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Health Care Issue Separates DFL Senate Candidates
By Laura McCallum
August 11, 2000
Part of MPR's coverage of Campaign 2000
Click for audio RealAudio 3.0

The four major DFL Senate candidates debated health care, taxes, affordable housing and other issues on MPR's Midday program. Although the candidates agree on many things, they're working hard at trying to distinguish themselves in the competitive four-way race, and they're starting to take a few shots at each other.
See images from the MPR debate featuring four DFL candidates for U.S. Senate.

THE FIRST JAB came from DFL-endorsed candidate Jerry Janezich, a state Senator and Chisholm bar owner who lags far behind his three major primary opponents in fundraising. Janezich is the only one going to next week's Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, and he set himself apart from his three millionaire opponents by joking about his campaign's relative poverty.

"I'm going to go out there, I'm going to shake some hands. Who knows, maybe somebody'll give me a $20 bill while I'm out there and I'll be able to keep up with everybody," he said.

Janezich and attorney Mike Ciresi want to see full public funding for campaigns, while former state auditor Mark Dayton and businesswoman Rebecca Yanisch support partial public funding. All say they back campaign finance reform. The four also agree that Congress needs to address high prescription drug costs. Janezich and Ciresi argued over whether a senator in the minority party can do much about the high costs.

Janezich says Democrats may have to support a Republican prescription drug plan for the sake of progress. Republicans want to cover drugs through the private sector, while Democrats want a Medicare drug benefit. Ciresi says giving in to a Republican plan would show a lack of leadership, and he cited several successful cases from his legal career that many observers said couldn't be won.

"You couldn't get the Dalkon Shield off the market, you couldn't get the Copper 7 off the market, you couldn't take on tobacco, they're too powerful - take what you can get and get out. Lot of people did that.That's not leadership. This is about leadership, about getting things done, people want a doer," Ciresi said.

But exchanges like that were in short supply, as the four candidates agreed on their opposition to the Republican plan to roll back the estate tax, and the need to invest the nation's budget surplus in education, health care and affordable housing.

The four also agreed on the one thing they like about Republican Senator Rod Grams' term in office: his successful push for a $500-per-child tax credit, although Dayton says it should be doubled.

The candidates are starting to pick at each other's records. Ciresi questioned why Yanisch takes credit for 4,000 affordable housing units in Minneapolis while heading the Minneapolis Community Development Agency, when 3,600 of them already existed before her tenure. Yanisch says she made sure those units stayed affordable.

"That is the leadership I provided in Minneapolis," she said. "Those 3,600 units you refer to would be private, market-rate units at much higher rents if we had not intervened to ensure they continued to be affordable housing."

Yanisch also found her background under question by Dayton, who said the former single mother should support universal health care for all Americans, not just children.

Hour One | Hour Two

"You talk about growing up as a single mother without health insurance, but your proposals don't provide health insurance for single mothers. They provide them for the children," Dayton said to Yanisch.

"I think we have to set priorities here and I think it is a matter of leadership, and I can assure you when I stand on the floor of the U.S. Senate and bring the voice of advocacy for better health-care coverage, it won't be from looking at polls or briefing books, it will be speaking from the heart and from my own experiences," Yanisch countered.

The debate over how to move toward universal health care highlights a difference among the DFL candidates. Dayton is the only one who has said he wants immediate universal coverage. But in his latest television ad, Dayton appears to back off, saying "It's time to move to affordable, quality health care for all Americans - start by covering all children." Ciresi attacked Dayton for the apparent discrepancy.

"You have said one thing, and then in your last ad, you went back and said it should be incremental," said Ciresi.

Dayton reiterated that he'd push for an employer health-insurance mandate, and for the federal government to immediately insure everyone else who falls through the cracks. The flap caused Janezich to joke that he's glad he doesn't have the money to run TV ads, because "they can get you in trouble."

The four Democrats know time is running out. Recent polls show many DFL primary voters are still undecided in the Senate race, and the candidates are likely to rachet up their attacks on each other in the final month before the primary.