Voter guide: Where the 3rd District candidates stand on the issues

Two portraits of men side by side.
3rd District incumbent DFL Rep. Dean Phillips (left) and his Republican challenger Kendall Qualls.
Photos courtesy of campaigns.

Earlier this month, candidates from Minnesota’s 3rd Congressional District joined MPR News’ Mike Mulcahy for an on-air debate.

In the 3rd District, incumbent DFL Rep. Dean Phillips faces Republican challenger Kendall Qualls. The two will battle to win over voters in western Twin Cities suburbs, including those in Rogers, Champlin, Bloomington, Maple Grove, Eden Prairie, Edina and Minnetonka. 

Here’s a look at the positions each candidate took during the debate hosted by MPR News.

Tap the audio player above to listen to the full debate.

Opening statements

Phillips: Phillips described himself as a father, a husband, an entrepreneur and a lifelong Minnesotan, serving in the same community where he was raised. Phillips became a Gold Star son in 1969 after losing his birth father, Artie Pfefer, in the Vietnam War. He considers himself bipartisan and believes representation begins with listening to his constituents.

Phillips highlighted being the only member of Congress to refuse money from special interests, from PACs, from federal lobbyists or from fellow members of Congress. He is also one of the 25 Republicans and 25 Democrats that serve on the House of Representatives' Problem Solvers Caucus, which aims to connect parties amid partisan divides. 

Qualls: Qualls, described himself as a business executive, leading global teams at Fortune 100 companies, but said he is not a politician. He said he felt compelled to run for office, citing his desire to “take a stand for our country” and bring “authentic leadership” to the role. Qualls grew up in poverty, paying his way through college and later going on to serve in the U.S. military for five years. 

“Many years ago I took an oath to protect and defend the constitution, and that oath does not have an expiration date,” Qualls said. The former Army officer now lives in Medina, Minn. with his wife, Shiela. The two have been married for 34 years and have five children. 

COVID-19

Phillips: Phillips advocates for a national testing program. 

“I’ve been working hard to find a bipartisan solution based on science, based on objectivity,” Phillips said. 

Throughout the pandemic, he has helped to pass the CARES Act, the Paycheck Protection Flexibility Act, the Heroes Act  -- which is awaiting a vote on the Senate floor -- and most recently worked with fellow members of the Problem Solvers Caucus to develop The March to Common Ground, a bipartisan COVID relief fund. 

“We’re hoping we can afford the resources necessary to help states, hospitals, schools, individuals, workers, families and small businesses who are suffering,” Phillips said. “It’s a responsibility and we’ve got to get it done.” 

Qualls: Qualls plans to focus on the speed of response on how quickly the government can get a vaccine on the market and make testing more available and accessible. He emphasizes the need to “streamline our way back to somewhat of normalcy.” His hope is that a vaccine and increased testing accessibility will provide a sense of safety and security as Minnesota works to reopen schools and repair its economy. To accomplish this, Qualls plans to work with those on both sides of the aisle. 

“Think about this like firefighters. You may have all the firefighters from different political backgrounds, but in the midst of their fire that they’re putting out, they don’t criticize, they work together,” Qualls said. 

Party alignment 

Phillips: Phillip’s argued his bipartisanship, citing that he has voted with GOP Rep. Pete Stauber, who represents Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District, nearly five times more than he has voted with the Speaker of the House. While Phillips maintained that he does regularly vote with his party, he said, “I am the 27th most bipartisan member of Congress, the 12th most bipartisan Democrat, and one of every three bills that I sponsor was authored by a Republican.” 

He said that campaign finance reform is one example of the way he and presidential nominee Joe Biden differ. 

“The extraordinarily corrupting influence of special interest, money and policy is disenfranchising way too many American voters,” Phillips said. 

Qualls: “Yes, I voted for President Donald Trump, I plan to vote for him again,” Qualls said. 

While the Republican challenger does wish Trump “would be a little bit more judicious in his choice of words and how he speaks around race,” when it comes to policy, Qualls said there is not much difference between the two. However, in relation to Trump’s refusal to denounce QAnon, Qualls said, “I’m not associated with that. That’s one area I definitely oppose and do not endorse at all.” 

Affordable Care Act

Phillips: Phillips pointed out that America does not have a national health care system, saying that “the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, was the best policy we’ve had in our generation to expand care to more Americans.” 

While Phillips said he favors the private and nonprofit delivery of health care,  a public option to health care would allow for more freedom and more competition. The Democratic incumbent said this would not impact those that receive health care through their employer’s sponsored plan, who would have the choice between public and private options if a public option was established. 

“I absolutely believe it’s time for America and Americans to make a moral decision to ensure that everybody in our country has access to affordable health care, quality health care that they can afford, and that nobody should ever go bankrupt because of a health crisis,” Phillips added

Qualls: Qualls said the leadership in the House of Representatives has a plan in the event the Supreme Court voids the Affordable Care Act. He said the plan will focus on three main elements. First, it will address the need for transparency around pricing, which would allow consumers to see how much a product or service costs prior to the exchange. 

“Hip surgery or a knee replacement shouldn’t be a guessing game,” Qualls said. 

Second, he noted that in the last 10-15 years the health care industry has consolidated, which has translated to increased prices. Qualls suggested increased competition in the health care market will combat this. Finally, the Republican challenger emphasized the need to make health care affordable, but argued against a public option, saying that this model would weaken Medicare and threaten the private healthcare sector.

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