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Debates for House 5A incumbents John Persell, left, and Larry Howes began on Monday evening hosted by Lakeland Public Television.Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

Persell, Howes test records in House 5A debate

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BEMIDJI - The redistricting process that took place in February produced several races across the state featuring incumbents facing off and testing their record against each other.

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That scenario played out twice in the first two debates Monday night on Lakeland Public Television. Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, will face Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker, in a race for House seat 5A.

Persell, a policy analyst for the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe and Bemidji resident, maintained much of his district in the redistricting process that shifted political boundaries. But Howes, who resides in Walker, is one of the more powerful legislators in St. Paul as the current chair of the House's capital investment committee.

Howes was first elected in 1998 while Persell was elected in 2008.

The differences between the two mirrored, in many ways, the differences featured in the Senate debate earlier in the night. But Howes indicated his willingness to compromise, adding that there is an opportunity to find common ground with the other side of the aisle 80 percent of time. The air of civility didn't come without fundamental disagreements on varying issues, however, especially when it came to the state's budgeting issues in recent years.

Part of the solution to end to the state government shutdown in the summer of 2011 was to borrow from the schools.

"I'd have to say that gimmicks have been used for the past eight years, there's no way around it," Howes said. "And both parties are at fault."

He said the state currently has a $1.4 billion surplus, according to Minnesota Management and Budget, a claim that Persell called "creative."

"It was put on the credit card," Persell said, referencing the $2.4 billion that is still owed to schools. He said that legislators will actually be facing a deficit in the near future.

Persell added that there is a need to find more stable budgeting methods and that the state needs to make sure the wealthiest Minnesotans are "paying their fair share."

On the issue of property taxes, Howes said there has been no data showing that the elimination of the Market Value Homestead Credit resulted in higher property taxes, as many DFLers across the state have said. Persell called the change "one of the silliest things that could have been done."

As with most Democrats and Republicans, the two disagreed on the merits of the two constitutional amendments that voters will decide in November. Howes, like most Republicans, supports both while Persell opposes them.

The voter ID amendment is "trying to fix a problem that doesn't exist" and isn't a good use of taxpayer money, Persell said. He also said the amendment could affect tribal IDs. But Howes disagreed, saying that because the amendment will allow voters to use government-issued ID, that tribal IDs would be valid.

Howes did agree with Persell's argument that the Minnesota constitution is a "sacred document," but, he added, "I also believe that so is marriage and so is the right to vote."

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