The first public debate between the three candidates seeking the DFL endorsement for Minnesota’s only open congressional seat brought out sharp differences on gun laws and raised the possibility that one of the well-funded candidates could make a primary run if she doesn’t get the endorsement of party delegates.
Mary Lawrence, who has largely funded her own campaign with $1,170,000 in personal loans, said she is not going to commit to abiding by the DFL endorsement. “I think we need to have someone with good resources to take the message to the voters. And that’s what I plan to do,” Lawrence said Friday night on Twin Cities Public Televison’s Almanac.
“You can’t win a seat in Congress by yourself,” replied Angie Craig who has raised about $835,000 for her campaign with $375,000 of that coming from personal loans. “I think the only way Democrats win this seat in 2016 is if we come out of the endorsing convention united behind one candidate and put our eyes on November.”
Roger Kittelson, a recent entry into the race, said he like Craig would abide by the DFL endorsement, but broke ranks with her when it came to gun laws. “I am a hunter and I’m an owner of a gun, multiple guns. And I would not change any laws to increase the laws to forbid individuals, law abiding citizens, to own guns.” When asked if he would lift a ban Congress has imposed on the Centers for Disease Control funding gun violence research, Kittelson said “No I wouldn’t. No.” He then went on to talk about how violence in schools is a result of a “breakdown in the family.”
A call for stricter gun laws
“My sons hunt as well,” said Craig. “But, as a mother, and as a Congresswoman, I could not continue to sit idly by and allow us do nothing in this country with the epidemic of mass shootings that we’re seeing. I believe there is strong bi-partisan support for universal background checks, for closing some of the loopholes and for bans on the massive weapon cartridges that we’re seeing today.”
Lawrence said she grew up with guns in her household, her father is a gun collector and her sons own hunting rifles. But she found the lack of congressional action unsatisfactory. “This is a public health issue. We have so many deaths, so much bloodshed from gun violence,” said Lawrence. “I think that we absolutely have to have a background check on everybody, everybody who buys a gun in this country.”
The candidates were also asked about terrorism and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s call for a ban on Muslim immigration. Craig said Trump’s comments were “deplorable.” “I was very disappointed this week that none of the Republican candidates in this race decried his comments publicly,” she said referring to the five candidates who are seeking the Republican endorsement in her race. Craig said the U.S. should accept the 10,000 Syrian refugees it has agreed to take. Lawrence agreed “I believe it’s our American value to accept them. We should accept them. I’m very proud of our governor and the state of Minnesota that we have said that we will accept Syrian refugees.”
Kittelson generally agreed on the refugee issue.”But on a temporary basis so that when we can reestablish them back into their homeland, we can get them back home to where they really want to live.”
Kittleson said he saw no role for the U.S. in fighting ISIS in Syria or having troops at all in the Middle East. Craig and Lawrence said the U.S. should fight ISIS, but neither wanted to commit to a large number of ground troops.
The candidates were also asked about tax policy, including gas taxes.
The DFL says the three candidates will participate in several question and answer forums before the March 1 caucuses.
Cathy Wurzer: Angie Craig, since we’re going alphabetically, I’m going to toss the first question your way. Polls, as you know, show that many americans are worried about terrorism and there are efforts underway to tighten say the visa waiver program in Congress. Donald Trump is calling for a ban on Muslim immigration. Half of Americans sampled support at least a temporary ban on immigration. What should be done?
Angie Craig: Well, I think the comments first of all from Donald Trump are absolutely deplorable. And I was very disappointed this week that none of the Republican candidates in this race decried his comments publicly. I think what we need to do as a nation is we do need to look at, make sure, that protecting the safety and security of our nation is our first priority. We need to look at some of the visa programs in this nation.
But I will say also that the refugee program, the 10,000 refugees that we agreed to take, I believe that we really decry our American values when we shut down our borders to refugees. That is one of the safest longest 18 to 24 months process that we have in this country. And so I just want to make sure in all of this that we are able to somehow maintain the American values that I think the second congressional district believes in.
Eric Eskola: Dr Lawrence, what do you think?
Mary Lawrence: I agree that we need to keep our American values. Our country is made up of mostly immigrants or decedents of immigrants. At the bottom of the Statue of Liberty it says give me your tired your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Yearning to breathe free. The Syrian refugees are yearning to breathe free. They’re trying to get away from an oppressive regime, from murder, from terrorism, from violence. And I believe it’s our American value to accept them. We should accept them. I’m very proud of our governor and the state of Minnesota that we have said that we will accept Syrian refugees.
Wurzer: Mr Kittelson?
Roger Kittelson: I agree. Let’s bring in the refugees. But on a temporary basis so that when we can reestablish them back into their homeland, we can get them back home to where they really want to live.
Wurzer: Should there be a U.S. role in fighting ISIS in Syria?
Wurzer: Why not?
Kittelson: I ran for Congress, most people know, in 2008. I ran because I was against the war in Iraq. I was against any of our involvement in the Middle East. I feel like Congressman Rick Nolan that they can settle it.. they can settle their disputes their way. It’s in my opinion a religious war and the United States should be bringing their troops home and keeping them at home.
Wurzer: Angie Craig, should there be a US role in fighting ISIS in Syria?
Craig: Well I think that America must lead in the war against ISIS. I believe our airstrikes are starting to make a difference. I think that our special operations units that we’ve now ramped up are important. I don’t support massive ground troops in Syria or Iraq. Because I, as a mother I don’t want to put parents in the position of their sons and daughters in war unless we have a specific objective and outcome. I think we give the terrorists exactly what they want if we have a western invasion of the Middle East. And I don’t think it would be productive or strategic of us to do it at this point.
Wurzer: Dr. Lawrence?
Lawrence: I believe that ISIL is a cancer. It is a cancer that needs to be destroyed. And I think we have evidence that its metastasizing. The attacks in Paris, the events in California, show that we absolutely must control this. I believe that we should work with our allies to come up with a strategy, a military strategy that will destroy this cancer.
I worked at Walter Reed (Army Medical Center) every day. I walked through the halls. I saw our wounded warriors. I saw our American heroes who’ve been wounded. I know the cost of war. I know the price of our freedom.
Wurzer: So are you saying you would send U.S. soldiers into Syria?
Lawrence: I believe we should work with our allies. I think we need to get good military … I’m not a military strategist and I think that we should think very carefully about having a big ground invasion. But I am not a military strategist. I think we need to depend on our allies in Europe and our allies in the Middle East to come up with a good military strategy. I also think that we need to come up with a strategy for the online, compelling, ah, ah, compelling situation they are using to ah, to get young people especially, to ah, fight their war.
Wuzer: Their recruiting.
Lawrence: Their recruiting.
Eskola: Every time there’s a mass shooting we hear calls for more gun control. Existing law enough or would you press for more or less?
Kittelson: I am a hunter and I’m an owner of a gun, multiple guns. And I would not change any laws to increase the laws to forbid individuals, law abiding citizens, to own guns.
Eskola: How about you Doctor?
Lawrence: I think gun violence is a big problem. I hearing it in the district talking to people. This is an issue that is a public health issue. And we now have a Congress that is fighting over a ban from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) to even study this. This is a public health issue. We have so many deaths, so much bloodshed from gun violence we need to… I grew up with guns. My father’s a gun collector. My sons own hunting rifles and shotguns. I believe every law abiding citizen in this country should be able to own and use firearms. But I think we need to have absolute, ah um, ah , we should, I think that we absolutely have to have a background check on everybody, everybody who buys a gun in this country. We’ve closed the gun show loophole…
Eskola: Where are you on this Miss Craig?
Craig: I, I, you know, Minnesota. Minnesota hunting is a way of life. My sons hunt as well. But, as a mother, and as a Congresswoman, I could not continue to sit idly by and allow us do nothing in this country with the epidemic of mass shootings that we’re seeing.
I believe there is strong bi-partisan support for universal background checks, for closing some of the loopholes and for bans on the uh massive weapon cartridges that we’re seeing today. So I think, I think that the.. America is ready for us to have some new ideas on this topic.
Wurzel: So obviously a difference of opinion here between the candidates on this. By the way would you, would you fund… lift the ban on funding federal gun violence research.
Kittelson: No I wouldn’t. No. I’m a… I believe in empirical research— research for the sake of knowing and more research is good. We can look and see the problems in the St. Paul school districts or any school districts where there’s more violence. And you can go back and just say it’s the breakdown of the family that’s probably the basis. Lack of discipline in the house is really the basis for a lot of the problems in the schools as well as the gun violence.
You know, children need a strong father and a strong mother working together in most cases. Or strong parents. And when you’ve got two strong parents basically dictating like I did to my four children. “You’re going to listen to the teachers. They’re in charge and you’re going to do what they tell you to do.” That’s the…you know that’s the way I was brought up and that’s the way my children are brought up. And even though I had a problem with one (chuckles) one of my boys, generally when you’ve got that strong discipline in the family that my ex-wife and I performed as parents, it shows. It, the results are good.
Craig: Roger I just don’t agree. I think we got to have more research on gun violence in this country. And I think that the American mothers that I know, we’re pretty tired of saying there’s nothing that can be done about this. That America has to live with it.
Eskola: How about tax policy. There’s always talk about redistribution of wealth on the Democratic side. What about a Craig tax policy?
Craig: Well look, I think in this country we generate a lot of revenue through taxes. What I wouldn’t ever support is a tax that put more of the middle class at a disadvantage. We just saw a Pew research study this week that said under half of the population has now fallen below the middle class. Eric, I grew up in a trailer park. So I know better than most that we have to give people in our country that path to opportunity. So I’m going to be working for working class families as the next Congresswoman and going to be working to make sure that public education is a priority. That college affordability is something that we finally tackle in this nation. That we’re creating 21st century jobs that are meaningful, good paying that pay a living wage. And that we’re protecting our seniors.
Wurzer: Speaking of taxes, I know that infrastructure is a big issue in the second district. And people always complain about roads and ah, fixing them and building and bridges. Would you support raising the gas tax build more roads and bridges, at least repair them? It has not been raised since the 90s.
Kittelson: Well I can honestly say that I believe in Washington, the committee, the transportation committee should look at all of the options that are on the table. Whether it’s a gas price increase, bonding, whatever. They should be the ones deciding. They’re elected. We’re going to, hopefully, one of us is going to be elected, and we’ll make those decisions. If on the table is a gas hike and that’s the most… makes the most common sense, then I’d be in favor of it.
Lawrence: I think think that there should be revenue neutral total tax reform. And certainly a gas user fee, a gas tax would be one of the things on the table. but we need to reform our tax code. We need to simplify it. And we need to make sure that the middle class, the backbone of our society is strong and that will create a strong middle class will create a great economy. And we’ll succeed as a nation and we’ll get more tax revenue.
Wurzer: Will you abide by the endorsement?
Lawrence: Ah, I have not, ah at this point I will work really hard, I’m working really hard to reach the endorsement. Um I, I haven’t been… due to the Hatch Act I’ve been unable to do anything partisan.
Wurzer: So it’s doesn’t like your going to commit at this point?
Lawrence: I’m not going to commit. I’ve been working hard for the last few months…
Wurzer: Angie Craig, will you abide by the endorsement?
Craig: Absolutely. I think the only way Democrats win this seat in 2016 is if we come out of the endorsing convention united behind one candidate and put our eyes on November. And I’ve been incredibly humbled to receive now over 55 endorsements from DFL elected officials — now the majority of elected folks in the capitol in my district have endorsed me — labor organizations. We have to unite and make sure that we take that seat next November.
Wurzer: Roger Kittelson?
Kittlelson: Those are our plans.
Wurzer: So you will abide?
Kittlelson: That’s… those are our plans.
Lawrence: We’ve had really good Democratic candidates in this district and they have not been able to win. And I think we need to have someone with good resources to take the message to the voters. And that’s what I plan to do.
Craig: The only way we win is if we have our traditional allies around… allied around us and we take that seat. You can’t win a seat in Congress by yourself.
(Debate ends and Almanac continues with other stories)