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Live debates kick off final month of campaign

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Live debates kick off final month of campaign
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

BEMIDJI – Following a month of election ads, mailboxes stuffed with campaign literature and election signs springing up on yards across the region, it’s time for debates.


Starting Monday, legislative candidates will take to live TV to debate the issues and distinguish themselves in voters’ minds.

With 38 days before the November general election, northern Minnesota offers some of the state’s most intriguing legislative races as several incumbents are now pitted against each other.

In February, a five-judge panel issued redrawn legislative district maps, pairing 46 of the state’s 201 lawmakers and creating 23 seats with no incumbent.

Every 10 years, district lines are redrawn using U.S. Census numbers to comply with U.S. Supreme Court and Minnesota Constitution requirements of equal representations among districts.

The biggest changes came in Minnesota’s north country: the Senate seats once anchored by Bemidji and Grand Rapids were combined into one, while four state House seats were meshed into two.

In 38 days, voters will head to the polls, selecting the winners to represent them in St. Paul.

For candidates, a lot is riding on the debates, which will be televised live from Lakeland Public TV’s studios in collaboration with the Pioneer and KAXE community radio.

Candidates in districts 2 and 5 – which represent the Bemidji area – will participate in debates starting at 7 p.m. Monday and Tuesday. Lakeland also will host debates Thursday and Friday for Brainerd area districts.

 Dennis Weimann, news director at Lakeland, said the format and combined effort of media will help voters learn more about the candidates.

“It’s an opportunity for people to sit in their living room and get the information straight from the candidates,” Weimann said.

In 1998, local media combined efforts to collaborate on the debates, held every two years. Prior to then, there were numerous debates, and “unless you’re really into politics,” Weimann said constituents would have to travel if they wanted more information about candidates.

The televised debates, Weimann said, make it easier for voters and candidates, who can reach a large audience to get their message out.

Other groups are planning debates in October, the joint media effort give legislative candidates the broadest audience.

Each race will be featured during a 50-minute debate, with candidates receiving three minutes for opening comments. Panelists will ask questions and candidates will get two minutes to answer, and an additional minute for rebuttal after each has answered the initial question. At the end of the debate, candidates will be allowed two minutes for closing comments.

Below is the debate schedule:


7 p.m. Senate 5 – John Carlson, R, and Tom Saxhaug, DFL

8 p.m. House 5A – Larry Howes, R, and John Persell, DFL

9 p.m. House 5B – Tom Anzelc, DFL, and Carolyn McElfatrick, R


7 p.m. Senate 2 – Dennis Moser, R, and Rod Skoe, DFL

8 p.m. Senate 2A – Roger Erickson, DFL, and Dave Hancock, R

9 p.m. House 2B – Brita Sailer, DFL, and Steve Green, R

Election information

For more information about where to vote and candidates on this year’s ballot, visit the Minnesota Secretary of State’s website at and click on the “Elections and Voting” tab.

Online viewers can learn more about all candidates this November and create a sample ballot specific to their home address.

Steve Wagner
Grand Forks Herald Editor Steve Wagner can be reached at 701.780.1104 and He joined the Herald in April 2013, and previously worked as editor at the Bemidji (Minn.) Pioneer and in several newsroom roles -- including news director, investigative reporter and cops/court reporter - at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. His experience includes extensive reporting related to Dru Sjodin's disappearance and the federal death penalty case for her murderer, Alfonso Rodriguez Jr., along with projects about immigration, the fatal 2002 train derailment in Minot, N.D., and the 20th anniversary of Gordon Kahl's massacre of U.S. marshals. Wagner also worked as a reporter at newspapers in the Twin Cities and Iowa. In his spare time, Wagner is an avid runner and occasionally writes about his experiences on his blog, Addicted to Running.
(701) 780-1104