By Heather J. Carlson, Rochester Post Bulletin - U.S. Rep. Tim Walz and Republican challenger Jim Hagedorn offer voters in the 1st Congressional District a sharp contrast in this political rematch.
Walz is wrapping up his fifth term in Congress. Before entering politics, Walz taught geography and coached football at Mankato West High School. He pulled off an election upset in 2006 when he defeated incumbent Rochester Republican Gil Gutknecht. The Democratic congressman touts his willingness to work across the aisle and belief in America's potential.
"I've got a history of building coalitions and serving in this district to get things done. I'm an optimist on what America can do as opposed to a fear-based approach on what American can't do," the Mankato Democrat said.
Hagedorn views Walz's time on Capitol Hill very differently. The Blue Earth Republican accuses Walz of repeatedly voting against his district in favor of harmful government regulation.
"I want to go to Washington and reform the federal government so we can have a better country. I don't want to go and transform the United States because I think we can have a great country if we get government out of the way and reform things," he said.
Hagedorn spent the bulk of his career working in Washington, D.C., as a former congressional staffer to U.S. Congressman Arlan Stangeland. He also worked for the U.S. Department of the Treasury before moving back to his home state. His father was former Minnesota Congressman Tom Hagedorn.
Walz and Hagedorn faced off two years ago. The congressman defeated his GOP rival with 54 percent of the vote.
Obamacare: A mistake or worth keeping?
One major area of disagreement is health care. Hagedorn said Walz made a critical mistake when he voted in favor of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
"That was the worst vote he'll ever cast in Congress, and it was really bad because Minnesota didn't need it. Ninety-three percent of Minnesotans already had some sort of health insurance before Obamacare," he said.
Hagedorn vowed that if elected, he would support scrapping Obamacare and replacing it with other free-market based reforms. That would include letting people buy insurance across state lines, providing direct tax credits for people when buying insurance and creating a high-risk pool for people with pre-existing conditions.
Walz stands by his vote for Obamacare, saying "I will not apologize for getting 20 million people insurance." He rejects attacks from conservatives — including Hagedorn — that the law is a disaster.
He added, "Two years ago when (Hagedorn) said this was absolutely going to destroy our economy, has that happened in Rochester? Has the economy been destroyed? Has the economy of southern Minnesota been destroyed?"
Walz agrees the law needs improvements but notes that Medicare has had over 1,000 votes to improve it since it was established in 1965. He favors trying to help reduce costs for the 5 percent of Minnesotans in the individual market and take action to curb rising prescription drug costs.
The two also differ on national security. Hagedorn accuses Walz of not taking action to secure America's borders. The GOP candidate favors the U.S. taking a time out from allowing refugee resettlement in the U.S. Instead, he supports setting up refugee safe zones in war-torn areas.
"Walz has a pre-9/11 mindset — open borders, more refugees from countries that hate America. He hasn't made border security an issue at all," Hagedorn said.
Walz rejects that criticism, saying national security has been a priority in his life. A former command sergeant major in the National Guard, Walz said he believes the key to defeating terrorism is a long-term, multi-generational plan that relies on coalition building, anti-radicalization efforts at home and some military action.
"My opponent seems to think it's like Beetlejuice — you say the name (Islamic terrorism) three times and it's fixed. It's not fixed by simply saying that and it does nothing to alienate the very communities here that we need to get on board," Walz said.
The candidates offer different visions on how best to create jobs. Hagedorn talks extensively about the need to cut bureaucratic red tape and lower taxes in order to boost the economy. The Blue Earth Republican argues that the nation's regulatory agencies are "out of control" when it comes to passing costly rules that hit small and medium businesses hard.
"If you go anywhere and start talking to small businesses or farmers, they'll all tell you the same thing: The federal regulations are just consuming them," Hagedorn said.
Walz contends that the best way to create new jobs is to make investments in job training, supporting renewable energy and backing fair trade deals. Steps also need to be taken to make higher education more affordable.
He added, "We've got to get people trained, and we've got to make sure you don't leave college with so much debt you can't choose those professions that we need and the career you want to pursue."