The three candidates vying for Minnesota's 4th Congressional District seat say job creation would be their top priority in Congress — but they have dramatically different views on how to grow employment.
Republican Tony Hernandez said Congress needs to cut taxes.
"We need to figure out a way to reform our tax structure, lower our taxes, so that businesses want to come back to America in order to invest," Hernandez said during a debate at the State Fair hosted by MPR News.
Steve Carlson, the Independence Party candidate, echoed Hernandez saying that government doesn't create jobs, the free market does.
For her part, incumbent DFL Rep. Betty McCollum argued that it takes a partnership between government and business to grow employment. Congress should pass President Barack Obama's jobs bill, do more to make education and training affordable for younger workers and boost transportation, she said.
"Infrastructure and transit is a partnership between business and government," said McCollum. "The government does have a role in it. It's a partnership working with business."
McCollum's comments sparked debate between the three candidates over the Stillwater Bridge, a tough subject for McCollum, who opposed its construction over environmental and cost concerns. After the state's political lines were redrawn earlier this year, McCollum now finds herself representing that area.
"Stillwater had a traffic problem, that bridge had a problem that it couldn't handle the traffic going through it," McCollum said. "Stillwater did need a solution, and we needed a new river crossing there. I just don't think we needed the most expensive river crossing for 18,000 cars."
All three candidates said fiscal concerns are driving their campaigns.
Carlson, who says that he represents the views of the tea party, said that the bank bailout passed in 2008 was a huge mistake.
"I can't be happy with what Paul Ryan and Betty McCollum voted on," Carlson said referring to Mitt Romney's vice presidential candidate. "This is an ongoing crisis. We can't just say who's to blame, we've got to solve this crisis. And the only way we can do that is to reduce the federal government spending by getting rid of those unneeded agencies and departments."
Hernandez also objects to the bank bailout out saying that he would have let the institutions fail.
He's also concerned with the looming "fiscal cliff" — a deadline approaching in January when the Bush-era tax cuts expire and massive spending cuts kick-in, too.
"This fiscal cliff as a people call it is a huge tax increase for the middle class," Hernandez said. "Your average middle class family will see their federal income tax increase between $2,000 and $4,000 annually. We cannot afford that type of tax increase right now. It's a job killer."
McCollum blamed members of the U.S. House who support tea party ideals for blocking attempts to raise tax revenue and create more revenue.
"We shouldn't be in this position. We should not be there," McCollum said. Spending cuts and taxes should be on the table," she said.
"When Speaker Boehner went back to his caucus, the Republican tea party element in his caucus said 'Stop, stop, stop. We're only doing cuts. We're not going to have anything to do with putting tax policy on the table.'"
While the candidates largely stuck to government spending and deficit issues, the conversation did veer to social issues when one audience member asked about Missouri U.S. Senate hopeful Todd Akin's comment that women "rarely" get pregnant when they are victims of "legitimate rape."
There are many definitions of rape, said Carlson over shouts from the audience.
"If you expand abortion based on rape to all of those reasons, then you're going to be giving away a lot of abortions, which are going to violate the principles of the sacredness of human life," Carlson said.
And that's where McCollum and Hernandez had a rare moment bipartisan accord.
"Rape is rape and [Akin's] comments were disrespectful, despicable and uncalled for in any sort of a platform. I don't approve of them whatsoever," Hernandez said.
"Tony is right: Rape is rape," McCollum agreed.