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McNamara 'a formidable opponent' in 57B, DFLer says

Before he was ever a candidate for a seat in the state Legislature, Dave Page was a voter in House District 57B.

"As a constituent, I'm not happy about the direction the state is taking," the community college teacher and Denmark Township DFLer said in an interview. "And I'm happy to have the opportunity to run for state office."

Page, 56, is making his first run for public office. He acknowledged it's a difficult task facing the district's entrenched Republican representative, Denny McNamara, a semi-retired small business owner from Hastings, who is seeking his fifth term at the State Capitol and easily secured re-election two years ago.

McNamara has spent the autumn like his previous four campaigns -- wearing out pairs of tennis shoes knocking on thousands of doors across the district, which includes parts of south Washington and Dakota counties. He's the right choice for District 57B, McNamara said in an interview, because of his experience as a small business owner and his familiarity with the district.

"I'm in the Legislature to represent (his constituents) and do what's best for them," McNamara said. "And the reality is we need more people in the Legislature today that are common sense, regular people. We need people with business experience (who are) active in the community and who are working hard."

The two candidates offer highly contrasting choices beyond their legislative experience.

Cuts alone won't solve the state's projected $5.8 billion budget shortfall, Page says.

"There's obviously going to have to be some increase in taxes," he said in an interview, adding that lawmakers should look at taxing the state's wealthiest earners more.

McNamara has balked at the notion of more taxes. He offered a few suggested cuts lawmakers can make in trying to balance the nearly-$6 billion deficit -- including eliminating Department of Natural Resources programs that compete with private businesses -- but didn't offer many specifics in how the state can eliminate the shortfall with only cuts to state spending.

Rather, McNamara, 57,said growing Minnesota's small businesses is the key to raising more revenue and getting the state's economy humming again.

"We need to work with private sector job providers and get them going; not taxing them more is the first step," he said. "We don't want to send a message to job creators that we're going to take more of your money. If we tax them more, they have less money left to put into their business."

Page said he doesn't believe simply cutting taxes will do the trick.

"There are probably some places we need to prime the pump," he said. "I would like to do that in alternative energy, where we can put a lot of people to work."

On transportation, 3M

Page has been willing to challenge McNamara on issues that have affected voters in 57B, including transportation funding for the Hastings Bridge and a House committee's vote to throw out language in an environmental bill that would have temporarily halted a 3M plan to burn non-3M hazardous waste at its incinerator in Cottage Grove.

Page criticized McNamara for his vote against a transportation bill that helped expedite the Highway 61 bridge reconstruction in Hastings that is now underway. McNamara called it a "non-issue," saying he voted against the bill only because Dakota and Washington counties were not given a vote in the transit taxing district established in the bill.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty vetoed the bill, which was passed after a Legislative override of the move.

McNamara also did not support language that retiring Rep. Karla Bigham, DFL-Cottage Grove, had included in a House environmental funding bill that would have stopped 3M's incinerator plan.

City officials eventually withdrew their support of the language and signed an air monitoring agreement with the company this year. McNamara said the measure would have interfered with the discussions between the city and company.

Cottage Grove taxpayers, however, will now be on the hook for $20,000 per year in air monitoring costs, Page said.

"It's easy for Rep. McNamara to say we don't need to tax the people of Cottage Grove, but we better let 3M do what they want to do."