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GOP hopefuls disagree over rural development

ST. PAUL -- One of Minnesota's two Republican governor candidates would target rural areas for special help; the other would treat everyone the same.

ST. PAUL -- One of Minnesota's two Republican governor candidates would target rural areas for special help; the other would treat everyone the same.

"If you don't pay special attention to parts of greater Minnesota ... they will be gone," Rep. Tim Pawlenty said during a Tuesday night debate.

But his opponent, Brian Sullivan, disagreed.

"I don't think the state should be in the business of picking winners and losers," Sullivan responded.

Three days before Minnesota Republicans endorse one of them as their governor candidate, Pawlenty and Sullivan showed sharp differences in how they would help rural Minnesota's economy improve.


Pawlenty, the House majority leader from Eagan, said the Twin Cities area is doing well, but "big chunks of the rest of the state are falling behind."

"I will not stand by and see big portions of the state written off," he said.

Pawlenty said he wants to establish tax-free zones in several rural communities around the state, much like what has worked in Michigan.

"They have ignited economic development," he said.

The Pawlenty plan would eliminate all state taxes in the selected communities.

On top of that, the Eagan lawmaker said, the state needs to strongly support agricultural products such as biodiesel and ethanol. Sullivan, an Orono businessman, said he does not support mandating the use of biodiesel, as the Legislature did this year, although he does back mixing soybean oil with diesel fuel.

President Reagan gave tax cuts for all Americans, Sullivan said. That is the best way to help the state, he added.

Sullivan said his idea of cutting taxes and other state expenses is aimed at helping rural Minnesota since that is where the most serious economic problems are.


Pawlenty's plan would force rural communities to compete, according to Sullivan.

"You start pitting one community against the other," Sullivan said.

Sullivan, who sold a water-purification business for millions of dollars, said lower taxes and reduced regulation costs for all Minnesota businesses would help the rural area. Some agriculture cooperatives are moving to other states, he said, because of the high cost of doing business in Minnesota.

As an example, he talked about one agribusiness that considered building a plant in the southern Minnesota city of Mankato. However, it opted for Cedar Rapids, Iowa, instead because state-related costs would be $5 million less.

"Those folks in rural Minnesota feel the effects of what has been a very hostile business climate," Sullivan said.

In the debate sponsored by Minnesota Public Radio and the St. Paul Pioneer Press, the two candidates also disagreed about whether a governor needs government service on his résumé.

"It can be a plus or a minus," Sullivan said.

Sullivan, seeking office the first time, said the governor should be someone who understands "the hostility we have in the state against business." He also promoted his experience as a corporate executive.


Most successful governors enter office "bringing real world, common sense experience."

Pawlenty, who has been involved in legislative leadership for 3½ years, said Minnesotans say they want a governor with experience.

"Do you want someone to fly the plane who has never flown it before?" he asked.

The debate, at St. Paul's Macalester College, was the final time the two candidates are to appear together before delegates at the state Republican convention endorse one of them Friday as their candidate for the Nov. 5 general election.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Don Davis at (651) 290-0707

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