MANKATO Minnesota 1st Congressional District candidates Allen Quist and Democratic incumbent Rep. Tim Walz debated vigorously Tuesday at Minnesota State University in Mankato.
The debate focused on veterans and energy policy. It also featured a wide array of sub-topics on major political issues.
Unlike the fierce Sept. 27 debate in Rochester, Walz and Quist found several topics they could agree on. However, each led to spirited sub-discussion on the various aspects associated with each topic.
Both candidates were highly critical of the growth of the federal debt, which they called "irresponsible." They disagreed on how to resolve it. Quist said he opposed any tax increase, even ones like ending the Bush-era tax cuts. Walz said that the deficit could only be solved for good through a mixed approach, with a primary focus on ending tax breaks for the top 2 percent of income earners and a mix of "smart tax cuts." Quist said that any tax increase would be a drag on the economy and would stunt growth. After the debate, Quist said he would accept a tax raise only if he could definitely know it would create a net increase to offset it. Walz also said he recognized there would only be so much of the deficit that could be dealt with by ending tax cuts to the top earners.
Quist and Walz were also unified in stating they would make no cuts to veteran benefits in deficit reductions actions. Walz called veterans the best investment for the government and said the government's investments in veterans after World War II helped fuel the engine of strong economic growth. Quist added that he would also make no cuts or changes to Medicare or Social Security. He said that they constituted a contract between the U.S. government and the people that must be honored.
Both candidates stated they were strongly opposed to the portion of the recent National Defense Authorization Act that allows the indefinite detention of the American citizens without charge or due process. However, the Quist campaign criticized Walz after the debate for his statement because he had voted for the act.
Finally, both candidates agreed that the major focus of future national security had to be on high-tech cyber security. They said that the danger caused by attacks to computer and electronic systems could surpass what could be made up for with a traditional army.
There was still strong division between the two candidates on several topics. The biggest division was over the Affordable Care Act, President Obama's health care reform law. Walz said health care should rise to the level of the Mayo Clinic while bringing the increasing cost of health care under control. Quist said that government was too ineffective to ever bring down costs of health care.
Walz and Quist also returned to old points of contention, such as the stalled Farm Bill. Walz said that it should be passed due to its universal approval and ending of costs such as direct payments to farmers. He said the bill was essential to allow farmers to plan for the next year. Quist repeated that he opposed the Farm Bill for also containing the Nutrition Bill, calling the food stamp portion out of control. Walz again criticized Quist for taking nearly $600,000 in farm subsidies, then criticizing the passage of the bill. Quist fired back again that he considered Walz a hypocrite for supporting the bill. Walz concluded by arguing that the bill was not perfect, but it was better than the harm caused by not passing any bill.
Walz and Quist also presented a diversity of views that weren't direct opposition to each other. When asked about controlling the cost of college, Quist said he would like to see $10 billion in foreign economic aid re-allocated evenly between transportation and education costs. He said that he had serious issues with concept of foreign aid, and that a serious debate on where and if it should be applied was needed.
Other issues that had been minimally seen this campaign season were brought up during the debate. Both candidates were asked whether they supported the use of "enhanced interrogation." Walz said he opposed it and said that it should plainly be called "torture." Quist said he was against its use on U.S. citizens, but that it would depend on many factors regarding foreign nationals. He was not willing to further clarify his position after the debate.
The candidates were also asked about whether there was a need for change in gun laws to prevent violence. Both candidates said they did not feel changing gun laws would curb gun violence. Walz said the solution needed to focus on improving access to mental health care. Quist said that there was an increased correlation between gun violence and other social ills and the weakening number of married families. He said that it could be definitively determined it would help, but he said he believes strengthening married couple families would put a dent in things like gun violence.
(Josh Moniz can be e-mailed at email@example.com)