U.S. House hopefuls debate on U campus

Courtney Blanchard

Four U.S. House hopefuls joined Carlson School of Management lecturer and Republican candidate Alan Fine on his turf Wednesday night in a battle over who will take the 5th Congressional District seat.

The Minnesota Public Interest Research Group, along with other University student groups, hosted the debate in Anderson Hall, giving Fine a chance to square off with candidates Jay Pond (Green), Keith Ellison (DFL) and Tammy Lee (Independence). Socialist-Workers Party write-in candidate Julian Santana unexpectedly arrived at the last minute.

Global politics senior Maggie Dalzell, leader of the Democracy Task Force, said her organization decided to hold the congressional and secretary of state debates this week to educate students on the issues.

“The District 5 race is kind of a big deal right now,” she said.

Dalzell said her group decided to open part of the debate to questions directly from the audience, giving students a rare opportunity to have their issues addressed.

American studies junior and Democracy Task Force member Joel Kinder moderated the event.

Kinder said he hadn’t moderated a debate before, but wanted to get involved because he thinks people have a moral responsibility to vote.

“I thought it would be a really interesting experience,” he said.

No candidate left behind

Every candidate except Santana criticized the No Child Left Behind Act, one of the few topics the candidates agreed on.

“I’m 47 years old and I’ve never heard of a politician saying they’re not for increasing education,” said Pond.

Fine said as an educator, he recognized that each student has different needs and a blanket standard is ineffective.

Fine also said his experience will give him a unique perspective in Washington, and agreed with every candidate that higher education needs to be more affordable.

Lee said she would support expanding the Pell Grant and programs that give high school students an opportunity to jump-start their college educations.

“We can’t fund everything, but we can fund the right things,” she said.

Ellison said several times throughout the evening that students who work for the public interest after college should have their loans forgiven.

Iraq and terrorism

Every candidate also said they supported pulling troops out of Iraq, but differed on strategies.

“We all agree that we got into this war for the wrong reasons,” said Lee, who added that she supported Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. John Murtha’s plan to build a timetable to pull troops out of Iraq while pledging to rebuild the country.

Santana said the Socialist-Worker Party has been opposed since the beginning.

“We call for U.S. troops and coalition troops out of Iraq right away,” he said.

Ellison defined his call for withdrawal.

“‘Bring the troops home now,’ means, of course, orderly, rational withdrawal,” he said.

Pond said while he wants the troops out immediately, neither the Democratic or Republican party truly supports an “out now” policy. He added that the House and Senate should act to serve the interest of the Iraqi people.

An audience member asked about the candidates’ views on the recently passed Military Commissions Act, which would deny Geneva Convention protections to those declared enemy combatants.

“We can’t let terrorists, or anybody who wants to harm us, make us give up our constitution,” Ellison said.

He compared the act’s policy on habeas corpus to Japanese internment camps in World War II.

Pond said the bill is wrong, and if elected, he would impeach the president.

“There is nothing patriotic about the Patriot Act,” Lee said. She said recent measures like the Military Commissions Act and wiretapping programs have “trampled on our rights.”

“Every president has been vilified in office,” said Fine, “Protection is also a right.”

Fine said the country needs to balance protection and civil rights, and both sides need to work together on the issues.

Money

Whether it came down to the minimum wage or special interests funding campaigns, money was a big topic at the debate.

Santana, a write-in candidate with little exposure, said, “My campaign hasn’t raised too much money.”

The audience laughed, but Santana used his seat at the debate to raise issues of fair labor practices and worker safety.

Ellison said he sponsored a Fair and Clean Elections bill in the Minnesota House, and thinks publicly funded campaigns would benefit politics.

“It’s hard raising money,” said Lee, who said she would prefer elections be based on the best person for the job rather than who can raise the most money.

Pond said that he doesn’t accept any political action committee money, and noticed while observing Congress for six months that legislators spend their evenings fund raising.

As far as money, Pond also said Congress needs to take one step above increasing the minimum wage, and pass a “living wage.”

Fine said as an entrepreneurship teacher he didn’t think such a measure would solve any problems.

“As far as I’m concerned, raising the minimum wage is just a Band-Aid,” Fine said.

The key to giving people better lives, Fine said, is economic development and creating job opportunities.

Reaction

Political science sophomores Christine Lee and Carrie Blakeslee both said Lee did best, but Pond’s humor stole the show.

French and international business sophomore Mitch Porter said he came to the debate an undecided voter.

He said while public opinion supports Ellison, he was impressed by Lee.

“She did better because she received no negative reaction from the crowd, kept her composure and had good stage presence,” he said.