4th District candidates face off in St. Paul

Courtney Blanchard

Nestled in a quaint residential neighborhood, the University’s St. Paul campus is isolated from the city’s bright lights, noise and contentious politics.

While the 5th Congressional District race is drawing the most attention on the Minneapolis campus, the muted 4th District race blends in amid the pastoral landscape of the St. Paul campus.

Incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum faces one challenger, Republican Obi Sium. The race has attracted minimal media attention since Jack Shepard, an eccentric dentist and accused felon living in Italy, lost to Sium in the Republican primary.

The race is considered a “safe seat” for the DFL, said University political science professor emeritus William Flanigan.

He said McCollum is an effective campaigner who would be difficult to pry from the seat she’s held since 2001.

“It’s very hard for the Republicans to see themselves as successfully challenging her,” Flanigan said. “And so they put their effort and money into other races.”

Both parties concede safe races to the other party, Flanigan said, and the result is often less polling and media attention.

This means many people aren’t aware of the incumbent’s challenger, the issues or the differences between candidates, he said.

First-year architecture student Janneke Schaap said she’s only aware of candidates’ names in the upcoming election and will do research to find out about the candidates and issues.

“I’m not just going to vote for someone I don’t know,” she said.

Schaap, who lives in Bailey Hall and plans to vote for the first time in November, said voting based only on a candidate’s party is a big mistake. She said she’ll turn to resources like Minnesota Public Radio’s election coverage to research candidates.

Obi Sium

Sium is a water resources engineer with the Department of Natural Resources who isn’t afraid to express his political views.

“The liberals and their ideas will take America downhill,” he said.

In a recent interview, Sium discussed his background growing up poor in the African country Eritrea, where he said he walked barefoot for three miles to a tiny village schoolhouse. Advancing himself through the education system, he eventually earned a degree in civil engineering.

Sium moved to the United States in 1973. He said he’s running for Congress because it’s a continuation of the oath he took to defend the Constitution when he became a citizen.

“I’m for lower taxes and smaller size of government,” he said. “There’s a lot of fraud and waste in government.”

Sium said he wants to improve education, reinvent health care and make sure the country is defended from terrorism.

He said he supports the war in Iraq and that the United States needs to send more troops, because America as a superpower has the ability to bring peace to the region.

“I don’t care who’s doing the killing, it’s done on our watch,” he said. “America is ultimately responsible.”

The United States should withdraw troops after borders are secure and Iraqis are equipped to defend themselves, Sium said.

Betty McCollum

Without a lot of money or a well-known family name, McCollum said she was reluctant to run for Congress in 2000. However, the same group of supporters who urged her to run for North St. Paul City Council after her daughter was injured in a playground accident suggested she take her skills to Washington.

Like Sium, McCollum’s top issues include Iraq, education and health care. She and Sium agree that the country needs to push for clean energy.

McCollum said she wants to provide health care at the national level and give more money to higher education through programs like the Pell Grant.

“If the Democrats take control (of the House), I think that it would be wise for the Bush administration to realize that the American people have spoken Ö that America needs to go in a new direction,” she said.

McCollum voted against authorizing force in Iraq in 2002. She said the president needs a plan to withdraw troops from the country.

The three-term congresswoman said she voted for the first time in 1972, when the voting age was lowered to 18.

When college students don’t vote, she said, they forfeit their voice to those who do show up to the polls.

And even though her vote for presidential candidate George McGovern didn’t get him elected, McCollum said it was worthwhile.

“I believe I did make a difference, because the (country’s direction) did change,” she said.