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Guest Editorial: A raucous debate for governor

Any Minnesotan who believes the three-way contest for governor will be another ho-hum election must have missed last weekend's opening debate on the Twin Cities Public Television program "Almanac." The less-than-polite exchange among the DFL's Mark Dayton, Republican Tom Emmer and Independence Party candidate Tom Horner was broadcast live statewide Friday night and aired again Saturday afternoon. It was anything but civil.

Each man underscored the emerging theme of his campaign. There might not have been clarity in the arguing and talk-over during the debate, but the differences among the candidates came through anyway. A viewer could not miss that these guys agree on very little.

Dayton has drifted not an iota from his traditional liberal take on taxes and other public policies. Emmer's brand of conservatism makes Gov. Tim Pawlenty look like a liberal. Horner finds himself comfortably in the middle of a Dayton-Emmer slugfest, which is just where the Independence Party candidate wants to be.

For example, Dayton's tax-the-rich plan seems, at this point, to be a taxthe-middle-class scheme. Emmer's pledge to find the billions necessary to right Minnesota's listing economic ship sounds good, but when pressed, he can't, or won't, provide details. During the debate, Dayton and Emmer tried to talk over each other, shut each other down and generally took in-yourface shots at each other. Enter Horner, who tried to don the mantle of statesman by urging Dayton and Emmer to quit bickering. "How are you folks going to work together?" Horner said. "Minnesotans deserve a better discussion than this. Come on."

Nice try, candidate Horner, but Minnesotans deserve what they've got. And what they've got are three gubernatorial candidates who are ready to mix it up, not for the sake of arguing, but because each of them believes sincerely in his philosophy of governance. The public television debate confirmed the candidates have irreconcilable differences.

Even as hosts Eric Eskola and Cathy Wurzer attempted to cool the rhetoric, the candidates stoked the flames. That's a good thing. The debate did what debates are supposed to do: Get the candidates talking about what they stand for. Get them to define their differences in the crucible of argument. Get them to criticize the other guy. It was a good start to an important campaign.

-- The Forum of Fargo/Moorhead