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Saxhaug, Carlson face off in state Senate District 5 debate

Lakeland Public Television hosted the first debates between area legislators; the first debate was Senate District 5 incumbents Tom Saxhaug, left, and John Carlson. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI – In the first of a series of live debates about local legislative races Monday night, Republican Sen. John Carlson said he and his opponent Tom Saxhaug would be good representatives for the forest product service industry, a suggestion that Saxhaug, a DFLer from Grand Rapids, nodded in agreement.

But after that moment of agreement, the two debated on how they would be the better leader for the region. 

The debate, like the House District 5A debate later in the night on Lakeland Public Television, featured two incumbents who will have to adjust to new boundaries. The Fifth District includes both regional centers of Bemidji and Grand Rapids.

Carlson was first elected in 2010, when Republicans won control of both the state House and Senate. Saxhaug is in his third term after being first elected in 2002.

Both legislators touted the work they’ve done at the Capitol. Saxhaug said he has often carried the forestry bill, which is a major industry for the area. Carlson, a first-term Senator, has less time to draw on his accomplishments from, but said 28 of the 59 bills he proposed in his first two years passed with bipartisan support.

“I’ve been told that’s a pretty good batting average,” he said.

Things only got testy once in discussion about the voter photo ID amendment, which would require voters to show a government-issued photo ID to cast a ballot.

Saxhaug said he isn’t in favor of “legislating by constitutional amendment.” He added that there is little evidence of voter fraud in the state, and that there isn’t a need for the same-sex marriage amendment, as state already has a law that it doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage.

Carlson argued that there is some evidence of voter fraud in the state.

Saxhaug also called the elimination of the Market Value Homestead Credit, which was replaced with the Market Value Homestead Exclusion, was an “absolute disaster.” DFLers have blamed that change in part to raising property taxes.

Carlson said there may have been some unintended consequences associated with the change, but noted that it was rarely paid by the state to cities over the years.

During his discussion of the state’s climate in general, Saxhaug suggested that there needs to be some kind of tax reform and raise additional revenue.

“When you’re having problems with the economy, you don’t raise taxes,” Carlson countered. 

To deal with poverty in the area, Carlson suggested making sure the business tax climate in the state makes people want to move here and stay here.

“We need to make sure we’re protecting our environment but that we’re moving quickly,” Carlson said. “We need to provide certainty for our businesses, we need to make sure we’re not over-regulating.”

Saxhaug highlighted the importance of the environmental resources and the education system in the state to business.

“Minnesota has attracted businesses here over the years because we have a trained educated workforce, a good education system,” he said.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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