Two-term, DFL incumbent Andrew Falk of Murdock and Tim Miller, his Republican opponent from Prinsburg making his first bid for state office, offer voters in State House District 17A a fundamental choice.
They see different roles for state government.
Falk believes that good public policy and government can improve people's lives, and that is very much the motivation for his desire to serve.
"Together we can do things as a society that we cannot do effectively or efficiently as individuals,'' said Falk. "That is why we have a government that comes together to address these big issues.''
Miller is also motivated by a desire to serve a greater good, but sees government as something that can grow too large and hinder the greater good. "You will hear me tend to say it should have a lesser role,'' he said.
No issue makes their difference more apparent than the budget.
Falk believes that the Legislature went too far when it ignored the warnings of state economist Tom Stinson and made a second round of cuts to income taxes under Gov. Jesse Ventura. It created a structural imbalance that was exasperated under Gov. Tim Pawlenty, he said. It has relied on gimmicks and accounting shifts ever since, such as withholding $2.4 billion from schools in the latest budget.
Falk charges that Republican policies have moved more of the burden to property taxes and other regressive forms of taxation.
He supports Local Government Aid -- state aid distributed to local governments -- and argues that the state should return to the level provided in 2003.
He also wants the wealthiest Minnesotans to pay more. He feels the middle class is being treated unfairly. It is paying a proportionately greater share of its income to taxes of all types than the state's wealthiest.
Miller agrees that there may be portions of the tax code needing to be redone, but warns against raising taxes by even a few percentage points on any given group. "In my opinion in a free market system, if that is taxing a business or someone who creates the work, you are going to inhibit that growth.''
The challenger said his tendency will be to focus on reducing spending, not raising revenues. He sees this as an opportune time to eliminate the inefficiencies in state government that become apparent during a down economy.
He supports Local Government Aid, but would resist increases to it. Its purpose should be to help small communities provide basic, necessary services.
Both candidates believe the state is falling behind in maintaining its transportation system.
Miller would increase revenues to transportation but would want to see cuts made elsewhere to prevent an overall increase in spending.
Falk would increase revenues to transportation provided it can be done in a manner that is fair to all; he prefers a 5-cent-per-gallon gas tax increase over a hike in license fees, for example.
Neither supports Sen. Joe Gimse's proposal that would allow local communities to raise their own revenues to leverage state funds for road projects.
Falk advocates for a state bonding program to reinvest in infrastructure and as a jobs creation measure. He would like to take advantage of historic low costs for financing. He supports incentives, such as increasing the Minnesota Investment Fund, as the other role the state can play to promote jobs creation.
Miller wants the state to keep taxes and regulations at a minimum to encourage jobs growth. Minnesota's regulatory and tax burdens are greater in comparison to neighboring states, and that works against recruiting new businesses, he explained.
He said he would also like to promote policies that invigorate the economy through innovation incentives.
Both candidates cited the political gridlock in St. Paul as the biggest concern they are hearing from voters.
Miller said he believes in vigorous and even heated debate, but said gridlock is not acceptable. He refers to himself as the "translator in the room" who can help bridge the gap between the two sides.
Good government requires compromise, according to Falk. He charges that a tea party component of the freshman class arrived at the Legislature unwilling to negotiate.
"Compromise has become a dirty word, equated to capitulation," said Falk. He said he has demonstrated an ability to work with the other party, and remains willing to go to the table to negotiate and compromise.
Falk is a graduate of the Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg High School and the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Business and previously worked as a legislative aide for DFL legislators including Gary Kubly, Lyle Koenen and Aaron Peterson.
Miller is a graduate of the Walther Lutheran High School in Melrose Park, Ill., and University of Iowa and previously worked as a campaign aide for Republican congressional candidate Lee Byberg and assisted in the state legislative campaigns of Republicans Bonnie Wilhelm and Bruce Vogel.