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The Forum - Mathern, Hoeven Go Head-to-Head in Heated Debate

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Location: Bismark, ND

The Forum - Mathern, Hoeven Go Head-to-Head in Heated Debate

Janell Cole

State Capitol Bureau

Gov. John Hoeven and opponent Sen. Tim Mathern clashed repeatedly at their first debate over their competing tax relief and school-funding plans, and the reasons why the state has a budget surplus.

Wednesday evening's debate in Bismarck was broadcast over the local Community Access Television channel and Webcast to anyone with an Internet connection.

Republican Hoeven is seeking his third four-year term. Mathern is a Democratic-NPL state senator from Fargo with more than 20 years in the Legislature.

After Hoeven repeatedly accused Mathern of having spent the state's $1.2 billion surplus twice over in promises made during his campaign, Mathern snapped, "I haven't spent that money and you know better."

He said the governor was "putting that out there to scare people."

Hoeven also said Mathern "has an incredible record of raising taxes" as legislator.

Hoeven has proposed a $500 million plan that includes property tax relief, income tax relief and more aid to schools to replace property taxes.

Mathern said Hoeven's plan to give schools more money is about "pretend money" because the schools have to give up property tax dollars.

Mathern is proposing a $1 billion plan that calls for property tax relief for homeowners, $300 million more state funding for schools and $150 million more for local governments.

Mathern said that while North Dakotans' property taxes have shot up in the past several years, "John Hoeven has been stockpiling your tax dollars. John might call that good fiscal management. I call that poor fiscal management."

Hoeven said that under his leadership the state is doing things it has never done before.

Mathern responded, "You're right, we're doing things that have never been done - and you know what, we're five years behind." He accused Hoeven of finally getting around to programs he should have been working on the past eight years.

The two also tangled on health care and workers' compensation.

Hoeven blasted Mathern for helping pass the 1997 bill that took the workers' compensation agency out of the governor's Cabinet. Mathern responded that it was necessary because of what then-Gov. Ed Schafer was doing to the agency and said Hoeven's party has since embarked on a steady erosion of injured workers' rights and benefits.

The debate was sponsored by the League of Women Voters, North Dakota Newspaper Association, Bismarck Tribune and Community Access Television and is the first in a series of candidate debates.

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