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GOP Senate candidates debate — well, agree — on big issues and Franken

They said government does too much, the debt and deficit are too big, President Obama is a weak leader, Israel is a wonderful ally and Al Franken is a terrible senator.

State Sen. Julianne Ortman, center, responding to a question at Tuesday's debate.
MinnPost photo by Brian Halliday

Seven (well, really six and a half) of the candidates for the Republican nomination to rid the U.S. Senate of the scourge named Al Franken debated (well, not really) at the Jewish Community Center in St. Louis Park Tuesday night and agreed on almost every issue (which is why I said it was not really a debate).

They agreed that the government does too much, the debt and deficit are too big, President Obama is a weak and wavering leader, also a weak and wavering friend to Israel (did I mention that the debate was sponsored by the Republican Jewish Coalition of Minnesota?), and that Israel should not be pressured to make any concessions to get peace with the Palestinians.

They agreed that Obamacare is a horror and that it should be repealed. They agreed that access to abortions should be dramatically curtailed, if not completely banned (one of the seven disagreed on that). They agreed that military spending should be increased, the Keystone pipeline should be built — yes, and we need more fracking, too (added candidate David Carlson).

They agreed that “Funnyman Franken” (as candidate Monti Moreno decided to call him) has “abjectly failed” (as candidate state Rep. Jim Abeler said in his opening statement). Franken is “vulnerable” for reelection, they agreed, because of pretty much everything he has done since arriving in Washington, including casting the “deciding vote” for Obamacare (candidate state Sen. Julianne Ortman said), and is complicit in Minnesota having the highest educational racial achievement gap in the United States (candidate Mike McFadden said) and because Franken has “the wrong game plan” (also McFadden).

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Ortman twice summarized her semi-humorous plan for dealing with Obamacare thus: “You keep your doctor and you change your senator.”

Bashing Franken

Moreno probably took home the Franken-bashing prize, calling Franken “a traitor to the Constitution.”

First-time candidate Phillip Parrish said he believed that “one cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong,” a remark that I personally did not recognize but I now know to be a phrase made by Abraham Lincoln. Parrish is a Naval officer.

(Update-correction-retraction alert: I have now learned that the common attribution of that quote to Lincoln is erroneous. The mistake is mine and I note that Parrish did not attribute the quote to Lincoln or anyone else. The management regrets the error. Hat tip: Rob Jacobs.)

They pretty much all said that the massive National Security Administration program for tracking the phone calls of ordinary Americans was wrong. McFadden noted that Franken was chairman of “the privacy committee” (technically, the recently formed Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law), and McFadden said this fact “concerns” him.

Ortman, considered the frontrunner for the Republican endorsement, rejected the notion that a balance must be struck between Americans’ Fourth Amendment protections against improper searches and their need to be protected from attacks. Fourth Amendment rights are not to be balanced against anything, she said.

Peter Swanson, who represented absent candidate St. Louis County Commissioner Chris Dahlberg (that’s why I said there were sort of six and a half candidates at the debate) said Dahlberg believes that Franken has been AWOL on the issue and that the Constitution is clear on the right to privacy.

They agreed on much more than that, although (as I alluded to above on the abortion issue) Carlson said he does not share the socially conservative views of the others and said he voted “no” on the proposed 2012 state constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. Carlson, a young ex-Marine who served in Iraq, said Minnesota is not a socially conservative state and that many young voters disagree with the conservative positions of many older Republicans on issues such as abortion rights and GLBT rights.

Abortion question

The issue of abortion came in the form of a question on whether, “from a pro-life point of view,” the candidates support “personhood legislation,” which I gather refers to a movement to get states to endow fetuses with additional legal rights. As I mentioned, Carlson was the only one to say “no.” The others said “yes,” except McFadden, who said: “I believe in pro-life at conception.”

Mike McFadden
MinnPost photo by Brian Halliday
Mike McFadden at Tuesday’s debate.

I wasn’t sure what that meant and asked McFadden after the debate whether “pro-life at conception” meant that abortion should and could (notwithstanding the ruling in Roe v. Wade) be banned in the earliest stage of a pregnancy.

McFadden was evasive at first, then got angry when I pressed him and finally said “I am pro-life.” But if your pro-life position starts at conception, then would you ban all abortions? I asked. “I am pro-life. And I believe that life begins at conceptions.”

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I’m still not sure how that translates into what someone might do as a legislator.

McFadden, the businessman and political newcomer who is considered one of the favorites for the nomination, was participating in just his second debate. He said he was running “because we can do better.” He said (more than once during the evening) that he favors a limited but effective government, and that Obamacare is neither limited nor effective. He described military cuts, which he opposes, that were part of the “sequestration” formula the two parties agreed on as “crazy” — as is any across-the-board method of cutting spending, he said.

The support and praise for Israel and its value as a U.S. ally was loud, long and unanimous. Abeler cited the Hebrew Bible as evidence that Israel was entitled to the West Bank territories, now inhabited mostly by Palestinians but which, Abeler said, are the biblical territories of Judea and Samaria, part of the land God promised to the Jews. Ortman said the Palestinians are bargaining in bad faith because their real goal is to destroy Israel and that there should be “no air” separating the United States from Israel.

But Moreno probably took the pro-Israel award with a series of statements that ended with the claim that he was the only candidate with “Hebrew blood.”

Because McFadden has risen to a prominent position in the race by virtue of his fundraising but without having a public record, without taking many concrete policy positions and without attending most of the previous debates, I thought the other candidates might take advantage of his presence to attack him. But there was little of that.

Ortman did slightly — in a coded fashion — by pointing out that people know where she stands because she has a record as a state senator, but a candidate who doesn’t respect the voters enough to tell the voters where he stands before the election, won’t respect them after the election either.