Candidates debate in front of cameras

Courtney Blanchard

Beneath the glare of lights and in front of television cameras, three candidates for the 6th Congressional District debated issues and bashed their competitors’ policies.

The Center for the Study of Politics and Governance’s Director Larry Jacobs moderated a debate between Michele Bachmann, John Binkowski and Patty Wetterling that aired on WCCO Saturday night.

The congressional candidates are vying for votes from the home district of many University students, spanning the north metro near the Wisconsin border to St. Cloud.

Jacobs said it’s important to get the candidates out for televised debates, even during short debates like the one held Saturday.

Republican Rep. Mark Kennedy yielded his seat to run for U.S. Senate. Candidates for open seats, like the 6th District, are more likely to participate than incumbents, Jacobs said.

“When you have incumbents who have the name recognition and advantage and have the most to lose, avoiding debates really hurts our democratic process,” he said.

The Minnesota Broadcaster’s Association also sponsored the event and invited panelists from other television studios to ask the candidates questions.

Religion

Pat Kessler from WCCO asked Bachmann, a Republican state senator, about the role of religion in her campaign.

“The church you belong to is affiliated with the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Senate, which it says regards the Roman Catholic pope as the Antichrist. Is this true?” he asked.

Bachmann refuted the statement as “absurd” and said she consulted her pastor, who agrees.

Wetterling, a Democrat, also addressed religion, and said she not only supports separation of church and state, but also people’s religious freedom.

Independence Party member Binkowski said religion distracts voters from real issues.

“I think that we have much bigger issues to talk about,” Binkowski said. “There is nuclear testing happening in North Korea; there is a war in Iraq.”

Transportation

Both Bachmann and Wetterling responded that they would not support an increase in the gas tax to pay for transportation improvements.

Wetterling said transportation money is going toward the wrong things, and said she would support the Northstar Corridor.

“We’ve got to invest in mass transit because it moves people better; it’s better for the environment,” Wetterling said. Bachmann said roads need improvement in the 6th District because most commuters travel suburb-to-suburb, rather than downtown where mass transit goes.

Binkowski said he would increase the gas tax because inflation canceled it out.

“User fees, such as a gas tax, that affect those who use roads, are appropriate taxes,” he said.

Immigration

With the recent bill passed to create a 700-mile fence on the U.S. border with Mexico, the candidates debated how Minnesota should secure its northern border.

Bachmann said Wetterling doesn’t think illegal immigration is a big issue with the people in the 6th District, but said she thinks otherwise.

“We must secure our borders. We must do that now,” Bachmann said.

Wetterling said the current administration created the immigration problem and Homeland Security money wasn’t spent effectively.

Binkowski said, “I believe that building a barbed-wire fence or a chain-link fence across our northern and southern borders is inappropriate.”

He said he supports a “virtual fence,” and finding out what’s driving immigration, even though it may be more expensive.

Negative ads

Recent 6th District debates featured questions about this year’s especially negative campaign season and this debate was no exception.

“There’s nothing wrong with telling the truth about your opponent, saying facts about who they are,” said Bachmann.

Bachmann said she draws the line with untrue ads, like Wetterling’s commercial that said Bachmann wants to raise taxes.

Wetterling said she stands on her record, while Bachmann abandoned hers.

“You can’t support an issue in 1991 Ö and say ‘I’m not running on that (now),’ ” Wetterling said.

She said even though she hates negative ads, she stands by hers.

Binkowski rebutted by saying, “I have not polluted your airwaves with any sort of negative ads whatsoever.”

Who would they vote for?

Near the end of the debate, the candidates asked each other questions that essentially became another platform for attack.

Wetterling questioned how Bachmann could be a leader after being criticized as “too extreme.” Bachmann condemned Wetterling for calling for the withdrawal of troops in an unstable Iraq.

Binkowski asked, “If you could not vote for yourself, which of your opponents would you vote for and why?”

“I thank God we live in America where we don’t have this sort of choice,” said Bachmann, adding, “I would vote for the candidate who’s going to cut taxes … I’d vote for myself.”

Wetterling said she questions Binkowski’s ability, but said, “John, you know what, if I couldn’t vote for myself, I’d vote for you.”