Monday, September 18, 2006

6th District Debate -- St. Cloud 

Following the format I had for the 15A debate, this is an unedited transcript of my notes of the 6th CD debate in St. Cloud, held around the corner from me at the Whitney Senior Center about ninety minutes ago. There were several Cities reporters in attendance -- including Eric Black -- as well as Larry Schumacher from the local paper. This was sponsored by Courage House, Goodwill, Easter Seals, and other groups assisting seniors and the disabled, so their four questions are the first four asked here. Topics are people with disabilities, chronic conditions, public policy roles.

(late add) Post-debate, I saw an email of the Survey USA poll, also shared to me verbally by someone else: Bachmann 50%, Wetterling 41%, Binkowski 5%, undecided 4%. I have a hard time believing 96% of voters have made up their minds. If so though, the next step of the campaign should be a very negative attack on Bachmann. How long before it happens.

UPDATE (11;45pm): Worth comparing my notes below to Gary's. I should also note this point made by Schumacher about the new Wetterling ad/bio:
The thing I don't get is, Wetterling is a household name throughout most of Minnesota already. Plus, she ran for this seat in this same district two years ago. Why do we need to be introduced to her?

Impressions and comments follow.

starting late due to traffic (Bachmann, Hauser moderator)

515 Bachmann arrives, still waiting for Hauser.

533 Hauser arrives -- caught in traffic looking at Rogers damage.

534 Bachmann (Rep) �joy to talk about the least among us�, federal tax attorney and 23 foster children, 5 of their own. These issues are important to me, no easy answers.

536 Binkowski, (IP) �appropriate sitting between other two candidates as the pendulum swings back and forth.� Know how to save a dime. Mountains of debt and an energy legacy.

538 Wetterling (DFL) rehearsed speech. Crawling out of bed one day deciding not to let the bad guys win. Gave law enforcement the tool to go after the bad guys; Amber plan. I hear their challenges, middle class being squeezed, more going out than coming in (gas, education, health care). We can do better.

Four questions from Courage Center.

Q. Health care. People at risk often rely on public health care. What changes would you provide.

W: Programs in Medicaid are usually successful, people go off. Can�t cut, must continue to fund, hand up not a handout. People want to get off Medicaid.
Bi: Medicare/Medicaid very important, largest unfunded liability. Created a program that requires a rising birth rate to sustain. Too many retirees/too few payers-workers. The way to save is to raise age of eligibility, raise cap on where we keep paying into the system. Fiscally they are a great danger to our country.
Ba: Barriers to obtaining these jobs. People with disabilities try to get education and training to be self-sustaining. MN is a leader in this. People can earn skills and break through barriers. We want programs like Medicare/Medicaid as a stopgap, mainstream people into our communities. Demographics are large problem.

Q. Transportation. Access for people with disabilities, what to do about public trans for them, particularly in the rural areas.

Bi: Important to have rail/bus/light rail/roads. More mass transit needed to wean off oil. Important balance.
Ba: Threat of commonality in the district. Everyone talks about it. More roads, intersections, bridges, as well as transit. People overwhelmingly use roads. Look at airport as well. Access for people with disabilities; MN a leader. Often most cost-effective thing they can do is to provide enhancement. Need more lanes on I-94!
W: Transportation key issue. We need mass transit; Northstar needs to be extended to STC. Wasted time now costs more. Connects people to jobs, more time with families. Ethanol and alternative energy is needed. More subways as well. People spending more than $50 more per week on gas (???)

Followup on Northstar:
Ba: Cost-effective transportation system. Northstar not cost-effective from Big Lake to STC. Have to see if it works to Big Lake first.
Bi: Can�t widen roads, too expensive compared to Northstar.
W: Hiawatha was overmatched. People want it, it�s going to happen so pay now rather than more later.

Q: Welfare to work passed in 1996. Funding to states, states will run it.

Ba: States need to have flexibility and control. What we�ll fight for is local control. Block grants to individuals would be good too � the poor need flexibility to make their own choices.
W: TANF is block grants to states. Health care challenges. Each of us is one serious illness away from bankruptcy. TANF sets standards. It worked for a friend of W and worked for taxpayers.
Bi: Tenet of IP is to return control to the local level, agrees with Bachmann. We can give block grants and welfare-to-work programs, but the best way to make people successful is to build our economy and let it create good jobs. Supports fair tax.

Q. Housing. Affordable accessible housing is an issue with declining budgets. How to provide to people with disabilities?
W: Part of middle class squeeze. Daughter works in this area to keep disabled in their homes. Much cheaper than institutionalization. Huge squeeze, people not making it.
Bi: Seek to preserve housing grants for elderly and disabled. We have community support from all around here in St. Cloud. We can take care of each other.
Ba: the great news is how well the economy is doing. Unemployment 3.7%. Well below the national average. 10% of all jobs created in nation created in MN. Tax cuts under Bush were temporary � will make the cuts permanent. *wetterling people boo, Bachmann people drown out with applause*

Followup, what�s your position on the Bush tax cuts? Make permanent or repeal?

Bi: Tax cut as foolish as a tax hike. The Bush tax cut helps created capital gains, doesn�t help as much as fair tax. Need fundamental reform of the tax code.
W; Proposed incentives for middle class tax cuts. Production is up, people making more are not doing better � people no better off than in 1949.
Ba: Repeal capital gains and estate tax. Fair tax means every purchase you make you pay additional 23� per dollar.

Q. Most important issue.

W: Safe communities. No homeland security without that. Help with first responders. Need to improve communications between the people.
Bi: Reform elections and how money affects politics. I�m beholden to no one, the others� campaigns are run from Washington, they�re too tied to DC interests.
Ba: Many terrorists still trying to attack us. Nothing more important than foreign policy and homeland security. We are at war, we all love this nation, the first duty of government is to safeguard the people. Secure the borders, illegal immigration a big issue.

Q. Renewable energy.

Bi: We can lead the world in renewables. Why can�t we just we are going to get off oil? Build up wind turbines.
Ba: Gas up, gas down. We want it to stay down. But we�re dependent for the foreseeable future. MN is a leader in renewables. We are working with ethanol, biodiesels. We should not be dependent on foreign oil. We need to increase supply here. Encourage innovation as a national security issue.
W: It�s a dependence on oil, not just foreign oil. We haven�t put any effort to making differences. Cars no different than 30 years ago. CAF� standards need to be increased.

Q. Federal government doesn�t fund 40% of special ed. How will you handle this issue?

Ba: IDEA act deals with special ed. It�s a mandate bill that requires 40%, federal government never put up more than 14%. Never will come up with the money. We need to lift these mandates, beginning with NCLB.
W: We cannot not fund special ed, it�s criminal. We have to give kids the opportunity to achieve their goals. (No real ideas here.)
Bi: If it is going to hand out mandates it must pay for them. Delete Dept. of Education at federal level, just make it a funding mechanism. Blames Spellings for NCLB when she wasn�t even there then.

Q. Universal health care.

W: Health care should be a right, everyone should be covered. Can happen in stages, seniors first. Price of prescription drugs, donut hole (doesn�t explain), emergency rooms used too much. Doesn�t think we can get there overnight.
Bi: Nobody�s shown us how to pay for it. European countries are bankrupting themselves this way. We need competition in the market. $400 bn of health care dollars go to administration � something wrong with that. Deal with obesity issues for kids.
Ba: Does not support socialized medicine. It hasn�t worked anywhere else won�t work here. This is the best system you can get. We have the best R&D; biosciences so strong here in MN. We have this because of innovation that we get because of the private system. We insure the most people of any state in the union.

Q. Will you vote for a bil that treats mental health(50%) at the same level as physical health (80%)?

Bi: Yes. We have people who are not functioning at the level they could if they got the help the needed.
Ba: Clinic deals with mental health issues. But government doing mandates here has unintended consequences of driving costs up. Not sure it will lead to cost savings. It�s a real issue, I�m opened, but not enough information yet.
W: It is unconscionable to not have parity. Wellstones led this program, I would like to pick up this issue (including troops returning home she says.)

Q. Term limits for Congressmen and Senators.

Ba: Would entertain it but term limiting happens at the ballot box. You can beat incumbents.
Bi: Yes, I would sponsor, beginning with myself.
W: Yes.

Q. Congress on Social Security rather than their own plan?

W: Yes, there needs to be accountability. (Uses disconnect.) Should pay in and take out.
Bi: Yes.
Ba: Yes, legislation just passed, so the offices have to comply. It�s about time.

Q. What can we do to get out of Iraq soon?

Bi: We need to get out soon. Misguided mission, would divide the country. Blight on our national tradition.
Ba: War has been declared on us, and on Israel. The reality is at war. Elements unlike others, but they are real, and the intention hasn�t changed. An attempt four weeks ago to blow up planes. We can�t wish this problem away. If we don�t have the guts to take on this enemy the enemy will take on us.
W: No plan, was the first to call for return of troops. We are not focused on the right war. Iraq is a distraction and allows terrorism to grow.

Q. Would you support overturning Roe v Wade.

Ba: Yes, and it�s a defining issue. Every life is worthy of protection. People with disabilities targeted by Roe.
Bi: No, it shouldn�t propose legislation, it�s a moral issue and government shouldn�t impose morality. We have to move on.
W: No, too many victims that need to look at their lives and be able to make tough decisions.
Closing statements:

W: I know how to get things done in Washington. Be as loud a voice for you as lobbyists are. Congress is not asking questions of this administration. We can do better.
Bi: Other campaigns run from DC. DFL attacks corporations we need to live on, Republicans preach fear. I�m not for any that, not for cowering on our couches instead of barbequing on decks.
Ba: I believe in freedom, I believe in this country. Economic Freedom � people can do what they do best and keep their money. Want to cut taxes. Build roads so our transportation. Brother in the Navy, he is not cowering, we are standing for our country. We have freedom, we are unapologetic for it. We will secure our borders.

Post-debate comments: Mrs. Scholar likes Binkowski, but it was hard for me to see anything positive in his performance. Everyone loves the outside guy, the one willing to mix it up with the other two (as the papers like Hutchinson's stabs at Pawlenty and Hatch last week) but in the end he comes off rather ill-informed. Gary Gross and I compared notes on the Medicare answer for example -- he did not propose cutting anything, but then cited many statistics that show it as unsustainable, and the only cure is to do something about administrative costs. I thought that answer was weak. When he used the line about cowering you could see the DFLers take the line, and then Bachmann nailed him good with the comment about her brother in the navy. This after a nice jab at both parties as running the other campaigns from DC. He seems like a nice guy, but he's not up to speed.

Wetterling has learned in two years, but not a whole lot. She is light with statistics, and relies too much on the word "disconnect" and on selling her experience in children's safety as meaning she can get things done in DC. It didn't sell in 2004. She looks much more comfortable up there now, and has her standard speech reasonably mastered (particularly compared to her disastrous showing in the 2004 televised debate when she looked petrified next to Mark Kennedy -- which frankly takes a little doing, Kennedy not being the most polished debater.) Her opening statement was the best of the three. But she did not go directly to the audience questions most of the time and stayed with rehearsed lines. I just didn't see much mastery of issues there.

Bachmann sometimes shoots a little too much from the hip, and I thought she was going to do that after a lacklustre opening statement. But she attacks questions and doesn't waver from her positions at all. You know what she believes and that she will stand by it. The cutesy girly act we thought she played too much in the primary is gone; she's a mom and a wife, but she's also tough, and her swing back at Binkowski in closing scored points from most people. Despite a lot of crowd noise that should have been better controlled, she knocked out what she had to say over the noise. I think she helped herself, Wetterling didn't hurt herself, and Binkowski showed he wasn't ready to play with the big girls.