DULUTH - A deep divide over health care was fully on display here last Wednesday in a congressional debate between DFLer Joe Radinovich, Republican Pete Stauber and Independent Ray “Skip” …
DULUTH - A deep divide over health care was fully on display here last Wednesday in a congressional debate between DFLer Joe Radinovich, Republican Pete Stauber and Independent Ray “Skip” Sandman.
The debate, hosted by the Duluth News Tribune at The Playhouse in Duluth, lasted about an hour. While the forum touched on several topics, healthcare proved the most contentious. “This is the most important issue to the district,” said Radinovich, who gave his support for a single-payer, universal health care system. “We are the only First World country that does not provide health care for its citizens. The GOP passed a bill that will cut too much,” he said referring to recent changes in the Affordable Care Act approved by the Republican-led Congress and signed by President Trump.
Sandman voiced his support, as well, for a single-payer system, but Stauber attacked both the idea and Radinovich, without offering his own solution. “The last time we gave Joe the keys to health care, he gave us MNSURE,” he said. “The Medicare-for-all scheme is a $33 trillion full-throttle government takeover of health-care.”
“I haven’t heard anything from Pete over what he would actually do for healthcare,” responded Radinovich. “The issue is that we have too much overhead by private insurers.” That’s been a frequent complaint from supporters of single-payer health care systems, who noted that private insurers typically siphon more than 20-percent of available health care dollars for overhead and investor profits.
Debate moderators added more rebuttal time after the candidates used time to answer other questions to redirect the conversation to healthcare.
“Let’s take the money away from the top one percent,” Sandman said. “We need it in this country, it is a basic right. We redirect the funds that are being spent in pork barrel funds.”
Radinovich said union jobs, such as the one his father had growing up, that provide health care were going away leaving people who needed the assistance unable to receive them.
The future of proposed copper-nickel projects in the region proved another flashpoint.
Sandman, as the sole candidate opposed to copper-nickel mining, was given the opportunity to speak first and he warned against the environmental risks to the region’s water. He also used his time to raise concerns about the track record of PolyMet’s chief financial backer, Glencore, and what he described as a history of union-busting and misleading job numbers for its proposed project on the Iron Range “It’s down to 100- 250 jobs, from over 500,” he said.
But Stauber said the region has waited long enough for the jobs the project could bring. “The PolyMet project has been in the permitting phase for 14 years,” Stauber said. “It will meet every regulation or they won’t be able to mine. We can do it safely, and we can keep our water and air clean. If they don’t meet the standards, they won’t be able to do it. It’s going to bring good-paying jobs to the Iron Range and be an economic boom.”
Radinovich, who also supports the project, said the government has to demonstrate integrity in the decision-making process. “So the role of the person who represents this district is not to be a company man or an errand boy for corporate interests, but is instead focused on upholding the laws that are on the books. Any project that can be done safely should be allowed to proceed, but we need to be certain we’re holding those standards in a high regard.”
“They will,” Stauber said loudly. “The DNR will not give them a permit if they don’t think they will.”
Stauber also said it was no coincidence that President Donald Trump lifted the mining ban in the Superior National Forest after his trip to Duluth this summer and spoke with him about issues that faced the region.
Immigration proved an area where the candidates found some common ground. Both Radinovich and Sandman backed a change from the current policies on the border, which they believed are based primarly on race. “My family settled in Eveleth at a time when people hung signs on their doors saying no Finns or Indians,” he said. “When it comes to immigration reform, we need bipartisan solutions. We need to have safe borders, but we need to look at where people are coming from; they’re overstaying legal visas.”
Stauber appeared to break from some in his party, expressing support for programs like DACA (Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals), which provide some path to citizenship for the children of undocumented immigrants. “The folks involved in DACA came through no fault of their own,” he said. “It is important we show them our country’s values and support them.”
Stauber also seemed to break with the GOP on whether a wall should be built across the entirety of the Mexican-American border.
He said technologies like unmanned drones could also be used, and that the goal is to have secure points of entry, not necessarily a total blockade.
While some, including President Trump, have suggested that most immigrants come to the U.S. to harm America, Sandman said he disagrees. “They are coming here for the same reason your ancestors did, to obtain prosperity. What I will bring to the floor is working in a bipartisan way to make sure vetting is equal and just. When the doors are closed, we are cutting off the best who come to this country.”
Gun control proved another area of agreement, with all three expressing support for the right to bear arms, within limits.
“I am not advocating taking anyone’s rights away, but we need to be honest with ourselves,” Sandman said. “We need to have a serious discussion and thought on the types of weapons being sold and closing the loopholes at gun shows. Just like buying a car, you need to prove you can operate it.”
Radinovich, who shared his story of watching a family member attempt suicide and the aftermath of his mother’s murder when he was a teenager, said the country needs to use common sense in discussing how to approach mass shootings and other gun-related crimes.
“We have to respect life,” Stauber said following Radinovich. “We have to stop putting a stigma on mental health and help people in a crisis. We need to keep firearms out of folks’ hands who shouldn’t have them.”
The people who shouldn’t have them, according to both Stauber and Radinovich, included those in personal crisis and felons convicted of gun crimes.
Sandman said he supports an assault rifle ban, although he was the only candidate to express such support.
The candidates will face off again on Oct. 8 in Brainerd.