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Erik Burgess, Published September 25 2012

Minn. House, school board candidates vie for votes at public forum

MOORHEAD – Keeping border cities competitive with a booming North Dakota was a key issue discussed by candidates for Minnesota Legislature at a public forum here Tuesday night.

“People are telling me weekly. They’re telling their friends not to move to our state … and this is not OK,” said Ben Lien, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor candidate for District 4A, which represents Moorhead.

Republican candidate Travis Reimche echoed those sentiments.

“We have many things going the right way,” Reimche told about 50 people at the Hjemkomst Center. “We just need to promote that.”

For the first time since the primary that whittled the race down to two, voters listened to Lien and Reimche discuss issues one on one. The winner in November will take the House seat vacated by former Moorhead Mayor Morrie Lanning.

The two discussed fixing the state budget deficit and their positions on the two state constitutional amendments, among other issues.

Both candidates were critical of what Reimche called Minnesota’s “roller coaster” of budget deficits and surpluses.

“We need to come up with a stabilized plan going forward so we don’t have government shutdowns,” Reimche said.

Lien said looking at additional revenue streams could help in fixing the deficit. Both candidates agreed that working across the aisle was critical.

Audience-submitted questions asked the two to discuss the constitutional amendments facing Minnesota voters in November – the voter ID amendment and the marriage amendment.

Lien said he didn’t support either, saying voter IDs would “disenfranchise” some voters, and the marriage amendment would hurt his friends and family in the LGBT community.

“If I was to support something like that, I would largely be turning my back on those folks,” Lien said.

Reimche did not say if he was for or against either amendment, but said if elected, he would represent what the people voted for.

“We need to be there to support where the vote is,” Reimche said.

School board forum

The Moorhead School Board also held a forum Tuesday evening. Five candidates were present, and a majority expressed positive feelings about the state of the city’s schools.

“I believe we’re headed in the right direction,” said Trudy Wilmer, who has served on the board since January 2011. “We have shown growth this year.”

John Rowell, a challenger to the four incumbents, argued that schools could be doing more to prepare students for college.

“When our grads get to the university, college, many of them find themselves unprepared to do written work at the college level,” Rowell said.

One issue discussed was how the schools will deal with space concerns as the city grows. Many candidates said a new elementary school could be required in the near future.

“Space issues are getting very tight right now, but we can be very creative in how we use our space,” said Cindy Fagerlie, the board’s vice chairwoman, who has served since 2004.

Lisa Erickson, the board’s chairwoman, said class sizes are at a good level now.

“We would always like to have another section. That would be wonderful,” she said.” But we have to be realistic with what our facilities can hold.”

Places were set for Michael Siggerud, a board member since 2004, and Paul Baker, a challenger, but they were absent.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518