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Myers challenges Lehmann for House 4A GOP nod

David Myers

David Myers, a Baptist minister, doesn't think Bemidji Mayor Richard Lehmann is conservative enough, so he's challenging Lehmann for the House 4A Republican endorsement.

"I want the voters and the delegates to have the opportunity to have a conservative choice," Myers said Thursday in an interview. "I just don't know he's (Lehmann) the conservative that we need in this district, and I say that with all respect."

The 2010 campaign is Myers' third stab at the office. He was the Republican-endorsed candidate in 2006 and faced Assistant House Majority Leader Frank Moe, DFL-Bemidji, who sought re-election to a second term.

Moe handily won that match, 65.2 percent to Myers' 31.4 percent with Independence Party candidate Adam Steele of Bemidji garnering 3.3 percent.

Myers announced a 4A bid in 2008, but withdrew after several other candidates emerged, including John Carlson of Bemidji, who won the GOP endorsement in an open race. He later lost to John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, who is seeking his second term.

"John Persell isn't Frank Moe," said Myers, who officially launched his campaign Thursday night at a Republican Party political unit gathering at Backus. "I genuinely liked and respected Frank Moe ... I admired what he did, but I don't see Mr. Persell as being of the same caliber."

Myers is the pastor of Ridgewood Baptist Church in Bemidji, is an instructor of introduction to ethics and bioethical issues, and is a substitute teacher in area school districts. A licensed practical nurse, Myers also serves as a health aide paraprofessional in Bemidji public schools and Heartland Christian Academy.

Local Republicans plan several forums between Myers and Lehmann so delegates can judge how conservative each man is, Myers said. "We're going to give the delegates a chance to choose."

Myers said he differs from Lehmann in at least two aspects -- he doesn't support the Bemidji Regional Event Center as Lehmann has, and he sides with Gov. Tim Pawlenty's argument that Bemidji's near 20 percent property tax hike more than made up for the loss of state Local Government Aid and that LGA needs to be cut.

"I really, really don't like his position on the event center," said Myers, a retired career Navy diver. "I just feel it was rammed down our throats."

A question put to voters won by fewer than 50 votes, which Myers said was boosted by Bemidji State University students in support of hockey.

"I would not have proceeded in the same fashion," he said.

Myers admits he may have a different opinion if he were mayor and needed to protect a state LGA revenue stream to the city, but "I think we need to make the cuts. It's tough, nobody wants to hear that, but that's the way it is. There's no money in the budget, we live way beyond our means, and people need to face the fact that we need to choose which cuts need to be made."

That includes cutting LGA to cites, he said. "I just don't see where the money's coming from. ... No one's happy that times are tough economically, but I just don't see the government as being the answer to everything, and we need to be more responsible."

Fewer state mandates may help cities more, he said. "We need to find a way to live within our needs, and just don't see that he's done that during his tenure."

Myers said he respect's Lehmann's experience as an elected official, but experience also accrues in the field for issues such as health care and education.

"There's experience and there's experience," Myers said. "When was the last time he was in an operating room? When was the last time he was in a clinic working as a health care professional? When was the last time that he was in a kindergarten classroom teaching?"

Myers labels health care and state spending as his two largest campaign issues. He believes the private sector, especially the faith community, can better handle welfare issues than the state, and he says there's still room to cut spending before raising taxes.

"I'm not saying that we don't need help those in need, but I don't know that it's the government's job to do that," he said. In Bemidji, Churches United, a coalition of local churches, provides human services aid, and he said his own church is providing direct aid to people in need and is providing food.

"It's supposed to be church, kin and neighbor functions, not necessarily a government function," he said.

Myers said he wants to figure out a way out of the state's next biennium $5 billion to $8 billion shortfall without raising taxes, but he's not going to make it a pledge.

"I don't like raising taxes, I don't like it at all, especially when we're talking about business," Myers said. "We need to build businesses in the area, and taxing them is the worst way of doing that. But I'm not going to be arrogant with 'no new taxes.'"

Minnesota needs to build its tax base with new businesses, he said. And raising taxes won't do that.

"We need cuts," he said. "I know we've cut, cut, cut, but there's still more areas, maybe, that we can cut. I don't know. ... My gut feeling is that we have to live within our means."

There should also be a firm cap on local government's ability to raise property taxes, he said.

While serving a congregation as pastor and as a member of the Heartland Christian Academy Board, Myers said he keeps religion separate from politics.

"I never mix politics from the pulpit," he said. "People who know me who haven't been to my church might find that hard to believe. And I don't do it at the college, either."