Third District debate: Independence Party candidate is front and center

At a three-way debate last night, Erik Paulsen, the Republican candidate for Congress from Minnesota’s Third District, said he would vote against the big bailout package for the financial markets now moving through Congress. His opponents, Democrat Ashwin Madia and David Dillon of the Independence Party, both said the deal stinks, but they would support it because the alternatives are too horrible to risk.

“I wouldn’t be supporting it,” said Paulsen, a state representative from Eden Prairie, because it leaves the taxpayers on the hook for too much money to cover bad loans. Paulsen also blamed the creation of the credit crisis on inaction “by the Democrats who control Congress,” which elicited a minor gasp from the audience.

“I support it, but I’m not happy about it,” Madia, an attorney and Iraq veteran, said the of the bailout package. The country has no choice, he said, because it has to try to “contain the virus” that the bad loans have injected into the economy.

The debate, sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council and held in Bet Shalom, a Hopkins synagogue, featured a race for an open seat to replace the retiring Republican Rep. Jim Ramstad. It is widely rated a toss-up. The suburban Third District curves around Minneapolis on the north, west and south.

‘Iran is not a threat’
Paulsen took a shot at Madia for saying in an earlier debate during the DFL endorsement campaign that “Iran is not a threat.” Madia replied that, as a Marine who served in Iraq, he doesn’t call a nation a “threat” unless he thinks it is a situation requiring military attack.

Madia gigged Paulsen for several votes he cast as a Minnesota state representative, all designed to make Paulsen look either like an extreme social conservative or as a tool of special interests.

For example, Madia said Paulsen had voted in favor of the teaching of “intelligent design” as an alternative to evolution in Minnesota public schools, and had support amending the Minnesota Constitution to ban same-sex marriage. Paulsen replied that this was a “complete mischaracterization” of his votes. He said he voted only to allow Minnesota school districts the option of teaching “intelligent design,” and that he didn’t “focus on” or “speak on” the same-sex marriage amendment. Although he ultimately acknowledged that he had voted for the amendment, he said “I have never focused on issues that turn off swing voters.”

Paulsen also accused Madia of “taking his votes out of context.” Madia challenged him to put the votes in proper context. Paulsen didn’t reply.

Neither Paulsen nor Madia ever criticized nor emphasized areas of disagreement with Dillon. This reflects Dillon’s role in Minnesota’s unusual tripartisan system. Dems and Repubs often cozy up to the Independencites.

Dillon sat physically between the two, denouncing them both as “a professional politician and a professional politician wannabe,” indicating that he agreed or disagreed with one or the other of them on various issues. For example, after Paulsen’s awkward I-voted-for-it, but I-didn’t-speak-for-it and I-don’t-emphasize-it moment on social issues, Dillon weighed in, more in sadness than in anger, saying that “Erik has come out of the right wing of the Republican Party” and now “he’s running away from his record.”

Dillon, who says he grew up in a DFL family, then became a Republican because of Democrats’ tendency to favor too much government, said he was driven from the GOP because of its obsession with right-wing social issues (Terry Schiavo was mentioned), and that “we ought to be long past the point of putting a stick in Charles Darwin’s spokes” (a reference to the teaching of “intelligent design”).

Dillon also portrayed Madia as a captive of the Democratic Party’s special interests. For example, in discussing his beliefs that tort reform would help hold down health care costs, Dillon dared Madia to agree with him or say anything that would antagonize trial lawyers, an important Dem constituency. He likewise suggested that Madia’s support for a bill to make it eaiser for unions to organize new shops reflected Madia’s obeisance to organized labor.

But Dillon also occasionally took Madia’s side.

While discussing the big bailout, which is sometimes justified by the logic that companies like the insurance giant AIG are so big that the nation can’t allow them to fail, Madia got the second-biggest laugh of the night with this line:

“If a company is too big to fail, it’s probably too big.”

Dillon endorsed that idea when his turn came.

Smart and funny

As he did in the first debate of the race in August, Dillon may well have stolen the show. He comes across as smart and occasionally funny.

If you’re wondering what got the biggest laugh of the night, it also went to Dillon while discussing his position on immigration. He pooh-poohed the idea that fences are the answer to keeping out illegal immigrants and said: “The practical effect of putting up a 10-foot-tall fence on the Mexican border will simply be to create a demand for 11-foot ladders.”

At the reception after the debate, most of the audience members with whom I spoke talked about Dillion, saying his strong performance had taken them by surprise. Many of them had never seen him before, and he may be benefitting by low expectations or even no expectations.

It would still be a political miracle if Dillon won. No member of his party has ever received more than 21 percent in a congressional race (that was Tammy Lee in 2006 in the Fifth District). And he has little money or institutional support, especially compared to his rivals, who have the full backing of their national party organizations. Most of the voters will not make it to a debate. But Dillon is being noticed by those who do.

If you’d like to hear a little of the debate with your own ears, the link below will get you the closing statements. It’s about two minutes per candidate, and the order is Paulsen, Dillon, Madia.

AUDIO: A six-minute excerpt from Tuesday’s Third District congressional debate

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Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by Dan Bromelkamp on 09/24/2008 - 12:58 pm.

    The fact that Ashwin volunteered to join the United States Marine Corps after attending law school says a lot about his character. As a young lawyer, primed for a high paying position at a top law firm, he could have opted for the money. But instead, he became a Marine, and spent 4 years serving our country proudly. For that, he deserves our gratitude.

    Madia served in Iraq, stationed primarily in Baghdad in 2005 and 2006. He worked with U.S. military and civilian officials, European Union and United Nations representatives, and Iraqi judicial officers on the Integrated Rule-of-Law Mission. He also briefed top U.S. generals on the status of rule of law efforts in the country.

    Spend 5 minutes with Ashwin, and you sense his strong commitment to serve the country he loves. His thoughtful approach to difficult challenges and his willingness to take principled stands have inspired me.

    Take a closer look at Ashwin’s positions on the issues… he will work to make education more affordable for Minnesota families, bring fiscal responsibility to Washington D.C, and bring a responsible end to the war in Iraq.

    Madia: Fighting for Middle Class Families

  2. Submitted by David Hoden on 09/23/2008 - 09:10 pm.

    Mitch, actually Madia is a taxpayer…Marines (4 years) is a real job and 1 year at Robbins, Kaplan…he does not state he works there, he worked there till he resigned to commit all his efforts to running for Congress in late October, 2007. As far as being a father, I’m glad you are, but that is irrelevant as far as his qualifications. Why don’t you call his HQ and ask to speak with him, get to really know him, and you will probably end up like many of us….Madia supporters. Dillon seems nice enough, but his biggest asset seems to be his one liners…hardly qualifications for Congress. I believe Madia has more depth and understanding of the issues than the other two and he’ll make an outstanding Congressman. It’s high time we had more than 1 other Iraq Vet in Congress!

  3. Submitted by Mitch Larson on 09/23/2008 - 10:51 am.

    I attended the debate as well. Madia and Paulsen went after each other many times. I felt it was easy to go after Paulsen because he actually has a working history of votes and activity. Do I agree with every decision… no, but at least there is a track record with Paulsen.

    I thought that Media could some day be a reasonable choice for congress… but he doesn’t have much experience to make me think he knows what I deal with as a tax-payer and a father. (Yes, I know he was an attorney in Iraq) He says he works at Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi but I don’t see his name in their on-line attorney directory. I assume he left to run for congress??? Overall, good guy… just needs more experience before I think he could change things in Washington.

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