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Final House debate elicits strong emotions: Candidates answer questions on abortion, Sunday liquor sales

By Zach Zayser BEMIDJI -- Local candidates for Minnesota House of Representatives spots had their third and final debate Tuesday at City Hall. The forum featured the contest between Rep. Roger Erickson, DFL-Baudette, and Republican Dave Hancock i...

By Zach Zayser

BEMIDJI -- Local candidates for Minnesota House of Representatives spots had their third and final debate Tuesday at City Hall.

The forum featured the contest between Rep. Roger Erickson, DFL-Baudette, and Republican Dave Hancock in Minnesota House District 2A. MinnPost on Tuesday listed the race as one of 20 that will decide which party controls the chamber.

John Persell, DFL-Bemidji and GOP challenger Phillip Nelson, facing off for the District 5A seat, also took part.

Moderators Maggie Montgomery and John Parsons conducted the candidate forum on behalf of the Citizens for an Informed Electorate and questions came from audience members.

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A consistent factor in Tuesday's debate was the disruptive response by a portion of the audience. Some attendees repeatedly scoffed or muttered at candidates' answers, and their outbursts prompted CIE organizers to walk over and talk to them multiple times.

One of the first questions asked of the candidates was to give their stance on abortion rights.

While Erickson was answering, an audience member pointed his finger at Erickson and said loudly, "knock it off."

In his answer, Erickson said he was pro-choice.

"Nobody likes abortion, but I feel very strongly that in this very private decision, taking away that choice, you're just sticking your nose into somebody's very private business and I feel very uncomfortable with that," he said.

Hancock said he was pro-life from conception to death, although he was willing to compromise on some aspects of the issue. He pointed to a fetal heartbeat bill he had sponsored while he was a member of the House.

"It would allow for the morning-after pill in terms of rape and incest," he said. "It would also allow for contraception. It would establish that in terms of the layperson, they recognize the heartbeat as being consistent with the definition of life."

A less hot-button -- but still pertinent -- issue covered was allowing Sunday liquor sales.

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Hancock said businesses had the right to decide whether they were open on Sundays.

"While I do not necessarily favor a lot of alcoholic consumption, I would say that that is a viable business, it's a business that should be protected by (the) Constitution and by individual liberty," he said.

Erickson said he was opposed to Sunday sales.

"It came up... two or three times in two sessions, mainly from Twin Cities folks that see business going to Wisconsin on a Sunday," he said. "There's no reason to be doing (Sunday sales)."

Persell said generally, he, too, was opposed to Sunday sales, although he would view any potential legislation on its own merits.

"I'll keep an open mind, but I don't have any general support for Sunday liquor," he said.

Nelson decried the Sunday sales ban as an "example of the government trying to legislate morality."

Other questions centered on transportation infrastructure funding, the now-repealed farm implement tax, college tuition and limiting legislators' pay.

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In their closing statements, Erickson and Hancock also sparred over the anti-bullying law passed this year.

"It's not going to prevent bullying," Hancock said. "I think what it's doing is changing education from acquiring knowledge and skills to a social endorsement of...any type of sexual behavior being normal."

Erickson disagreed.

"I've had several superintendents that came up to me and said 'Thank you, this finally gives us a working definition of (what bullying is)," he said.

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