insurance to small business owners and farmers, while Liebling said she sees hope in the recent federal decision to allow Medicare to negotiate the price of prescription drugs.
- What to do with the state's $9 billion surplus, largely untouched in the last legislative session, drew different responses from Liebling and Pulham. Liebling said the surplus opens an opportunity to enact more fairness in the state tax code, while Pulham said the money should be returned to taxpayers in the form of tax credits.
- Pulham listed areas of her special interest, including: long-term care facilities, day care professionals, youth mental health, and schools, and she proposes that the state begin across-the-board free lunch in public schools. "Whether I'm elected or not, I'll probably be fighting for that," she said. Her lunch proposal elicited words of support from Liebling.
- Liebling began and ended the forum by underscoring her determination to preserve the right to an abortion in Minnesota. "There is a lot at stake," she said. "Reproductive rights are fundamental and must be protected." Pulham responded, as other Republican candidates have, that a Minnesota Supreme Court ruling has placed abortion out of lawmakers' reach, but Liebling said that lawmakers could put the question to voters in a statewide referendum, or the makeup of the Supreme Court could change, just as it has at the U.S. Supreme Court.
The race is to fill the seat vacated by state Sen. Dave Senjem.Both spoke about their priorities on state surplus, ensuring election integrity, other prioritiesThe statewide office doesn’t always grab headlines in an election year, and the work of the auditor is often not as political or high-profile as other offices says Julie Blaha, a DFLer who is running for her second term in the office.
Pulham and Liebling found rough agreement on several more issues, including:
- Election integrity. Both declared Minnesota's election system well-run. Both said they support extending voting rights as widely as possible.
- Climate change. Both acknowledged a problem that lawmakers need to address, although the degree of action that is required was not a point of agreement. Liebling declared climate change a "crisis." Pulham said the unintended consequences of changes, such as effects on wildlife or indigenous cultures, demand more gradual, thoughtful action.
- Equal rights amendment. Both stated their support for equal rights to be protected under the Minnesota constitution.
The forum was broadcast live online and can be viewed at the Rochester Public Library's YouTube site, www.youtube.com/user/RochPubLibrary.