Fourth District U.S. Congress hopefuls sparred Thursday night at the College of St. Catherine’s in St. Paul, debating issues such as higher education funding, the death penalty and the projected budget surplus.
State Rep. Betty McCollum, DFL-St.Paul, state Sen. Linda Runbeck, R-Circle Pines, and Independence Party candidate Tom Foley answered questions from the audience during the debate hosted by Minnesota Public Radio announcer Gary Eichten.
The debate is the first of three leading up to the Nov. 7 election.
Of the 435 national congressional elections this year, Minnesota’s Fourth District is one of a handful getting attention.
The St. Paul-area seat opened up in February after 22-year veteran Rep. Bruce Vento announced his retirement after being diagnosed with cancer, which he succumbed to last week.
DFLers have held the seat for 42 years, which is one of 10 that could decide who controls the U.S House.
In addition, McCollum or Runbeck could become Minnesota’s first congresswoman since 1954, while Foley could become the only Independence Party representative in the House.
During the debate, all three candidates agreed the rising cost of college tuition is problematic, supported making tuition tax deductible for parents and called for increased funding for Pell Grants and other federal funding.
“We need to address this problem before it becomes a crisis,” McCollum said.
However, candidates disagreed about what to do with projected budget surpluses during the next ten years.
McCollum and Foley said the budget surplus should be used to pay down the national debt; stabilize Social Security, Medicare and the health care system; and provide targeted tax relief.
“I want to look at tax cuts for hard-working people,” McCollum said.
However, Runbeck said her first priority would be to provide tax relief for working Americans.
“It is the hard-working people of the Fourth District that made that (surplus) possible,” she added.
Devoting the surplus to tax cuts would be dangerous because the money might not be there, Foley said.
Instead, the money should be used to reduce the $4 trillion national debt to at least $2.5 trillion, Foley said, saving the nation $280 billion in interest.
While Runbeck said she fully supports the death penalty, both McCollum and Foley were strongly opposed.
“I don’t think the death penalty has been effective anywhere,” said Foley, who served as a prosecutor for Ramsey County.
“I think these people should be taken off the streets and should receive long-term incarceration,” he added.
McCollum has served in the state House for eight years. She served on the Environmental Policy and Health and Human Services Policy committees. Before becoming a state representative, McCollum served as a North St. Paul city council member from 1986 to 1992.
Runbeck has been the state senator for the Circle Pines area since 1993 and served as a state representative from 1989 to 1992 before that. She was also a Circle Pines city council member for three years.
As a legislator, Runbeck worked on the Economic Development Budget Division and the Taxes and Tax Law Committee.
Former DFLer Foley switched to the Independence Party earlier this year, after serving as director of the Gov. Jesse Ventura’s Washington D.C. office. He served four terms as Ramsey County Attorney and was also the Commissioner to the National Indian Gaming Commissions.