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Sarvi, Kline hold first formal debate in Chaska

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Rep. John Kline debates DFL candidate Steve Sarvi
Rep. John Kline, the incumbent candidate for Minnesota's 2nd Congressional District, debates DFL candidate Steve Sarvi.
MPR Photo/Curtis Gilbert

Kline and Sarvi are both military veterans, a fact each mentioned during the debate. Kline served 25 years in the Marine Corps before beginning his career as a politician.

"I'm proud of my service in Congress," Kline said. "I'm proud of my service in the military. I'm proud of my service to you."

And Sarvi, the former mayor of Watertown, has served in both the active duty military and the national guard, including a tour in Iraq.

"Well I was part of the surge," Sarvi said. "I didn't want to be, but there I was."

Sarvi and Kline both touched on foreign policy and veterans issues during their debate at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. But, since the Greater Carver Country Chambers of Commerce organized the forum, it focused more on economic issues. Naturally, that included taxes.

Like many Democrats seeking federal office this year, Sarvi wants to let the Bush tax cuts expire for families making more that $250,000 a year. He said tax relief should be focused on the middle class.

"We have to make sure we lift all the boats, not just the yachts," Sarvi said. "That's what I think is really missing in this policy."

And like many Republican candidates, Kline wants to see those tax cuts made permanent.

"At a time when you've got a struggling economy the very worst thing that you can do is raise taxes," Kline said.

Kline is in his third term representing Minnesota's 2nd Congressional District, which encompasses the suburbs and some of the rural counties to the south of the Twin Cities. He's a conservative Congressman, representing a traditionally conservative area. But, in his bid to unseat Kline, Sarvi is seeking to capitalize on the deep public dissatisfaction with Congress and the Bush administration.

"John Kline has supported the president 92 percent of the time, and he's supported his party more than 97 percent of the time," Sarvi said. "The only people that I know that are that right that often are my wife, my mom and sometimes my dad."

Kline defended his record in Congress, and cited his work on such bi-partisan legislation as the 21st Century GI Bill and the Pension Protection Act. Kline also explained why he refuses to request money for projects in his district through the congressional earmarking process.

"We had last year over 30,000 requests for these special pet projects," Kline said. "We funded almost 12,000 of them in Congress, costing billions of dollars, and not based on the merits of the project, not at all"

Kline argues his stand against requesting earmarks is building a movement to reform the system. But Sarvi said it's hurting worthy projects in the 2nd District.

"Take Highway 5 for example," Sarvi said. "If you're going take a turn left out of here, be careful, because you're going to take your life in your hands. This Highway should be upgraded."

Kline acknowledges that when a group of local leaders asked him to earmark funds for the highway, he refused. But he argues meritorious projects can find funds outside the earmark system.

Kline returned repeatedly to his call for increasing domestic oil exploration. It's what he and other Congressional Republicans call the "all of the above" approach to energy policy.

"And while we're doing all these other things -- conservation and alternatives and nuclear power and developing clean coal technologies -- we ought to go get that American energy," Kline said.

Sarvi and Kline both support exploring for oil off the U.S. Coast, but Sarvi is against drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, something Kline has been advocating. And Kline opposes a Democratic proposal that would force oil companies to extract oil from their existing leases on federal land, or surrender them, before they get any new Federal leases. Sarvi supports that idea. He said in the long term the U.S. has to move away from its dependence on fossil fuels.

"Well 'drill here, drill now' is a slogan," Sarvi said. "It's not a strategy. I used to have people chasing me around in Montgomery, at a parade with a sign that said 'drill here and drill now.' And I turn around and said 'I didn't realize there was oil in Montgomery, Minn. Let's get after it."

Sarvi and Kline meet for three more debates before election day -- there's one Friday on Twin Cities Public Television, another Sunday sponsored by the League of Women Voters, and the candidates will have their final debate here on Minnesota Public Radio News. It's October 30 as part of Midday's Meet the Candidates series.