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Experience key for one; for other it's days of new

Jenna Fischer and Kandiyohi County Attorney Boyd Beccue debate Tuesday in Willmar. Tribune photo by Gary Miller

WILLMAR -- Kandiyohi County Attorney Boyd Beccue said he hoped voters would see him as the face of experience and a "leader for positive change" after his 20 years in office.

Challenger Jenna Fischer described herself as someone who would offer a fresh perspective and a "new set of eyes for old problems" if she is elected county attorney on Nov. 2. The two candidates answered questions for about 45 minutes Tuesday evening in a candidate forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters.

The forum was moderated by J.P. Cola of KWLM radio and was broadcast live on KWLM and on cable public access channel 18 from the Willmar City Council chambers.

Fischer and Beccue answered more than a dozen questions read by Cola. The questions had been submitted via e-mail and phone calls.

Issues addressed ranged from plea agreements to illegal immigration to cost control in county government.

Beccue and Fischer agreed that plea agreements are a necessary part of the court system, and without them the system would become bogged down.

"Cases are not static," Beccue said. Investigation often continues after charges are filed, and new evidence could come to light, he said. Sometimes, witnesses are no longer available at trial time.

"There is no jurisdiction in the United States that doesn't plea bargain," he said. "We try to make good decisions."

Fischer said she would take a different approach and try to do away with delays in prosecution. She'd also promote better communication with law enforcement to make the system run more smoothly.

Asked what they would do to control costs in the county attorney's office, Beccue said his office has already started to do that by being one of the first to adopt the e-charge system.

In the system, charges can be filed, complaints signed and delivered to a judge electronically.

Fischer said she felt the county had some duplicated services, including alternative sentencing programs offered by different departments.

In answering a later question related to costs, Beccue said emphatically that there is no duplication of programs in the county. While he agreed that the circle sentencing program could be used more, some other programs serve different types of offenders and are run separately.

Fischer maintained that the alternative programs, which use volunteers, are under-utilized. The programs are more difficult for juvenile offenders, she said, and she has argued against using them as a defense attorney.

However, as county attorney, she said, she would try to see that more young offenders are sent to the programs, which curb recidivism.

Asked about illegal immigration, both said a local jurisdiction could charge undocumented workers with forgery, something Kandiyohi County does frequently.

"We are prosecuting these aggravated forgery cases, because there are real victims," he said. "For every one, some American citizen, often with a Hispanic name or from Puerto Rico, has their tax records skewed."

The two agreed on some issues raised by the questioners.

Both said they support the state's law regarding permits to conceal and carry handguns. Fischer said she did not have a permit; Beccue pulled his permit out of his pocket to show to the small audience and the television camera.

In the case of a dispute between the County Board and a private citizen, Beccue and Fischer said the county attorney's job would be to advise the board.

Both said they agreed with and would follow state laws governing when the public may learn the name of a juvenile charged with a serious crime.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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