ST. PAUL - Eight Minnesota Republican governor candidates agreed there is no need to raise taxes to fix the state budget deficit, but in front of 550 party activists Friday night each offered his own reason to get party support.
Friday night's debate preceded today's convention, a St Paul gathering of state Republican activists that would be routine except for a straw poll to determine who they like for governor 14 months before the next election.
The most emotional comments in Friday night's forum came from Rep, Tom Emmer, a Delano state representative known for his passionate speeches on the House floor.
"It's about passion," he said of the governor's race. "Who can inspire, who can ignite Minnesotans to follow the Republican principle?
If Emmer was the most passionate, Rep. Marty Seifert of Marshall received the most applause.
"We need someone who is principled, who has leadership and someone who is electable," he said during a statement interrupted by applause several times.
Seifert promoted his policy of taking no money from lobbyists, saying that would keep him away from obligations to them.
Pat Anderson of Dellwood emphasized her background as state auditor and commissioner. She reminded Republicans that she has shrunken two state agencies and said the state should only provide "essential services ... and get rid of the rest."
She pledged to change local government aid, although said some small communities need the state financial help the program provides.
LGA needs to be "downsized," she said.
Former Rep. Bill Haas of Champlin said he has passed more legislation than any other candidate, and led more legislative committees.
"I can get the job done because I always have," he said.
Sen. David Hann of Eden Prairie said education is at the top of state government's priority list.
"There is nothing more important than education in this state," he said.
Minnesota students learn too little about history and other basic subjects, he added.
Rep. Paul Kohls of Victoria promoted his "significant business" experience as a lawyer and insurance company executive.
Kohls took credit for the first legislative proposal calling for no new spending, much like what happened when Gov. Tim Pawlenty cut the state budget on his own after the Legislature adjourned in May.
He promised to promote a plan to freeze spending at the 2004-2005 level.
Leslie Davis of Minneapolis, an environmentalist that most Republican activists say does not fit into the party, was the only candidate who said he would not abide by next April's state convention endorsement. Instead, he would challenge the convention's winner in a primary election.
"Don't underestimate me," he said.
Phil Herwig of Milaca said that Pawlenty has not been conservative enough as governor. Other Republicans have not, either, he said.
GOP candidates get elected "and nothing happens at all," he declared.
Under Pawlenty, he said, Minnesota still has high taxes: "That is not conservative, that is not Republican."
Sen. Michael Jungbauer of East Bethel did not attend the forum. He has been sick since being bitten by a bat several weeks ago.
Today's convention will take no action on governor candidates other than the non-binding straw poll. The first official action comes early in February when precinct caucuses are held. For the following two months, congressional district and local conventions will pick delegates for the state convention. The April state convention, in Minneapolis, will endorse a candidate.
Several other Republican names besides those at the forum have been floated as being potential candidates.
U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann's staff says she is not interested in running for governor, but her name frequently surfaces as a possibility. U.S. Rep. Jim Ramstad earlier in the year said he would not run, but some moderate Republicans still hope he changes his mind.
Many other Republican names also are tossed around as potential candidates, and most do not deny they are interested. They include Rep. Laura Broad of New Prague, who suspended her campaign for health reasons; former U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, who says he will decide early in 2010; former U.S. Sen. Rod Grams, also expected to give an early 2010 decision; Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau, whose family will discuss the issue later this month; former House Speaker Steve Sviggum, who suspended his campaign when federal officials said he cannot keep his state commissioner's job and run; and Charlie Weaver, a long-time Republican activist who says he is considering running.
The crowded race began to fill up shortly after Pawlenty announced in June that he would not seek a third term.
Democratic-Farmer-Laborites have 11 candidates either in the race or expected to be in by year's end. Others also could join.