District 25A election, 1998

An online forum featuring House District 25A incumbent John Tuma and challenger Herb Frey ran from Wednesday, Oct. 14 through Tuesday, Oct. 20 in the NCO Web Cafe, Topic 53 of the Government conference. A lightly edited transcript is below. For more information on the project, contact Jane McWilliams, Election ’98 Online coordinator at jmcwilliams@microassist.com , or forum moderator Griff Wigley at griffw@nco.northfield.mn.us Election `98 Online was funded in part by a grant from the Martin Foundation.

Government.52.3: Griff Wigley (motet) Wed, 14 Oct 1998 15:42:51 CDT (2 lines)
I’ll be meeting with both John and Herb tonight to help them get acclimated to posting here in the Cafe. Stay tuned!

Government.52.4: Griff Wigley (griff) Wed, 14 Oct 1998 21:10:21 CDT (26 lines)
John and Herb, thanks much for being willing to participate in this forum, even though both of you are somewhat new to this medium and in the last month of your campaigns.

I’d like to spend the first couple of days of this weeklong forum with the two of you conversing with one another about your positions on various issues.

Normally, the two of you are speaking to an audience about your own positions or one another’s positions. Here, however, I’d like you to challenge and question one another directly as if you were talking across the table from each other at a local coffeehouse. It’s a debate but it’s conversational — sustained exchanges between the two of you that get at some of the complexities of the issues invovled.

After a short time, I’ll open it up for interested citizens to interact with each of you in the same way.

The ground rules for everyone: address each other directly using first names; no sarcasm or condescending tone.

Tips for everyone: write conversationally, not via canned position statements that read like a memo or press release. Keep it short; a screenful or less is usually best. Otherwise, audience eyes glaze over and it starts to feel like a speech instead of conversation or a debate.

Government.52.5: Griff Wigley (griff) Wed, 14 Oct 1998 21:26:36 CDT (10 lines)
I’d like to start out talking about K-12 education, an area that’s near and dear to both of you.

Herb, you support the state’s Profile of Learning plan. John, I believe you oppose it. I’d each of you to say more about your thinking about the pros and cons of the Profile, how it’s being implemented, and what you’d like to see done differently, if anything.

BTW, for those wanting more info on the Profile, see the link from http://children.state.mn.us/grad/rules.htm

Government.52.6: Griff Wigley (griff) Wed, 14 Oct 1998 21:37:16 CDT (5 lines)
Another K-12 issue: the extent to which there’s enough (or too much) choice and accountability in the current system of public education.

Would you like to see: Changes in how statewide testing is done? Changes in the charter school law? Merit pay for teachers?

Government.52.7: Griff Wigley (griff) Wed, 14 Oct 1998 21:55:05 CDT (8 lines)
Moderator’s note to audience: see the LWV web site for the position statements and priorities that John and Herb submitted:


Attendance report: there are about 35 citizens thus in the audience here in the Web Cafe, and another 25 following along via the NCO-Discuss mailing list.

Government.52.8: John Tuma (johntuma) Thu, 15 Oct 1998 10:54:15 CDT
Griff, on the issue profiles of learning I have always expressed grave concerns about this being a state bureaucracy driven agenda. It appears from what has happened over the last two years those fears were justified. We need to change the law so that it empowers local school districts and parents to set the standards as opposed to bureaucrats in St. Paul.

This can be done simply by requiring each school district to establish their own standards for graduation. The standards must be developed by the local school board with several opened meetings to allow parental and staff involvement. The standards must be specific and published. Then anybody wanting to know what your degree means from a particular school district can easily obtain that information.

This should be done with an understanding that statewide testing will continue to be done. This allows parents to compare how their particular school is doing thus giving them a chance to modify the standards and programs to meet needs and deficits identified by the statewide testing

Government.52.9: John Tuma (johntuma) Thu, 15 Oct 1998 11:12:43 CDT
Griff, about the questions you raised in 52.6 concerning choices in the public education system, I support a broad range of choices for parents and children. As an individual that grew up with a learning disability I’ve come to believe that I simply had a different learning style then what was being taught at that particular time in the public schools. It is that background that makes me a strong advocate for parental involvement and for a broad range of choices in education. This allows the parent and child to identify what is best atmosphere for them. This is a win-win situation for schools and families.

You also raised question of merit pay for teachers. I strongly support this concept but believe it is a matter that should be negotiated into the contracts between school districts and teachers. It should not be mandated from St. Paul, that is only a prescription for failure. That is not say that St. Paul cannot provide incentive dollars for districts that develop contracts with merit pay provisions in them. What is critical though is that these decisions must be made at the local level.

Government.52.10: Griff Wigley (griff) Thu, 15 Oct 1998 13:21:14 CDT (15 lines)
Thanks, John, and congrats on your very first web forum posts. You caught on fast.

So if I understand you correctly on the Profile, if the Northfield School Board had the choice or not to adopt it and decided to support it, you’d have no problem with it as a legislator?

Would you have a problem with it as a parent? I ask because many of the complaints from parents and various organizations are that it’s not specific enough in the basics and goes overboard in areas like multiculturalism.

[Moderator’s note to the audience: if Herb’s hard drive is not fixed by this afternoon, he’ll come over to my house tonight to post his initial comments.]

Government.52.11: John Tuma (johntuma) Thu, 15 Oct 1998 19:31:23 CDT
On the profiles of learning, as a legislator and as a parent I do not mind that the district does not want to implement the profiles as created by the State Department. I would have a problem if the district does not want to create specific standards for its diploma.

The concept of having fixed standards for obtaining a diploma is a good idea. Were the profiles of learning created by the department go bad is by not allowing more flexibility and more parental input at the district level.

Government.52.12: Griff Wigley (griff) Fri, 16 Oct 1998 18:55:46 CDT (3 lines)
Herb continues to have a rough time with his laptop. We’re now scheduled for Sat morning 8 am session at the Blue Monday to get his initial comments posted. Apologies to everyone for the delay.

Government.52.13: Herb Frey (herb) Sat, 17 Oct 1998 08:26:36 CDT (20 lines)
Still big troubles with my Mac, and after spending lots of money getting it “fixed”, it still doesn’t work. I’m in the Blue Monday now, and maybe logging in here for a few more days.

Yes, I support the profiles. I call everyone’s attention to the article in yesterday’s Northfield News on the topic. I see nothing wrong with the state asking for general areas in which students are competent. Teachers, parents, school districts can fill those areas with specific content, specific outcomes. This way there are common areas in which Minnesota’s students are being educated. When every school district determines these outcomes, it could be very difficult for a student to transfer from one district to another when the family moved.

John, how do you keep some uniformity in Minnesota’s school curricula if every district is determining their own profiles?

Also, where are you, John, on the complaints about multiculturalism in the Profiles and the emphasis on skill development rather than the inculcation of the basics?

Government.52.14: John Tuma (johntuma) Sat, 17 Oct 1998 16:23:59 CDT
On the ongoing discussion of the profiles of learning, to the question about uniformity my response would be what is so important about uniformity. That assumes that statewide uniformity is absolutely critical. Why does every school district in the state of Minnesota have to be the same. I do not see a problem with different communities placing emphasis on different areas. Again parents and local school board members know better than do the state bureaucrats what is the most pressing need for them.

And continue to the question of the emphasis on multiculturalism as opposed basics. Some communities may need to address the concerns of different cultures but some communities may not. That is what would make a more flexible set of required standards more workable and meaningful. I believe in a government that is closer to the people. The more decisions made at local level the better we are.

To move away from the profiles, Herb, I have made my priorities for the Legislature next year very clear. As is evident, to be a good legislator and to make a difference a member has to focus on just a few issues. I have made improving higher education financing my No. 1 priority. I’ve also made it clear that I will have an extensive proposal for improving the Cannon River watershed both from a recreational and an environmental stand point. I’ve also made it clear that I’m going to push permanent tax cuts, both property and income taxes, from any surplus that is available.

What are your specific priorities if elected?

Government.52.15: Griff Wigley (griff) Sun, 18 Oct 1998 09:21:50 CDT (21 lines)
Welcome Herb, and thanks to the both of you for the direct exchanges. You guys got the hang of this pretty quickly. While you keep up the Q & A with one another, I’d like to invite questions and comments from the audience.

Audience members:

1. If you’re participating via the Web Cafe, send me an email message requesting “posting priveleges” for the forum. I’ll add your Cafe UserID to the list and then you’ll see a text box in this topic which will allow you to post.

2. If you’re participating via the NCO-Discuss listserv, just submit your post via email and I’ll cross-post it to the discussion.

NOTE: whenever possible, direct your comments to one or more of the panelists using the first person like the panelists have been doing, ie, “Herb, I’d like to ask you…”.

And of course, be on your best Minnesota Nice behavior. Be sure to remove any hint of sarcasm or condescension in your words.

Government.52.16: Griff Wigley (griff) Sun, 18 Oct 1998 09:27:48 CDT (5 lines)
John and Herb, where do the two of you stand on the issue of large livestock feedlots? Do you support a statewide moratorium? Do you prefer local/county control over feedlots? How safisfied are you with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s regulation and oversight of large livestock feedlots?

Government.52.17: John Tuma (johntuma) Mon, 19 Oct 1998 10:04:29
Griff, on the issue of large livestock feedlots I did support the moratorium that was introduced in the last legislative session. The compromise that arose from that effort was a well funded statewide generic Environmental Assessment Worksheet. The state of Minnesota must have clear meaningful environmental standards to protect our natural resources and I will continue to support that effort.

Government.52.18: John Tuma (johntuma) Mon, 19 Oct 1998 10:24:04 CDT
Herb, I first have a statement than a question on the size of government. Former congressman Tim Penny in his book Common Cents stated:

“My allegiance to the Democratic Party was further strengthened in 1971. That year the government passed a truly revolutionary law, known as the Individuals with Disabilities Act. Among other things, it allowed handicapped children to attend public school. Democrats made it happened, and I’ve been forever grateful” (this is also true for the Tuma family)

“From my first days in Congress, I dedicated myself to bringing down the deficit and debt. Along the way, I alienated the most powerful leaders in my party. To my dismay, I discovered the definition of a Democrat had changed in the 1980s. It wasn’t enough any longer to support basic civil rights, labor rights, equal rights, and education rights — positions that gave Democrats much of the moral (if not political) high ground in 1960’s. In the Congress I joined in 1982, we had to be willing to increase spending to impress Democratic leaders who had built their careers around maintaining an expanding federal program that the country could no longer afford.”

I found this truth about the federal government also to be true about Minnesota state government. The government is just too big. I, like former congressman Tim Penny, believe the government needs to be smaller. Do you support downsizing state government and returning any budget surpluses back to the taxpayers in permanent tax cuts?

Government.52.19: John Tuma (johntuma) Tue, 20 Oct 1998 10:08:39
Griff, this being the last day of the online debate, I wanted to thank you for the opportunity and for all the time and effort you put in on this endeavor. You have truly been an asset to Northfield politics by making information and access available.

In the closing I would like state that it is time for a change in Minnesota. Minnesota taxpayers pay the second highest state income tax in the nation. Our consumers pay the third highest state sales tax in the nation. Minnesota’s rank 17th in per capita income, but we rank 43rd in after-tax income in the country! Over the last two years state government has over collected some $4 billion in tax revenue. That amounts to $3700 for the average family four. The message from these facts are simple, government in Minnesota is big enough. The question you have to ask yourself is who do you trust to give you real permanent tax cuts. I believe families are better capable of spending their money than is government. Any new government programs that are created should be done only if we get rid of programs that we do not need and can no longer afford.

Thank you for your consideration. I’m always humbled by the election process. I promise to continue the award-winning effort I put in the last session if you return me for another tour of duty in St. Paul.

Government.52.21: Griff Wigley (griff) Tue, 20 Oct 1998 22:06:39
John, thanks for your steady participation here this past week. I’d hoped for a lot more interaction between you and Herb followed by exchanges with folks from the audience, but alas, it wasn’t to be.

In retrospect, I probably should have opened it up to the audience right away. Oh well, I’m learning… ever so slowly. 😉

Government.52.22: Griff Wigley (griff) Tue, 20 Oct 1998 22:10:24
This topic is now open for anyone to participate. In other words, the forum is over, the candidates are “gone,” and we can now informally talk about them, their campaigns, and the issues… behind their backs! 😉