Bonoff, Madia trade barbs on taxes at labor forum

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All was quiet and cordial at Thursday’s 3rd Congressional District candidate forum sponsored by the Minneapolis Central Labor Union Council — and then all of a sudden, barbs were flying between candidates Terri Bonoff and Ashwin Madia, and Jim Hovland did his best to stay out of the way.

The event was formatted and run quite well — nine pre-selected questions on a range of topics from the Employee Free Choice Act to No Child Left Behind to extension of unemployment insurance coverage and a litany of others. Most of the questions were phrased and prefaced in such a way that the candidates were able to divine what their answer should be to satisfy the audience, and they willingly obliged. One notable exception was Hovland’s answer to a question on outsourcing, in which he asserted that the issue bears more scrutiny than simply saying “we shouldn’t let it happen,” and he discussed a growing company in his hometown of Edina that has facilities there and in Asia.

So pretty cut and dried, right? All three candidates signed a pledge to co-sponsor the Employee Free Choice Act if elected, and all three largely agreed on the issues. It made for a relatively cordial event until Madia picked up the pace on the issue of taxes, telling the audience that if candidates say they will support new programs, “they ought to tell you how they’re going to pay for it.” Madia went on to single out Bonoff on the tax and infrastructure issues, and to assert that he is the only candidate who has said unequivocally that he would let the 2001 Bush tax cuts expire in order to pay for the improvements he advocates.

Bonoff shot back with an experience-themed retort that income taxes are not used to pay for infrastructure projects, flashing her legislative experience.

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Although it was not a true debate, was there a winner? Probably not. All three candidates were able to get across their frames — Bonoff, experience; Hovland, leadership; Madia, honesty — but there was not as clear a divide in Madia’s favor as there has been on foreign policy discussions, specifically those about the Middle East. Several of the questions hit Bonoff’s sweet spot, education, and she capitalized. In addition, the format itself seemed a good one for Hovland to emphasize his conversational approach. Madia demonstrated that he is not a one-dimensional candidate, and he showed the ability to go on the offensive when the need arises, but he allowed his target to respond somewhat effectively to his barbs.

CLUC spokeswoman Anna Brelje said afterward that official attendance at the forum was 178. Bonoff staffers and volunteers were adorned with LABOR FOR BONOFF T-shirts, and there were plenty of Madia and Hovland buttons worn as well. Brelje said that while CLUC would wait to endorse until after the DFL does, several member organizations have been taking a close look at the race, with the potential to endorse and drive delegate votes one way or another. Once caucuses are over and the campaigns get down to the business of organizing at the Senate District level, we should begin to see just how well those unions can influence the identity of the DFL endorsee.

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