Less than a week before the general election on Nov. 6, four House District 51A and 51B candidates delved into controversial territory during a political forum hosted by the Eagan Rotary Club.
Partway through the hour-long event, moderator and Rotary Club member Dave Keller each candidate to describe their stances on both the marriage and Voter ID amendments.
Keller's questions prompted strong, at times personal responses from District 51A candidates Rep. Diane Anderson (R) and Sandy Masin (DFL) and District 51B candidates Laurie Halverson (DFL) and Rep. Doug Wardlow (R).
"This is about real families, and this is about families who currently exist in our state," said Halverson, referring to the marriage amendment debate. Several of her family members would be affected by the amendment, Halverson said. The amendment would not only prevent same-sex marriage, but stop the conversation altogether, she said.
Halverson's comments prompted a quick reply from Wardlow, who said he supports the amendment because it allows Minnesota residents—rather than "activist" judges—to settle the question.
"This amendment is not going to hurt anyone, because of current law," said Wardlow, referring to an already-enacted Minnesota law that prohibits same-sex marriages.
Masin, who voiced her opposition to the marriage amendment, described it as a "religious issue" that has no place in the Minnesota Constitution. Like Wardlow, Anderson said it was an issue that deserved to be put to a statewide vote.
The candidates' opinions on Voter ID fell along party lines, with Halverson and Masin opposing it and Wardlow and Anderson supporting the measure.
The questions—and the candidates' responses—sent murmurs through the audience during the debate, which was held at the Eagan Community Center. The forum was the second of two such discussions held by the Rotary Club. Last week, local Senate and Dakota County Board of Commissioners candidates met to debate.
The amendments weren't the only issues that emerged during the event. The audience also posed questions on a handful of familiar topics, including education, taxes and Minnesota's small business environment.
In a moment of agreement, both Wardlow and Halverson said tax reform was necessary to ease the financial burden on local small businesses. Wardlow criticized the current tax system as "Byzantine" and characterized the state's business climate as poor.
Masin criticized the current legislature, laying blame for the government shutdown earlier this summer at the feet of sitting legislators. The state's budget solutions weren't really solutions, Masin added, and will cause future complications.
Anderson, for her part, painted a rosier picture of the state's financial situation.
"My opponent left us with a $6 billion deficit when she left office," Anderson said. "I went and took that $6 billion deficit and we turned it into a $1 billion surplus."