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GOP candidates for governor sound off on the issues in Rochester (and in their own words)

7 gubernatorial candidates attended a candidate forum in Rochester.

The GOP gubernatorial candidates debate the issues at Rochester's Eagles Club on Thursday, March 10, 2022. From right to left, they are Scott Magie, Michelle Benson, Mike Murphy, Paul Gazelka, Kendall Qualls, Scott Jensen and Richard Stanek.
The GOP gubernatorial candidates debate the issues at Rochester's Eagles Club on Thursday, March 10, 2022. From right, Scott Magie, Michelle Benson, Mike Murphy, Paul Gazelka, Kendall Qualls, Scott Jensen and Richard Stanek.
Matthew Stolle / Post Bulletin
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ROCHESTER — Former President Donald Trump wasn’t physically present, but his spirit reigned as a standing-room-only crowd eagerly applauded some of the more pugnacious comments made by GOP gubernatorial candidates at a candidate forum held Thursday in Rochester.

The forum featured seven of the 10 candidates seeking the GOP nomination for governor: They included family doctor and former state Sen. Scott Jensen, former GOP Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, state Sen. Michelle Benson, Lexington Mayor Mike Murphy, business executive Kendall Qualls, former state commissioner of public safety Rich Stanek and engineer Scott Magie.

The nominee will face DFL Gov. Tim Walz in November.

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It was a full house at the GOP gubernatorial candidate forum Thursday, March 10, 2022, at the Eagle's Club in Rochester.
Matthew Stolle / Post Bulletin

The forum was held at the Eagles Club in Rochester.

Here is what they had to say on two key issues: The state’s $9 billion surplus and the state’s voting laws.

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The state budget surplus moved past $9 billion? What do you propose to do about it?

Mike Murphy: That’s a lot of money, right? If you add the federal dollars into it, you’re at pretty close to $16 billion. That’s a lot of money that the government stole from us, isn’t it? It belongs back in your pockets, not the government’s pockets. And we have to make sure that we get some refunds back to actual taxpayers. And then we’re going to have to look at removing the Social Security tax.

Rich Stanek: We have a spending problem. You think about over the last 15 years or so. Our state budget has gone from $33 billion, all the way to the mid-50s. You have to ask: How did we get a 40 percent tax increase over the last 15 years? Look, I believe the money should go back to all of you.

Scott Magie: The setting in Minnesota has gotten way out of control. Since 2000, the inflation-adjusted numbers have been a 154% increase. So, not only do we have, like everybody is saying, an expenditure issue. And because they can just tax you, they keep increasing those taxes. So, first, we have to do a bottom-up budget evaluation. Get rid of everything that is wasteful, get the budget to where it should be, and then set taxes to cover it.

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Michelle Benson: Walz checks and the gas tax holiday are literally election-year gimmicks. They’re trying to buy the vote, so the people aren’t paying attention. When I’m governor, we will cut the tax on Social Security. We will cut the income tax rate. You know why? It’s your money. And if we’re going into a recession, it’s more important that you have it to protect your budget than St. Paul having it to protect theirs. I have a bill that cuts the lowest marginal income tax rate, so every person who pays taxes gets a tax cut.

Kendall Qualls: So, I have quite a bit of a different type of spin on this. We do have a tax problem, and we have a spending problem. In fact, Minnesota is one of the highest taxed states in the country that needs to be fixed. The surplus that we have is indicative of the problem that we have of over-taxation. One of our commitments to Minnesotans is a complete tax overhaul.

Scott Jensen: Please, don’t call this a surplus, folks. This is theft. This is over-taxation. We went from a $30 billion budget in 2010 to a $52 billion budget. Now, that’s a 75% increase. The wage-earner during that time experienced a 25% increase. So, our government grows three times faster than the average wage earner. This is theft and needs to be returned to the people who paid it. Social Security taxes have already been taxed. It makes no sense. It’s immoral to tax it twice.

Paul Gazelka: I served on the tax committee. About six years ago, we got rid of the tax on military pensions. That’s something that was really important. The next step is getting rid of the tax on Social Security income. I’ve been working on that for the last three years or so. Now is the time to get out of the top five taxed states. Let’s get out of the top 10 taxed states. So, No. 1: Get rid of the tax on Social Security income, so seniors don't leave because of the taxes. No. 2, we lower the lowest tax bracket and cut them in half. Everybody saves money.

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What changes to Minnesota voting law do you think are needed?

Kendall Qualls: We need election integrity, not just for what happened last year. We haven’t reconciled what happened with Norm Coleman and Al Franken. The choice that we have is between insiders versus outside career politicians. The issue with Norm Coleman never was rectified. And it should have been and that’s wrong.

Mike Murphy: There was election fraud in 2020. It’s been going on forever. I’ve seen it. I’m sitting on a panel with Laura Logan out in Wisconsin with the Wisconsin team that is working to decertify their elections. We need to have voter ID, paper ballots, hand counting, make ballot harvesting illegal, enforce our election law and have a forensic audit process put in place in the state. We don’t have a forensic audit process. And we should. We need to have that audit process to be fair and transparent and honest. And when I’m your governor, I promise to audit 2020 and we will audit 2022.

Michelle Benson: In 2006, when Norm Coleman lost to Al Franken by 312 votes, I was at the Anoka County Government Center counting ballots. I was a housewife. I was a delegate. I walked in and across the table from me were two lawyers from Washington State. Me versus them. This is the machine we’re up against, folks. This is why, when people ask you to be an election judge, you need to say yes. When people ask you to pull watch, you need to say yes. I voted for Voter ID.

Rich Stanek: Ballot harvesting has no place in our elections. Look, I’m a former detective. After 38 years, I know where the bodies are buried. We will do a forensic audit of this state and figure out this election system and bring integrity back to elections. I know a little bit about election integrity, ballot harvesting, provisional ballots, which we don’t have but sorely need in the state of Minnesota.

Scott Magie: So, I have a different approach. How many people here know what actually happens with your paper ballot when you turn it in? How do you know it was counted? You don’t. My idea is to take it from a system that was created before Christ — a ballot system that is secret — to a virtual system with both Voter ID and driver’s license address verification. You can sit home and, in a 24-hour period, vote from your couch. And it will be 100 percent decentralized, unhackable.

Paul Gazelka: I had the privilege to ride in the car with Trump, met him on the tarmac. He invited me to his Christmas party, to the Abraham Accords. I was very privileged. So, when he was not inaugurated, I was ticked off. I hope you guys are, too. So, in the end, we have to get Voter ID done. We should get rid of mail-in ballots. That’s where we saw all the corruption. We got to take our state back. And election integrity is a big part of that.

Scott Jensen: You should be angry. You should be angry that your election process was bastardized, and it’s got to change. We see hundreds of millions of dollars through fraud in our daycare and these nonprofits that are supposed to be feeding people. And we’re told that we don’t have enough money to do a forensic audit. And that’s what people are asking for. Why are you called names? Why are you told that you’re conspiratorial if you want to have a forensic audit?

Matthew Stolle has been a Post Bulletin reporter since 2000 and covered many of the beats that make up a newsroom. In his first several years, he covered K-12 education and higher education in Rochester before shifting to politics. He has also been a features writer. Today, Matt jumps from beat to beat, depending on what his editor and the Rochester area are producing in terms of news. Readers can reach Matthew at 507-281-7415 or mstolle@postbulletin.com.
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