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Ethics, foreign policy dominate 2nd District debate

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2nd District debate
Coleen Rowley and John Kline debate in their 2nd District matchup. At center is moderator Alan Miller. The debate was hosted by Burnsville/Eagan Community Television.
MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik

Rowley and Kline met at the studios of Burnsville/Eagan Community Television for their hour-long debate.  Asked what issues he thinks are most pressing for the nation right now, Kline briefly mentioned the war, immigration, the economy and pension reform. But he chose to focus on his DFL challenger and used his opening remarks to accuse Rowley of running a campaign that contradicts her call for a higher level of ethics in government. 

"I know that the Rowley campaign has been attacking me relentlessly for about 15 months on those very issues, questioning my integrity and competence and ethics and so forth," he said. "But at the same time I would offer that I think Mrs. Rowley has been  a little disingenuous in some of her own actions in regards to those very same issues."

Kline accused Rowley of using her 9-11-related publicity and her visit to war protester Cindy Sheehan's Texas vigil for political purposes.

Rowley accused Kline of being  part of the problem in Washington.

"It's pretty obvious to the public that there is a problem in Congress," Rowley said. "We have a very low approval level. It's lower than  even the Bush administration's approval level of Congress and it's for a reason. People are seeing this lobbying as undue influence of special interests in Congress. So what I have attempted  to point out in my campaign of course is not a personal criticism of you, as to your own personal integrity. It has been a criticism of your voting record."

Regarding the latest congressional scandal, Rep. Mark Foley's lurid  correspondence with a teenage page,  Kline and Rowley  seemed equally outraged. But Kline did not support Rowley's call for an independent counsel to investigate the matter. Instead Kline thinks a bipartisan congressional committee and the Department of Justice can handle the investigation.

Kline suggested the possibility that Democrats were aware of the situation and leaked the Foley story.

"Anybody who knew about the sexual nature of these contacts and held it and thereby further endangering other pages should be held responsible and that includes Republicans or Democrats; whoever's involved in it," he said.

"I know that the Republicans had a chance when they were proposing comprehensive ethics reform to put an independent ethics committee into Congress totally independent, and until you can get independence in a group that's going to judge these as an independent counsel would,  there is at least a lot of likelihood that we will see some cover-up and skewing," Rowley responded.

On issues surrounding the war on terrorism Rowley hammered Kline for his support of President Bush's approach.

"We got mired in Iraq.  It's a quagmire right now in sectarian violence in Iraq. We do not have the troop strength in either Afghanistan or Iraq to actually stop the violence and we are continuing just to stay the course under the lack of leaderhip of Donald Rumsfeld. Rumsfeld's plan: war on the cheap. And frankly, we are losing both of these areas."

Rowley promoted more of a law enforcement  strategy for the war on terrorism, rather than outright invasions of countries like Iraq. However she says the move into Afghanistan was justified.

Kline agreed the U.S. should leverage intelligence in an attempt to surgically zero in on terrorists but maintained the U.S is in Iraq for good reasons.

"We have a difference of opinion on  the role of the fighting in Iraq and apparently the nature of the enemy that we're fighting world-wide. And my position is well known. We've talked about it so many times on your show that every viewer knows that I view the fighting in Iraq as an integral part of fighting these jihadists who are bent on domination and our destruction," Kline said.

Rowley has accused Kline of ducking debates, including a League of Women Voters forum, which Kline says he's  too busy to attend. The two meet again for a discussion of the issues later this month on Twin Cities Public Television. They are also expected to appear on Minnesota Public Radio before the November election.