By Nancy Madsen, St. Peter Herald - In a repeat of the 2014 election, Rep. Tim Walz, D-Mankato, is challenged by Blue Earth Republican Jim Hagedorn.
Hagedorn’s father and grandfather ran a farm near Truman. His father, Thomas, was a Congressman. Jim Hagedorn worked as a legislative aid to Arlan Stangeland, a Minnesota Republican, and in two bureaus of the Treasury Department.
“My opponent’s been out there for 10 years,” Hagedorn said. “I don’t think he has a very good record for solving big problems.”
But Walz, first elected in 2006, is running on his ability to work with other members of Congress, regardless of party, to fix problems. He touts a study from the Georgetown University McCourt School of Public Policy that placed him fourth most bipartisan among all 435 representatives. The study looked at how frequently bills they sponsored attracted bipartisan co-sponsors and how frequently they signed on as a co-sponsor of legislation sponsored by the opposite party.
Walz is a retired 24-year member of the National Guard, and taught geography and coached football at Mankato West High School.
“This is the most ineffective Congress because it’s the most partisan,” Walz said. “They key to being effective is to figure out ways to co-sponsor bills with the other side, get them passed and signed into law.”
He cited past successes: the 2015 Clay Hunt Act, which boosts veteran suicide prevention; the 2008 Post-9/11 GI Bill and aspects of the 2014 Farm Bill.
“To address any of those, you need to be less partisan,” he said.
Hagedorn said he offers a different vision. “I am standing for solutions,” he said. “My opponent says that we’ve gotta fix Obamacare and I say, ‘Where’s your bill?’”
The two faced off in 2014, when Walz won by 8 percentage points.
Walz and Hagedorn talked about their positions on a few of the most important issues to the region.
Hagedorn said he would repeal several policies that put burdens on farms, including the death tax and Affordable Care Act, known widely as Obamacare. Both energy and health care policy need to be changed to decrease cost for farmers, he said.
“We need to replace Obamacare with free market reforms,” Hagedorn said. His suggestions included allowing competition across state lines, expanding health savings accounts, creating pools for people with expensive medical needs and enacting tort reform.
“We need to enact regulatory reform at the federal level to require that Congress affirms major regulations,” Hagedorn said.
A bill to do that, called the REINS Act, has been introduced. Hagedorn supports it; Walz has voted against it.
“What is going on now with the Obama administration and regulations on coal and the veterinary feed directive — those are extreme and not what Congress intended when they passed the bills,” Hagedorn said. “Congress wrote the laws; they should have a say on how the regulations are implemented.”
Walz said he was proud of the current Farm Bill, which he worked on, but said he wants to bolster crop insurance.
“I want a more robust risk management system, especially for dairy,” he said.
The 2014 U.S. Farm Bill is effective through December 2018, but Walz said it’ll be a high priority beginning in January.
“There is an appetite to start the Farm Bill process right away,” he said.
He warned that the 2014 legislation was threatened by conservative Republicans who wanted to separate food assistance, known as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, from farm safety net programs.
But separating them would lose support from urban legislators, he said. “Los Angeles has 22 representatives,” Walz said. “We have 19 in corn country.”
Walz called alternative energy a “centerpiece of the rural economy.” Several technologies have moved from expensive to near or at par with fossil fuel use.
He has supported the production tax credit for renewable energy sources to draw investors. And he supports federal government research into alternative fuels.
“The Department of Defense is the largest consumer of fossil fuels,” Walz said. “The Navy wants to create the Great Green Fleet, where we power ships with algae.”
That effort has been challenged by conservative Republicans, but has survived. Walz argues that the federal government should conduct basic research. He cites NASA and internet research as examples of programs the government has started, but that have spurred growth in the private sector through further applications.
“We get it into the markets and see what the entrepreneurs can do,” he said.
He said he supports more oil and natural gas drilling, but not in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. He supports additional pipelines, too, but only after the regular environmental review takes place.
Hagedorn said he’s for “all of the above” on energy, “nuclear, renewables, conservation. I don’t think the government should be picking winners and losers.”
The current renewable fuel standards that include ethanol should be maintained, he said.
“Those are promises made to farmers and we shouldn’t be pulling the rug out from under them,” Hagedorn said. “Any changes to that program is based on the threat from left-wing environmentalists who no longer view ethanol and biodiesel as environmentally friendly.”
Hagedorn supports expanding oil drilling in the U.S., including federal lands, coastlines and Alaska. And he supports allowing more pipelines and infrastructure.
Hagedorn said he opposes raising the federal and state gas tax which is “very difficult on people in rural Minnesota.”
Hagedorn has taken a very aggressive stance to crack down on illegal immigration and suspend the refugee resettlement program.
“I’m for legal immigration,” he said. “We need to secure our borders, create a work program to allow people to come and fill needed jobs.”
Hagedorn supports creating safe zones for refugees near areas of conflict.
“We bring thousands of refugees out of those areas, but with the problems we’re having in Minnesota, we need to have a time out,” he said.
He mentioned the September attack in a St. Cloud mall by a Somali refugee who law enforcement believed to be radicalized. There are problems with the existing refugees in the existing system, he said, so a time-out needs to happen.
Walz said comprehensive immigration reform does need to happen so that the government can “ensure the process is working to the best of its ability.”
Walz said candidates and elected officials shouldn’t pander to fears on immigration.
“We are a nation of immigrants,” he said. “The benefits of immigration are all around us. Our six Nobel prize winners in science are all immigrants.”
Taking in refugees is part of America’s role in a humanitarian disaster and shutting down the refugee program would be a knee-jerk reaction. He said the leaders in Muslim and minority communities need to be engaged to help.
“Radicalization is not just from those who immigrated,” he said. “There are citizens, too — those who were born here. The question is ‘How do we steer those youth away?’”
Hagedorn and Walz do agree that the national debt must be reduced.
But they disagree on the how to do that, of course.
“We have to have the proper limits to government,” Hagedorn said. “With things like education and transportation, we need to take those powers and send them back to the state as best as possible.”
He backs zero-based budgeting, where departments must make a case for their allocations each year. He argues that policies that “free up the economy” will help reduce the debt. He calls for simplifying the tax code, passing the REINS Act, opening up federal lands for drilling and requiring work for welfare support.
“At some point, the debt is going to suffocate the economy and change our way of life,” Hagedorn said.
He pointed to the growth of the debt over the last decade, while Walz has been in office. In gross debt, the national debt was $8.5 trillion at the end of the 2006 fiscal year; at the end of the 2016 fiscal year, it will be $19.4 trillion, according to the Office of Management and Budget.
But the Congressional Budget Office considers debt held by the public as opposed to gross debt as the critical figure. That has increased from $5 trillion to $14.1 trillion. That represents 75 percent of the country’s gross domestic product and, under current budgets, will continue to increase to 86 percent of GDP in 2026 and 141 percent in 2046. The previous high was 104 percent at the end of World War II.
Walz agrees that is untenable, but suggests that Congress needs to create a 30-year plan to bring the debt down reasonably. Trying to pay it off quickly would create troubles like Greece has seen under austerity, he said.
Walz believes debt held by the public topping 80 percent of GDP would have major consequences, but a gradual reduction back to 60 percent of GDP would put the country on sound footing.
He supports reforming the tax code to make it fairer and simpler and making changes to Medicare and the Affordable Care Act, two causes of entitlement spending. But repealing the health care law won’t help as it pushes 26 million people out of insurance, he said.
Hagedorn said his top priorities include several veterans’ issues. He supports a House bill to fire or demote Department of Veterans Affairs bureaucrats who mismanage veterans health care cases within 30 to 60 days. He also supports a proposal to allow veterans to choose their doctors and hospitals instead of using the VA system primarily.
Walz added education, job training and affordable housing as major issues for the region. He said he will continue to support funding and maintaining the U.S.’s superior military, as well.
Both candidates continue to support their parties’ presidential nominees, despite the dislike voters have for both.
Walz called former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server “careless.”
Hacking is a daily concern for high-ranking public officials, he said. But he is much more concerned about the “reckless” talk from Donald Trump. He cited Trump’s calling the military “broken,” proposing use of nuclear weapons and cutting communication or support from NATO countries. Foreign Policy, a publication focused on international public policy, endorsed Clinton recently after 48 years with no endorsements.
“It’s a false equivalency to say that they’re flawed to the same level,” Walz said. “Those who have ties to the military and intelligence community are terrified of a Trump presidency.”
For Hagedorn, Donald Trump’s alleged sexual assaults, comments about minorities and women and shows of support for Russia haven’t shaken Hagedorn’s conviction favoring Trump.
“I support the Republican nominee because it all comes down to who’s going to make the appointment to the Supreme Court,” Hagedorn said, referring to conservative fears of growing gun control and abortion rights. “Donald Trump has bold ideas on the border, protecting the country from Islamic terrorism and protecting our Second Amendment rights.”