U.S. Senate candidates debate, hear student voice

by Peter Johnson

Independence Party Gov. Jesse Ventura served as “referee” to the second senatorial debate this election season, held Thursday night in Willey Hall.
The event, which drew about 400 people, was attended by all nine senatorial candidates: DFLer Mark Dayton, Republican incumbent Rod Grams, Independence Party candidate James Gibson, Socialist Rebecca Ellis, Libertarian Erik D. Pakieser, Grassroots Party candidate David Daniels and Constitution Party candidate David Swan.
Sponsored by Youth Vote 2000, Youth Service America, the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group and others, the debate had candidates answer questions from both a panel made up exclusively of students and also from the general audience.
“This debate is unique because it includes all traditional minor party candidates,” Ventura said. “There should be more debates like this one.”
Ventura’s stewardship proved to be somewhat controversial — Grams thought his role was unfair, considering Gibson’s participation.
“Having Gov. Ventura refereeing the event is like having Denny Green refereeing for the Vikings,” Grams said during the debate.
One major issue the candidates debated was the future of federal financial aid for college tuition.
Daniels favored changing the corporate system which he considered the root of the problem, while Dayton said he would make tuition tax deductible and offer a service arrangement to cover tuition costs.
Ellis illustrated the class differences in education, Gibson said students should have a greater responsibility in paying their tuition, and Grams said he would increase tax credits on a per-child basis.
Pakieser said he would eliminate federal financial aid and replace it with capital generated by the elimination of Social Security and income taxes.
“The reality is that (education) costs too much because the federal government is involved with it,” Swan said.
Immigration was also a major issue, with Gibson, Swan, Grams and Dayton favoring immigration regulation, while Daniels, Pakieser and Ellis favored some variant of open immigration.
“I have no fear whatsoever for a person who wants to come to this country,” Pakieser said. “The main purpose of our immigration policy is based on racism and the War on Drugs.”
“No human being should be called illegal and no human should be called an alien,” Ellis said. “Immigrant workers have added a tremendous amount to the American working class.”
Other issues in the debate included energy policy and alternative energy, gays in the military and same-sex marriages, the protection of individual privacy, charges of U.S. imperialism, government subsidies to corporations, the World Trade Organization and abortion.
The format of the debate broke twice as well, when Daniels directly addressed Dayton.
“Mark, you just lied and demonstrated a misunderstanding of the Constitution,” Daniels said, responding to a Dayton on energy policy. “Be real Mark, just be real.”
During the “speak-out,” open-mic portion of the debate, audience members got the chance to address candidates directly.
“I’m a woman, I vote, and I have the right to control my womb and my reproduction,” said University junior Rita Alger. “Don’t ever think you can take that away from me.”