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Congressional District 8: Radinovich, Stauber debate at area forum

Pete Stauber (left) and Joe Radinovich respond to questions at the 8th Congressional District debate at Madden's Resort on Oct. 8. Nancy Vogt / Echo Journal1 / 3
Democratic candidate Joe Radinovich talks at the 8th Congressional District debate at Madden's Resort. Nancy Vogt / Echo Journal2 / 3
Republican candidate Pete Stauber makes a point at the Oct. 8 debate. Nancy Vogt / Echo Journal3 / 3

Two candidates vying to represent the lakes area and northeastern Minnesota in the U.S. House took several jabs at each other during an otherwise civil 8th Congressional District debate Monday, Oct. 8, at Madden's Town Hall in East Gull Lake.

Joe Radinovich, 32, a Democrat from Crosby, and Pete Stauber, 52, a Republican from Duluth, took turns answering questions that ranged from the economy and tariffs, to mining and the environment, to health care and education, to gun violence, to President Trump's leadership, to a divided constituency, to national security and border security, to money in politics, to teens in crisis.

At one point Radinovich, who said he would protect Social Security and Medicare, pointed at Stauber and looked at the audience in disbelief as Stauber said the Trump administration will not cut either program. "Promises made, promises kept," Stauber said, with Radinovich disagreeing.

For his part, Stauber reiterated twice that Radinovich is the only candidate running negative campaign ads against him, and said he wouldn't run negative ads.

In his opening statement, Radinovich listed three key priorities: protecting retirement security, including Medicare and Social Security; investing in places and people, such as through infrastructure, health care, child care and education; and wrestling away control in the political system from those "buying democracy" and instead returning power to the people, such as those in attendance at the debate.

Stauber said in his opening statement that he believes in "you, the people," while Radinovich believes in bigger government. He said he understands small business and is running for a congressional seat to solve problems and to make sure children and grandchildren have opportunities.

Congress needs more men and women who sign the front of checks, not just the back, and have struggled to make ends meet, Stauber said.

Healthcare

One issue that divided the candidates was healthcare. Radinovich advocates universal single-payer healthcare and said the Republican healthcare plan would endanger people with pre-existing conditions. The problem is affordability, he said, adding we pay more per person than any other nation.

Radinovich believes in finding a way to provide everyone access to healthcare - a basic human right. The United States needs a universal healthcare system like other industrial nations to provide healthcare at an affordable rate, he said.

Stauber agreed healthcare is important and advocated for quality, affordable, accessible healthcare that is physician guided. He said a bipartisan effort is needed by starting with items both sides agree on.

Pre-existing conditions must be met, Stauber said, and he advocated expanding healthcare savings accounts.

He supports allowing kids to be on their parents' healthcare plan until age 26, but not getting there with a hugely expensive government takeover of healthcare. Stauber said the nation needs competitive open markets to benefit consumers.

Stauber said in his closing statement that when Radinovich served as a state legislator, his vote on healthcare drove it right over the cliff, causing hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans to lose health insurance, including those with pre-existing conditions.

"And you want the keys back? You have zero credibility on healthcare," Stauber said.

President Trump

Asked their opinion of President Trump's leadership and how they would work with his administration, Radinovich said he had reservations about the president and wryly said he didn't vote for him.

"His attitude toward women is very troubling," Radinovich said, noting he has deep misgivings about the president and the values he represents.

However, Radinovich said, he recognizes Trump is president so would look to work with him in areas of agreement, such as infrastructure investments.

In a similarly humorous way, Stauber told the audience he did vote for Trump. He said the bottom line is the president has done some good things. There is no perfect human being, but Trump has done good for the economy and law enforcement, Stauber said.

Stauber said he can't defend some matters Trump is involved in any more than he could defend former President Clinton.

He looks at the positives and looks forward to a pro-growth, pro-jobs agenda that he said is propelling the economy forward and helping people.

Mass shootings

Both candidates shared stories of how their lives were personally affected by gun violence. Stauber said he still supports the Second Amendment and allowing law-abiding citizens the right to bear arms to protect themselves or their loved ones against death.

Radinovich said people in crisis and criminals shouldn't have access to firearms, and law enforcement must be prevalent in places where crime is likely.

He supports a ban on high-capacity magazines and bump stocks, raising the age of purchase of such weapons to 21, and background checks to ensure that those who shouldn't have firearms don't have them. He promoted reasonable gun laws and common-sense gun solutions.

Divided constituency

Stauber said the divisiveness is palpable, and he wanted everyone to know that Radinovich is not his enemy, but rather his opponent whom he respects. He pledged to work across the aisle to build relationships and work together.

"I will never blindly follow anyone. I'm an independent thinker. I will always do what's right," he said.

Radinovich said he wants to bring bipartisanship to Washington, D.C., and to focus on issues people care about, such as education, and find common ground.

Education

Radinovich said a college education is important for the country's future and he sees value in apprenticeships and two-year colleges that bring people into higher skills jobs in the workforce. He advocated for free tuition to two-year colleges with some provisions.

Stauber said he hears that the federal government isn't following up on a promise to fully fund special education, and he has a passion to make sure the government lives up to that promise because he has a special needs child.

He advocated to allow more levy money for schools so they can do what they want with it, but said the federal government has to live up to it.

Radinovich supported fully funding special education, noting he was moved after spending time as a paraprofessional in a special education classroom.

Third candidate

Several in the audience tried to get permission to have Independence Party candidate Ray "Skip" Sandman join Radinovich and Stauber on stage for the debate.

Matt Kilian, Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce president, said in an emailed statement that organizers had been planning for this congressional debate since June and invited candidates who were polling at or above 5 percent in an independent, credible poll that was not commissioned by a candidate.

"Although we respect Skip Sandman and are aware of his participation in the Duluth debate, we have not been made aware of any changes to his polling status. For that reason, we have chosen to move forward with the other two candidates in order to cover more issues and audience questions," the statement said.

Kevin Doran, KSTP 5 Eyewitness News anchor and Brainerd native, moderated the debate that was sponsored by the Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce, Brainerd Dispatch, League of Women Voters and Rosenmeier Center for State and Local Government.

The debate was streamed live on the Brainerd Dispatch's Facebook page.