DFL Congressman Bill Luther and Republican John Kline engaged in a heated debate Thursday on the public television show "Face to Face." This is the third time the two candidates have run against each other. This time, they're running in a new district as a result of the court-ordered redistricting plan. The district is comprised of the southern Twin Cities suburbs and stretches into the agricultural-rich towns of Fairbault and Kenyon.
Luther has beaten Kline twice before, but pundits say the new district leans Republican. The tight contests of the past, and the razor-thin Republican majority in the House, have made this one of the more hotly contested races in the country.
John Kline and Bill Luther always seem to be engaged in competitive races. The last two elections have been close, with Luther winning by less than four percentage points both times.
One of the hosts of the public TV show "Face to Face" opened up the 20-minute debate by comparing the House race to the historic boxing matches between Muhammad Ali and Smokin' Joe Frazier. The two candidates smiled at the comparison - and then came out swinging.
They started with the campaign of Sam Garst. Garst, a Luther supporter, filed to run in the race as a member of the No New Taxes Party, with the hopes that the party name would siphon votes from the more conservative Kline. Luther's campaign knew about Garst's plans. Luther's campaign manager called Garst's candidacy "humorous."
Kline called the act despicable. He said Luther should denounce Garst's candidacy and fire his campaign manager. Luther said Garst was angry over a literature piece that the National Republican Congressional Committee ran at the end of the last election. The piece said Luther voted to protect criminals, including murderers, rapists and sex offenders.
"What's in fact occurring is that the chickens are coming home to roost with John Kline and his activities, and he's not happy about it," Luther said.
To which Kline responded: "So what you're saying is that you took that action in retribution? That you went to your friend Sam Garst, your supporter, and said 'Hey Sam, let's go deceive the voters and steal this election,' because of something that happened in 2000 that I had nothing to do with."
Luther said the anger "isn't just a Garst thing. There are hundreds of people that are incensed with the notion that John Kline could get to Congress after doing what he did in 2000. That's not the way we run things in Minnesota."
"If there are hundreds of people who are incensed that I could get to Congress, there must be hundreds of thousands who are incensed over this thing," Kline said.
Luther didn't denounce Garst's candidacy. He said it's too late for Garst to withdraw from the race. He wants to see Kline and him start focusing on the issues of the campaign.
On the issue of corporate accountability, Kline said he was appalled by the actions of corporate executives who have defrauded shareholders. He said they should be held accountable for breaking the law.
Luther implied that Kline was cozy with big business. He held up a piece of Kline campaign literature from two years ago that called for greater deregulation of business.
"He is not supporting the kind of environment that can stop this in the first place," Luther said. "The workers, the shareholders, the employees, they need someone who strikes the right balance."
"I didn't say 'anything goes' in business," Kline said. "What I've said is - business is important to prosperity. Private enterprise is what makes this country great. It's what creates jobs, it's what allows workers to increase their wealth," Kline said. "To just say that I support an 'anything goes' philosophy and would, in any way, support corporate irresponsibility and the illegalities that have taken place ... I'm just outraged by that."
On the issue of Social Security, Kline defended his stance on allowing younger workers to invest a portion of their payroll tax into private accounts. He says the system will run out of money if the problem isn't fixed.
"I don't know the specific solution, the specific percentage. But I do know that we have to do something to ensure the long term solvency of Social Security," Kline said. "Because doing nothing guarantees that benefits will be lowered or taxes will be raised."
Luther says he's against the idea of personal accounts, because it would take money away from the existing Social Security benefits.
"You know how you pay for Social Security for the current recipients," Luther said. "It's from the payroll taxes going in. So if he would now just say, 'Once you take that money out of the system, I'm either going to cut benefits or raise taxes,' then he would be telling people the truth of what's going on."
Luther says he prefers a plan that would allow the government to invest a portion of the nation's Social Security surplus in securities other than government bonds to make sure the program is solvent. Kline said he would prefer to give individuals the right to invest their money as opposed to the government.More from MPR