Clear lines drawn among congressional candidates at Gazette forum

The three candidates on the ballot for the U.S House of Representatives in the 4th Congressional District made their differences clear during a Gazette-sponsored forum Oct. 3 at Stillwater Junior High.

The 4th Congressional District encompasses Ramsey County and much of the East Metro, including Stillwater.

Eight-term DFL incumbent Betty McCollum, Republican-endorsed Greg Ryan and Legal Marijuana Now candidate Susan Pendergast Sindt all attended the forum with moderator Margot Rheinberger of Stillwater.

Racial tensions

Ryan blamed the U.S. Justice Department for much of the racial tension between minorities and law enforcement that has come to light in recent years, saying the department is “meddling” in the affairs of local police departments.

Ryan believes police departments should be left alone to do the work they’ve done for years.

“You’re always going to have a couple of rogue police officers that don’t do the right thing, and I think we’re focusing way too much on that,” he said.

McCollum said there needs to be more de-escalation training for police officers, and that local and state governments should be encouraged to review current practices and what can be improved. She said body cameras are part of the solution and that the federal government is looking at ways to make cameras available to
jurisdictions that want them.

In addition, McCollum said mental illness is driving many of the dangerous situations officers encounter, and that the problem of mental illness needs to be addressed.

Sindt said de-escalation training is important.

“We need to look for peaceful remedies,” Sindt said.

National debt

When asked about how to lower the national debt, which is approaching $20 trillion, McCollum offered a “history lesson” about how it got to this point. She largely blamed the problem on Bush-era tax cuts and putting war spending “on a credit card.”

What the country should do now, she said, is invest in workforce opportunities and infrastructure projects that will “make America stronger, and at the same time put America back to work.” However, she didn’t outline any concrete plan for reducing the debt.

Ryan came out swinging, saying to blame McCollum and the rest of Congress for the increasing national debt.

The problem, he said, is “the burgeoning of our government agencies and the growth of our government agencies and the lack of Congress’s ability to say, ‘Stop, we’re not going to grow this budget any more.’”

He said Congress needs to pass a realistic budget instead of simply approving continuing resolutions, which are essentially stopgap funding measures.

“They keep kicking the can down the road,” he said.

McCollum said she agrees Congress needs to get its work done, but she said she’s in the minority party in the House, and Republicans failed to bring a budget to the floor and pass it.

Sindt largely agreed with McCollum, blaming “unnecessary wars” and tax cuts for large corporations. She said the country should be reinvesting money instead into local communities and schools.

From left, Betty McCollum (DFL), Greg Ryan (R) and Susan Sindt (Legal Marijuana Now) await the start of the 4th Congressional District candidate forum at Stillwater Junior High Oct. 3. (Gazette staff photo by Jonathan Young)
From left, Betty McCollum (DFL), Greg Ryan (R) and Susan Sindt (Legal Marijuana Now) await the start of the 4th Congressional District candidate forum at Stillwater Junior High Oct. 3. (Gazette staff photo by Jonathan Young)

Health care

Ryan said the American people were fed false promises about the Affordable Care Act and that the law is a complete failure.

“This is devastating to the 4th Congressional District, especially in the area that I work, down in St. Paul,” he said.

Ryan said some people have told him they have to make a choice between making a mortgage payment and paying for health insurance, and insurance prices keep increasing.

He also said the Affordable Care Act was too long and complex.

“If I’m going to have a bill that more than five pages, I’ll say, ‘No, I’m not going to sign it,’” he said. “It’s got to be simple. It’s got to be something everybody can understand.”

McCollum said the Affordable Care Act has provided insurance for millions of people, but that there are some “challenges” that have been identified and, she believes, could be fixed.

She blamed Republican leadership in the House for not allowing that to happen.

“Rather than fix those challenges and come together for what is in the best interest of the American people, we have seen 60 votes on the house floor to just repeal the entire Affordable Care Act,” McCollum said.

Sindt supported abolishing the Affordable Care Act, but only after creating a single-payer system, saying the country should have Medicare and Medicaid for all. She said the government needs the ability to negotiate prices with health care and pharmaceutical companies.

Economic growth

McCollum said the best way to promote economic growth isn’t through tax cuts but by investing in infrastructure projects that create jobs and also strengthen the country for the next generation.

She said the Reinvestment and Recovery Act successfully put Americans to work and helped fund projects such as construction work at the Union Depot in St. Paul, which she said sparked more investment in the area.

“Those people, when they went to work, brought money back home into their communities, and it stimulated our economy,” she said.

McCollum said public-private partnerships are a good way to spur growth.

Ryan disagreed.

“The stimulus act — do you remember Solyndra?” Ryan asked. “We funneled tons of money to them, and they went out of business with our money.”

He also attacked the Union Depot project, saying it sits empty and was a poor investment.

“We need to leave it up to the American people to spend their own money with their own checkbook,” Ryan said.

He said Congress doesn’t have the discipline to spend money wisely and frugally like businesses do, and he didn’t seem to think much of public-private partnerships, which he called subsidies.

Sindt said she’s concerned about manufacturing moving out of the country and leaving less opportunity. She believes the government needs to help small businesses start and become sustainable so the businesses can provide services for local communities. She also supports job creation through transportation and infrastructure projects.

Terrorism

Ryan said the U.S. needs a strong leader and strong Congress that will be tough on terrorism. He blamed the proliferation of terror at least in part on the withdrawal of troops from “foreign nations that are havens for terrorists.”

He wants terrorists to look at the U.S. and say, “we don’t want to mess with those people.”

He also the U.S. is bringing in too many refugees who aren’t being vetted sufficiently.

McCollum said she voted for the war in Afghanistan but voted against the war in Iraq. She said the world has been living with the consequences of the Iraq war ever since.

She doesn’t support putting more troops on the ground in Iraq or Syria, but she said the U.S. should work with NATO and other partners to root out terrorists.

Sindt said she believes strongly in defending the country but that the U.S. should focus on diplomatic solutions and think very carefully before going to war. She said the U.S. should also consider Ukrainian independence and protecting Eastern European nations from Soviet invasion and terrorism.

Immigration

Candidates disagreed sharply on immigration.

McCollum advocated pathways to legalization for illegal immigrants, especially those who have been here since they were children and those who have served in the military. She said people should be brought out of the shadows.

Ryan argued that current laws should be enforced, saying the government hasn’t been doing it’s job. He said employers shouldn’t have the burden of verifying legal work status, and that illegal immigrants are taking jobs from legal residents.

Sindt said there should “absolutely” be a path to legalization for those here illegally.

“We’ve got to come up with humane ways of dealing with other humans who are just looking for a place to live,” Sindt said.

Replays

Valley Access Channels recorded the forum and will rebroadcast it on local cable channels 15 and 16 in the coming weeks.

Here are the currently scheduled replays:

Channel 15

Oct. 12 — 6 p.m.

Oct. 13 — Noon

Oct. 17 — 4 & 10 p.m.

Oct. 18 — 11 a.m.

Oct. 21 — 7 p.m.

Oct. 22 — Noon

Oct. 26 — 4 & 10 p.m.

Oct. 27 — 10 a.m.

Oct. 31 — 4 & 10 p.m.

Nov. 1 — 11 a.m.

Nov. 5 — 6 p.m.

Nov. 6 — 3 & 10 p.m.

Channel 16

Oct. 18 — 3 p.m.

Oct. 19 — 9 a.m.

Contact Jonathan Young at [email protected]