East metro DFL U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, who's seeking a seventh term, debated her challengers Wednesday night in Stillwater.
Before district lines were redrawn earlier this year, the Stillwater area was represented by Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann. Last night, McCollum took the opportunity to defend her views to her new constituents and her two opponents — Republican Tony Hernandez and Independence Party candidate Steve Carlson.
Dozens of people packed the room to hear the candidates spar over a host of national and foreign policy issues.
McCOLLUM GREETS NEW CONSTITUENTS
The debate, hosted by the Stillwater Gazette, was a chance for McCollum to introduce herself to residents in her newly drawn district, which has expanded beyond Ramsey County to now include parts of Washington County.
"I grew up and raised my child in the 4th District," McCollum said. "In fact, my kids went to North St. Paul high school and my son was on the swim team. So I used to get up very early in the morning to drive over to the pool here so he could have swim time. And just what a wonderful community Stillwater is in the 4th District."
McCollum's GOP opponent, Tony Hernandez from St. Paul, wasted no time criticizing McCollum for her handling of the economy.
"I'm not a career politician," Hernandez said. "My professional background is in finance and in teaching and I decided that I wanted to run for office in 2008 and it was Rep. McCollum's vote for the Wall Street bailouts that really ignited my political passions and it's the reason that I'm here today."
Select a Candidate: See where McCollum, Hernandez and Carlson stand on the issues.
Hernandez faulted Congress for failing to control the national debt. He said concern over the country's economic health is fueling uncertainty and hampering job growth. Hernandez favors an amendment requiring lawmakers to agree on a balanced federal budget.
McCollum pledged to reduce the national deficit while at the same time investing in technology and manufacturing, infrastructure and education. McCollum said she supports middle class tax cuts but favors repealing the Bush-era tax cuts for the richest Americans.
The candidates also sparred over taxes, trade, health care and energy. All three blamed gridlock in Washington for a lack of progress on these and other issues.
Carlson, the Independence Party candidate, urged voters to think outside the box.
"If you elect me it will not add one Republican or one Democrat to the House balance," Carlson said.
Both McCollum and Hernandez promised to work across the aisle to find compromise.
STILLWATER BRIDGE DEBATED
But they disagreed over a high-profile local issue — plans for a new bridge over the St. Croix River. Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann, who used to represent Stillwater, backed a bill authorizing construction of a new four-lane highway span. McCollum opposed it.
Hernandez attacked McCollum for her opposition to the bridge.
"All of our entire Minnesota leadership — Gov. Dayton, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann — everybody came together to allow this bridge to be built for the people and Rep. McCollum was the one person who was against the building of the bridge," Hernandez said.
Minneapolis U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison also opposed the bridge, saying it was too big and too expensive. MnDOT estimates the total cost of the project at between $580 million and $676 million.
At the debate, McCollum said she supports replacing the 80-year-old Stillwater Lift Bridge but not at the expense of other infrastructure needs around the district.
"I was always for a bridge. I just thought we could build one bridge and then work towards repairing the thousands of other bridges that are deficient in the state," McCollum said.
After the debate, Scott Andersen from Bayport called McCollum's answer on the bridge "lame." He thinks it'll cost her votes.
"It's probably what's going to hit her bad in Stillwater because a lot of people here they have been fighting to get a bridge for years since I moved out here 30 years ago," Anderson said.
But Todd Rapp, a DFL analyst and president of Himle, Rapp and Co. doesn't expect McCollum's past opposition to the St. Croix bridge project to affect the outcome of the 4th District race.
"An individual project like that does not have a very large role in this year's campaign," Rapp said. "This is about the economy, it's about the deficit, it's about health care — far broader issues are deciding congressional races this year."
For her part, McCollum said she has no plans to stand in the way of the St. Croix Bridge.
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