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Emmer addresses 'pocketbook' issues at Morris rally

Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer and his wife, Jacquie, greeted some of the 60 people who attended a GOP rally Wednesday at East Side Park in Morris.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer reiterated his campaign theme of government's need to "live within its means" and said that cities like Morris might not be a severely affected by state aid cuts as some people may believe.

Emmer, his wife, Jacquie, and staff made a stop in Morris on Wednesday as part of a three-city swing that included rallies in Willmar and Alexandria.

Lee Byberg, the Republican candidate for the 7th Congressional District seat held by Colin Peterson, and House District 11A incumbent Republican Torrey Westrom, both spoke briefly to the 60 people at the outdoor rally at East Side Park.

Ten students from the University of Minnesota, Morris staged a silent protest, holding up signs protesting Emmer's purported stance on issues or criticizing his votes in the Minnesota Legislature. After speaking, Emmer shook hands with the students and spoke briefly with them.

Westrom stated that decisions about the 2010 election on Nov. 2 would boil down to "pocketbook issues," and Emmer stated that his opponents DFLer Mark Dayton and the Independence Party's Tom Horner don't have the background as "career politicians" to make decisions affecting working Minnesotans.

Emmer, a three-term state Representative, made reference to Dayton being heir to the Dayton department store fortune and Horner's many years working within government and in public affairs.

"They offer the same future we have now," Emmer said. "A future of uncertainty, of a stumbing, staggering economy. We offer something different."

Despite concerns of county and city taxpayers, Emmer said he doesn't advocate doing away with Local Government Aid to cities. He claimed that only five cities in Minnesota receive 50 percent of the state's LGA money, and that equity and efficiency must be addressed, not across-the-board cuts.

"We're talking about reforming LGA, not eliminating it," Emmer said. "Reform it as it exists today so that it does what it was originally intended to do, which is to provide resources for the most important and essential services that government is supposed to provide for communities that don't have the economic base to provide it."

He also stated that, "all units of government -- state, county, local -- need to learn to live within their means."

Those words rankle some city officials. Morris City Manager Blaine Hill said that LGA payments total about $2.4 million -- about two-thirds -- of the city's General Fund budget. Local property taxes account for about $700,000 of the General Fund.

Hill said at Wednesday's rally that he like Emmer's approach to equalizing LGA distribution rather than across-the-board cuts, but that local governments already are being as prudent as possible with state aid and are still having to cut or reduce services. And he's not convinced cities deemed to be receiving too much aid will willingly give some of it up.

"It sounds like a good message but in the end they won't have the votes for that," Hill said.

Emmer said he intends to work to "hold the state's commitment to education" at current K-12 levels, and that there are increasing coming into the system now. As for higher education, Emmer reiterated his theme of priorities and efficiencies.

"Higher education has to do a better job at being more efficient," Emmer said. "I don't know how that will impact (the University of) Minnesota, Morris, but we aren't recommending funding at the levels that they want for higher ed. What we are recommending is working together and start talking about better efficiencies, more online opportunities. Bringing higher education into the 21st century.

The student protesters were informed of the rally and the protest via a mass emailing, said second-year UMM student Naomi Wente. Their signs carried phrases such as "Raise tuition please," "Please Kill the Environment," and "Thank you for standing up against workers."

Emmer greeted the protesters and spoke briefly with some of them, and a couple audience members also spoke with the students.

The protesters didn't speak during the rally.

"We wanted to be respectful but also show our opposition," Wente said.