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Senate Candidates Debate; Dayton Sells Stock
By Mark Zdechlik
October 2, 2000
Part of MPR's coverage of Campaign 2000
Click for audio RealAudio 3.0

Democratic Senate candidate Mark Dayton says he has sold all of his individual stock holdings. Republican incumbent Senator Rod Grams has been calling Dayton a "hypocrite" for selling energy and pharmaceutical stocks now that's he's running for office.

The three candidates for Senate talked about issues from the nation's energy policy to defense spending and Social Security reform at a debate in Ham Lake.
Senate candidates Mark Dayton (left), Jim Gibson (center) and Rod Grams (right) debate in Ham Lake.
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IN BROOKLYN CENTER, the candidates focused on energy policy before roughly 700 members of a group called the Minnesota Utility Investors.

Senator Grams tore into "the Democratic administration's lack of an energy policy." Grams says high fuel costs this winter will hurt Minnesotans because of the cold climate and the major cost of fuel in farming.

Grams says the United States needs to set an energy policy that will reduce the nation's dependence on foreign oil. He says the Clinton administration's decision to sell off a fraction of the strategic petroleum reserve was "inappropriate," and poses a threat to national security.

"It is all cosmetic. They want you to believe they're out there doing something to cover up the mistakes of the last eight years," he said.

Dayton agreed that the Clinton administration has not developed an adequate energy policy. But Dayton says to solely blame the administration for tight fuel supplies and increasing prices, is simplistic and ignores the root of the problem, which he says is increasing demand for energy.

"I would point out that while it's not the sole solution, if we're going to encourage greater domestic exploration for oil and natural gas, we ought to go back to the law that Congress passed in the early 1970s when it approved the Trans-Alaskan Oil Pipeline that prohibited any of that oil from being sold oversee," he said.

Independence Party candidate James Gibson said the nation could ease the strain on energy production by moving ahead with deregulation and allowing market forces to take over.

"We need to streamline the process for bringing new facilities online," Gibson said. "If you expect the market to work, sometimes you have to let it work." All three agreed the nation needs to open a nuclear-waste repository as soon as possible.

The utility investor forum turned out to be more cordial than Grams had intended. He departed from an opening statement, which his campaign distributed to reporters as the event got underway. The Senator choose not to read several lines of prepared remarks suggesting Dayton's picture belongs next to the word "hypocrite" in the dictionary for crusading against big companies, from which he has profited.

The candidates regrouped a short time later in Ham Lake for a debate sponsored the Metro North Chamber of Commerce. There, during a discussion about Social Security, Grams defended his proposal to allow people to invest most of the money that now goes to Social Security in private retirement accounts.

"If we were going to invent Social Security today, we would never have the same system that we have now, because it just can no longer work," Grams said.

But his opponents criticized Grams' privatization proposal. Dayton said Grams uses conservative economic forecasts to predict shortfalls in Social Security, then relies on rosy forecasts to suggest private accounts are the solution.

"You can't have it both ways. If you want to take your system ... then you've got to assume a set of economic assumptions that are extremely optimistic, hopefully will be realized, but then you have to apply those to the alternative and see where will the people of America and Minnesota come out most ahead."

James Gibson questioned Grams and Dayton's numbers, particularly as they relate to paying down debt owed to the Social Security trust fund. He agreed with Dayton that Grams plans does not adequately account for its expenses.

"I still don't think, Senator, that you have outlined how you're going to handle the transition costs," he said. "You propose simply to slash non-discretionary funding by five percent, which is a non-starter."

On gun control, all three said they supported the Second Amendment. Gibson and Dayton said they support requiring gun owners to use trigger locks. Grams does not.

On military preparedness, Grams charged the Democratic administration with neglecting national security, and said he favors more military spending.

"You saw what we were able to do in "Desert Storm" in 1992. We could not do that today, because our military has not been updated as it should have been," Grams said.

Gibson said it's hard for him, from the outside, to determine whether more military spending is necessary. He said any spending should be based solely on need, not politics. Sticking with the omnipresent theme of his campaign, Gibson said one of the best ways the U.S. can remain secure is to address the national debt.

"I'm for higher-level government services, I'm also for lower taxes," Gibson said. "But long-term , we're going to meet that goal by paying down the national debt."

Dayton suggested the U.S. should redirect military spending to more sharply focus on the United States.

"I think we need a much stronger patrolling of our border by our armed forces," he said. "The greatest threat to our national security today is the flood of drugs coming into our country." Dayton summed up his afternoon debate appearance with a call for more federal funding of education. Gibson warned that failure to address the debt could seriously hurt the next generation.

Grams, who's been all-but-ignoring the Independence Party candidate, said voters have a clear choice between his vision of a scaled back government versus what he says is Dayton's emphasis on turning to the government for solutions.

Mark Dayton says he sold his stock to show he's serious about running for Senate. The department store heir says he'll invest his money in bonds and money markets and he says if he's elected, he will place his portfolio in a blind management trust. Dayton says he made the decision before learning of a new negative ad against him, the third in a string of ads questioning his motives for selling stocks in industries he has spoken out against on the campaign trail.

"From the very beginning of my adult life, I have taken positions on issues that run against my own economic interests," Dayton said. "I own various stocks from companies that I have sold over time in order to finance campaigns and other political causes, many of which have gone against my own financial interests." Grams says Dayton is a hypocrite, whose previous decisions to sell off stock have had everything to do with politics and nothing to do with personal convictions.

"It's one thing to be concerned now, but are these crocodile tears when they weren't six months ago,"Grams said.

And Grams is standing by the latest ad.

"I don't look at these as being attacks," Grams said. "I think we need to come out and define what Mark Dayton has done and what is he about?"

Mark Dayton says Grams' ads suggest the incumbent doesn't want to focus on issues.

"It's beneath what I would consider the dignity of a United States Senator," Dayton said.

The Republican and the Democrat reserved their sharpest criticism for the separate interviews with reporters; on stage at two forums they spent most all of their time - along with Independence Party candidate James Gibson - talking about issues.