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Luther, Kline Hold First Debate
By Tom Scheck
September 29, 2000
Click for audio RealAudio 3.0

The two candidates in Minnesota's 6th Congressional District met in their first debate in Ham Lake. Democratic Congressman Bill Luther and the Republican candidate, retired Marine John Kline discussed the federal government's role in tax reform, health care and education.


Learn more about Minnesota's 6th district, the candidates who want to represent it, and hear audio from the candidates, and unedited audio of the debate in our Campaign 2000 section.
THIS IS THE SECOND CONTEST between the two candidates. In 1998, Congressman Luther defeated Kline by four percentage points in a battle for the loyalty of voters in the district wrapping around the Twin Cities. That caught the attention of the Republican National Committee, that had figured Luther, who raised millions and had better name recognition, would soundly defeat the financially-strapped Kline. Washington Republicans asked Kline to run again, pledging party and financial support. Kline agreed, pinning his hopes on targeting the new suburbanites in the rapidly-growing district.

At the Majestic Oaks Country Club in Ham Lake, the candidates fielded questions from North-Metro Chamber of Commerce members. The audience liked what they had to hear from both candidates when it came to tax cuts, since both are known as fiscal conservatives.

Kline said he would like to see a massive overhaul of the federal tax system, starting with the marriage penalty tax - a tax that places some married couples in a higher tax bracket than a couple filing individually.

"We need to eliminate the current tax code and replace it with something that's simple and fair," said Kline. "It can be a flat tax or a sales tax, the current system is awful. We're probably not going to move to a system like that, this term or next. What we have had the opportunity to do is lower some taxes. We've had the opportunity to lower the marriage penalty and we didn't do it."

Luther countered that he supports a marriage penalty tax cut but criticizes the Republican proposal for mainly benefitting the wealthy few.

The mostly small-business owners in the audience also asked questions about health-care reform. Many said they are facing double-digit increases on their companies' health insurance each year. Luther says he'd support a business tax deduction to help them pay their health insurance. He said he also wants a program that would help pay for prescription drugs for Medicare beneficiaries.

He says Congress would have added a prescription drug benefit when the program was created in the '60s, but he says pharmaceuticals at that time did not play a large role in health care. He says it's time for the federal government to catch up with the changing role of health care. "That will effectively deal, in part, with this pricing problem that's going on where the hard pressed, most hard-pressed people in our country, are basically paying for the profits and research and development of the drug companies while people in other countries and people on plans are actually getting the reduced rates," Luther said.

Kline says he supports a Republican proposal that will help the poor and lower middle class pay for drugs, but he doesn't think the federal government should help the wealthy pay for those pharmaceuticals.

The other major issue discussed at the debate was education. Kline says he supports a measure that will downsize the department of education. He says the federal government should allocate block grants to states so local administrators can decide the best way to teach Minnesota children.

"Using block grants and letting educators here get back to the business of educating makes a great deal of sense to me. The more control that we have for parents and teachers in Minnesota, the more innovation we'll get, the better our kids will be in school," said Kline.

Congressman Luther says a strong department of education can establish standards that will let Minnesotans know how their kids stack up against children in Pennsylvania and Indiana.

"Most parents I talk to want to know how their kids are doing, they don't want to get some hype from somebody telling them that their kids are above-average like we all are in Minnesota, of course. They want to know exactly how they're doing because they know their kids will out competing in the economy of tomorrow," Luther said.

This is the first of many debates for these two candidates, who have hopes of getting their names and differing messages out to the voters. And with both sides already running television advertisements, the candidates are clearly hoping their names and faces will be as recognizable as their differences on the issues.