Incumbent Democratic Rep. Rick Nolan and GOP challenger Stewart Mills, each vying for the 8th Congressional District seat, traded barbs Monday in Duluth in a spirited exchange over health care, energy, higher education reform and terrorism.
Neither Mills nor Nolan mentioned the presidential race or either presidential candidate -- likely reflecting the unpopularity of both candidates throughout the northern Minnesota district.
Running for his third consecutive term, Nolan said he was proud of his efforts over the last two years to staunch the almost 10,000 mining job losses in the district. He said he testified at the International Trade Commission and brought President Obama's chief of staff out to the district last year to hear about the suffering firsthand. Since then, the Department of Commerce has implemented anti-dumping tariffs on seven countries dumping steel illegally into the market, which should help miners on the range eventually regain some jobs.
"We have seen an increase in ore prices and an increase in steal consumption ... I have worked on this more than any other member of Congress," Nolan said, retorting to Mills directly, "And I didn't see you there."
Mills shot back that the economy on the Iron Range is not improving.
"The No. 1 challenge is growing the economy. I am someone who is for economic growth. We are not engaged in this cycle of economic growth right now," Mills said. "People are still getting pink slips, people are still unemployed."
On health care, Mills said he favored repealing the Affordable Care Act, which he called a "disaster" and a "series of lies." He wasn't specific about how he wanted to replace it, but said he was in favor of state-based social safety nets.
Nolan said he wanted a universal single payer system -- similar to Medicare -- as an option for the uninsured and he wanted the goverment to be able to negotiate contracts with the pharmaceutical industry for prescription drugs.
The two had opposing views about how to keep guns out of the hands of terrorists. Nolan said he favored prohibiting gun sales to people on terrorist watch lists, saying, "I'm at a loss why anyone would allow someone who is on a terrorist watch list to walk into a gun shop and illegally or legally buy a gun to kill Americans."
Mills said those terrorist lists are run by bureaucrats and said, "rather than taking away our God-given liberties, we should go in and arrest those people." Mills twice touted Nolan's "F" rating from the National Rifle Association.
The debate had a few laugh lines including one about Trump University.
Mills said the higher education system could be improved by creating a "students bill of rights" that would, among other things, guarantee credit transfers from one school to another.
Nolan retorted that a credit from "Trump University" should not be treated the same as credits from more reputable schools.
"The thought is ridiculous and abhorrent," Nolan said. "I don't know what you're talking about."
Mills called it unconstitutional for the federal government to set a national minimum wage. Nolan responded that the courts have ruled a federal minimum wage to be constitutional.
"They've interpreted a lot of things very broadly," Mills said.
"Well," Nolan said, looking at Mills. "That's their job."