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Mining, health care dominate first CD8 debate

The candidates’ irritation with each other hasn’t hampered their cooperation. Three more debates are scheduled — in Hibbing and Brainerd and on Minnesota Public Radio — with a fourth a possibility.

Eighth District congressional candidates DFLer Joe Radinovich, left, and Republican Pete Stauber, right, engage each other as Independence Party candidate Skip Sandman, center, looks on.
MinnPost photo by Brian Halliday

Eighth District congressional candidates DFLer Joe Radinovich and Republican Pete Stauber didn’t exactly take the gloves off during their first debate Wednesday in Duluth, but they did bare their knuckles on mining and health care – the two issues that dominated the event sponsored by the Duluth Chamber of Commerce and the Duluth News Tribune.

The debate included Independence Party candidate Skip Sandman, but Radinovich and Stauber — currently tied in most polls — focused on each other.

After Stauber and Radinovich gave surprisingly similar responses on gun control (consider increasing mental health evaluations) and immigration reform (secure ports of entry are important), the debate became more confrontational, starting with the exchange on copper-nickel mining in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.

Sandman started off, bluntly. “It’s not safe,” he said.

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Stauber maintained that copper-nickel projects “will meet every federal and state environmental regulation, otherwise they won’t be able to mine our copper-nickel. We can do it safely and we can keep our water and air clean. We have regulatory agencies that are following this process.”

“I recognize the value of the mining,” Radinovich replied. “The question is whether we’re going to have somebody who is going to make sure that these companies in each specific project proposal are going to meet every standard, and so a blanket statement about support I think belies the fact that these are each individual, complex projects and that they each need to be held to high standards.”

Then the mining exchange got testy.    

Stauber: “You can’t be for it and against it. Either you support it and they meet the permit or you don’t.”

Radinovich: “When did I say I was against it?”  

Stauber: “You’ve been doing the Texas two-step during this entire campaign.”    

Radinovich: “I said specifically that as long as they can meet the standards that are on the books …”

Stauber: “They will.”

Radinovich: “How do you know they will? You’re not in a position to evaluate.”

When the moderators turned to health care reform, Radinovich and Stauber offered more of the same, with Sandman and Radinovich supporting universal health care.  

“We are the only industrialized nation that doesn’t provide universal health for each of its citizens,” Radinovich said. “We spend more than any other country in the world, by the way … and we don’t see any better results. The Republican health care bill that was passed this year would put 300,000 people just in this district alone in danger of losing their health care because they have pre-existing conditions.”

Stauber’s response: “The last time we gave the health care keys to Representative Radinovich at the time, he drove us right over the cliff with MNSure. Skyrocketing prices, hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans lost their health care. For you to sit here and say that we need universal health care, we can’t afford to give you the keys to the nation’s health care.”

Although the moderators tried to move on, neither candidate would let go.  

“I haven’t heard one single idea that came from you during that diatribe that put forward a plan that was going to insure anybody in this country,” Radinovich countered. “The issue is that we pay more than any other country in the world. Our health care money is going to too many places that are not care-related – executive bonuses, advertising going to lobbyists, going to contributions to politicians …. just like you, Pete.”

“The Medicare for all scheme is a 33 trillion-dollar, full throttle government makeover of health care. People on Social Security and our veterans would be shoved off their health care altogether. You don’t even know how you’re going to pay for it,” Stauber replied.  

In interviews after the debate, both candidates commented further not only on their differences in positions, but on how they approach the issues. “My frustration is that despite platitudes and generalizations about the plans that we should have or the routes that we should take, I didn’t hear any specific ideas,” Radinovich said regarding health care reform.

On copper-nickel mining, he said, “It’s nuanced.”  

Stauber believes the mining issue doesn’t need subtlety. “I asked him twice whether he supported it. He was wishy-washy. And when I asked him about when the permits are given, he wouldn’t say yes or no.”  

On health care reform, Stauber said again, we can’t afford Radinovich’s solution. “Remember what I said, when Minnesota gave the keys to Joe, he drove us off the cliff.”

But if there was any irritation about the candidates’ style, it has not hampered their cooperation in future debates. Three more are scheduled — in Hibbing and Brainerd and on Minnesota Public Radio — with a fourth possibility on KSTP-TV.