Minnesota U.S. Senate debate – Rochester

Live-blogging the first debate in the race for U.S. Senate in Minnesota that features all three candidates for the major political parties.

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Pre-game show

6:34 p.m. – Unlike Palin-Biden, I can find no existence of any Senate debate bingo cards. Maybe for the next debate, which is next Saturday in Minneapolis.

The TVs are running plenty of ads in the race, of course. I’ve noticed Coleman has really gone long with the “furrowed brow” look. In his latest ad, he acknowledges the economic meltdown and says we shouldn’t play the ‘blame game.”


The ads are reminiscent of Coleman’s strategy in the last days of his 2002 race against Walter Mondale, stressing working together and decrying the “tone” of politics.


7:00 p.m. – We’re underway. This is a 90-minute debate. There’s a two-minute opening statement for each candidate, then questions about energy, economy, and foreign policy.

7:04 p.m. – Barkley opening statement. Talks about his time in the Senate, filling out the term of Paul Wellstone. Was escorted to the Senate dining room and noticed Republicans and Democrats weren’t sitting together, so he pulled a table and put it in the middle of the two. He says Republicans and Dems started having lunch with him.

7:06 p.m. – Coleman opening statement. “We remain a nation on edge. “$7 billion of funding with a gun to your head is not the way government is supposed to work.” Talks about his time as mayor of St. Paul. Stresses his bipartisanship in the Senate. Overrode two presidential vetoes to pass a farm bill. “Being angry doesn’t solve problems,” he says in a note too veiled shot at Franken. “Anger for anger’s sake doesn’t solve problems.” Says change has begun with him.

7:08 p.m. – Franken opening statement. The election is about people who haven’t gotten a fair shake. Gives his bio, growing up in St. Louis Park, middle class “at the height of middle class in Minnesota. I felt like the luckiest kid in the world and you know what? I was.” Says middle class families can’t afford to have Washington as they did bailing out Wall Street.


Q: How will current financial rescue plan help Main St., America?

Coleman: What we did provides a basis for stability but doesn’t solve the problems. Calls for energy independence: More drilling, more nuclear energy and reprocessing, more “clean coal,” solar power etc. “I’m the one person who’s worked in a bipartisan way on a consistent basis.”

Franken: “I didn’t like the bailout bill; it won’t do much. It doesn’t pass the test of ‘does this protect the taxpayers of Minnesota.'” Like draining a basement that’s flooded when there’s a big hole in the roof. The problem is Wall St. lobbyists have pushed for deregulation of financial industry. Says it reminded him of the rush to war in Iraq. “And they used fear to do this and fear compounded the crisis.” Nothing in the bill addressed the housing crisis.

Barkley: “What we’ve just seen is the great malfeasance of government in history and I will blame Norm for that.” When banking rate that banks charged each other went from 3 to 7 percent, banks stopped giving each other loans. I would’ve voted for the package. Businesses would not have been able to get loans. Students wouldn’t have been able to get student loans. I hope it works; I didn’t like it but we have to get over it and stop playing the game. It’s very easy to sit “as Al did for waiting until the vote was over and then taking a position.” (Bob notes: a few days prior to the vote Franken told a conference call that he hadn’t read the original proposal and so he didn’t take a firm position. However he did set out criteria before the vote for what would be acceptable).

On rebuttal, Coleman says he first opposed the plan but then favored it because there were limits on executive pay and more protections. “I can’t tell you if this is going to work, but if we didn’t do it….this is about people’s lives. It’s not enough to sit on the sideslines and criticize. At least we gave a shot at it.”

Franken said Coleman was in favor of it in the beginning. “This is the exclamation point on this administration’s failure and Coleman has stuck with the president all the way.”

Barkley, who comes out very combatant, said one good thing that came out of the week is that for the first time in the campaign, both of his opponents have admitted that we have a problem with the national debt.

Q: The bailout may solve the credit freeze but it’s unlikely to keep more workers from losing their jobs. What specific policies would you support to create jobs?

Franken: We’re seeing the result of an economic philosophy that believes wealth is created at the top. Coleman believes wealth is building a 7th house. Franken proposes short-term infrastructure projects with money in the pipeline for Iraqi reconstruction.

Barkley: New energy jobs won’t solve the problem. Middle America has lost buying power; they’ve “ducked and hid.” The dollar has dropped 40 percent in value; that’s why energy has gone through the roof. Congress has been talking alternative energy for 30 years and nothing has changed. Asks Coleman why oil companies got tax breaks in the last energy bill.

Coleman: What’s the difference between talk and action? Says he’s working on a comprehensive do-it-all plan. Drilling, which he says Franken doesn’t support, and nuclear. Says not passing the financial stabilization package would’ve been a “spike through the heart” of the wind industry because it contained a tax credit for the industry.

Rebuttal: Franken says Coleman voted against investment tax credits for wind and solar. The bailout bill was too big and too important to be larded with other bills (Wellstone mental health parity, for example). Says we should be building light rail and electric cars. Wants a crackdown on oil speculation which, he says, Coleman opposed.

Barkley wonders why we’re talking energy when we’re on jobs creation? Reiterates that until people have money to spend again, that is what’s going to start stimulating the economy. News jobs in energy should help, but we have to restore faith in the economy.


Q:: Do you favor developing ethanol from corn, given the problems with food production?

Barkley: “Absolutely, I do.” Yes, but says corn-based ethanol is not a long-term solution. If you’re a corn farmer, great. If you’re a dairy farmer, not so great. Hopefully we go to the next generation of biofuels. Supports importing ethanol from other countries.

Coleman: Responding to previous question. Says again that farmers who wanted to get into wind generation wouldn’t have been able to if the bailout bill hadn’t been past. Says mental health parity wouldn’t be law if the bailout bill hadn’t been past. “It’s not like you’re sitting in a radio station,” he says.

On this question: Yes. Corn is down 2-3 dollars from where it was. (Bob notes: It’s at break-even levels.

Franken: Says Coleman had a chance to vote on tax credits for wind and other renewables and didn’t. He did it when it was attached to the bailout bill. Says he’s seen the pain the problem causes around the state. People are unemployed who can’t drive to a job interview. Says ethanol brings down the cost of energy, and is only a small part in the rise in the price of food. “We had two oil men running the White House and Norm Coleman hs taken more money from the oil industry than anyone in this history of this state.”

Rebuttal Barkley: “It’s a shame it took $4 gas to get Congress to do something they should’ve been doing for the last 30 years.” Why do we continue to give oil corporations a break as tax policy. “I don’t get it; I don’t think anyone gets it.” Says oil industry got tax breaks before wind and solar got theirs.

Coleman: “Talk vs. action” theme reiterated. We made a different for wind energy in the bailout bill. Franken opposed it.

Franken: “We’ve squandered seven and a half years.” Says Coleman had a chance to vote for reauthorization of tax credits for alternative energy and he didn’t.

Do you have a goal for reducing dependence on foreign oil? If so, how much and by when, and how would you achieve it?

Coleman: Reiterates the difference “between talk and action.” Discusses “Drive Act” that calls for 7 million barrels a day consumption of oil. More aggressive CAFE standards. Also says he’s voted on many occasions for wind and solar credits. Iran is a threat because of energy dependency. Adds Russia, Venezuela. Says he hopes dropping gas prices doesn’t reduce the resolve for energy dependence.

Franken: “We can get to energy independence by 2030.” (Suddenly, I’m recalling a Midmorning episode on whether energy independence is possible. Advocates plug-in cars, solar, wind. “Let’s go to what we know can be done and be done efficiently.”

Barkley: We can do it “in such a period of time as such as our country wants to do it.” Would like to do it within 20 years. Says GM and Ford “has finally got it” and is designing cars that operate on alternative energy. Notes that wind power lacks the transmission lines needed.

Rebuttal Coleman: “Southwest Minnesota is the Saudi Arabia of wind.” (Awhile ago Al Franken said it’s the “Silicon Valley of Windows.”). We need energy infrastructure. Says the country could take the money from leasing offshore oil fields for infrastructure.

Franken: Our dependence on foreign oil has gone up virtually every year since Mr. Coleman has been in the Senate. “This is a tremendous opportunity and it’s an opportunity that we just ignored.”

Barkley: I have talked about energy as much as I can and I don’t have anything else to say.


Q: What are some of the foreign affairs issues we’re not focusing on now and what could become important in the next several years?

Franken: We didn’t focus enough on Afghanistan because we went into Iraq, “which I believe was a horrible mistake.” Says Coleman still believes the war in Iraq was a good idea. “We need to put the focus on the people who attacked us.” Says Coleman voted time and again against 9/11 Commission recommendations (According to Washington Post, Coleman didn’t vote on a July 26, 2007 vote to implement the recommendaitons). Need to control “loose nukes.”

Barkley: Says he differs from Coleman on the decision to get into the war in Iraq. He says “that was his first trillion-dollar mistake” and the bailout bill was the second trillion-dollar mistake. We spend more on military in our country than all the other military budgets combined. Do we need troops in Germany, Japan, Taiwan when we’re $11.3 trillion in debt. Nobody running for office wants to look at the defense spending. “I will.”

Coleman: The greatest threat is terrorism. Our soldiers in Iraq have driven al Qaeda out of Iraq. It’s made a difference. Says Franken and Barkley supported efforts to cut off funding for troops. Says Iran is a great threat. “We cannot be the world’s sole policeman.” Wants a U.N. force that can go into trouble spots “and do something.”

Rebuttal Franken: I’ve been on several USO tours. I’ve never suggested cutting off funding to troops. Norm Coleman is the only person on this platform who voted against funding for our troops in the bill that set a timeline to withdraw. While Norm Coleman was in office, our troops were not getting proper equipment. Says as a talk show host, he raised money to get better helmets and Norm Coleman “could’ve been doing it while he was in the Senate.”

Barkley: “I’ve never said I’d cut off funding for the troops. The best thing we can do for our troops is to bring them home.” (Applause) We’ve got a new reality: We’re broke. Until we get people there who say “we’ve got to stop doing this,” how much worse can it be. We’re the first generation of Americans who are going to leave the country in worse shape than we inherited.

Coleman: (Franken’s) statement that I voted to cut off funding is the most absurd statement. Franken supported war initially, and then wanted to bring troops home. I wanted troops to come home right away, as safely as possible. if we followed the plans of Barkley/Franken, “al Qaeda would still bestrong there.”

Q: Under what scenario would you support pre-emptive military action?

Barkley: I’d be hard pressed to support that doctrine. Under it, China and Russia would be a threat. (Aside to Coleman: al Qaeda came to Iraq after we were already there.)

Coleman: To protect the safety and security of the U.S. The doctine needs to be exercised carefully. We made mistakes in Iraq. If a president had information that the country is going to be struck a serious blow, they need to act. Before that authority is exercised, executive branch should consult with the legislative branch.

Franken: I agree with Dean and Norm. It’s something you have to keep on the table and use only in an extraordinary situation. “I’m surprised to hear Norm still say that he thought the war in Iraq wasn’t a mistake. I didn’t speak out against — or for — the war because I was genuinely torn. All the reasons to go to war turned out to be false.” Says Iraq ‘was a tragic blunder of epic proportions and Norm Coleman still thinks it was a good idea. We’ve lost 4,000 of our bravest. I’ve been to too many military hospitals. We’ve undermined our position in the world, our standing in the world; we’ve helped Iran. This war has been a tragic, tragic mistake but Norm Coleman still thinks it was a good idea.”

Rebutal Barkley: Congress is the only one that should lead us into war. We were lied to to get into Vietnam. Now I’ve lived through a second war where lies again got us into a war. It’s time for “Iraq, Norm, to either sink or swim.”

Coleman: “I was at Walter Reed last week. This is not about a good idea. When I visit with those soldiers, I’m careful never to undermine the sacrifice that they have made. It is too bad that we politicize these sorts of issues.

(Bob notes: How does one run for office during a war, and talk about the war, without “undermining” the sacrifices? Please comment below)

Franken: It was more important for Norm Coleman that millionaires get every bit of their tax cut than our troops have proper medical care.


Q: How will you help Minnesotans be able to afford college?

Coleman: We’re going to increase Pell grants and grants for kids in community college. I voted for veterans benefits 37 times. Every time “Franken says I voted against, I want the audience to say ‘I don’t think so.'”

Franken: (To Coleman) It’s true you voted 18 times against increasing benefits for vets, and you voted against increasing student aid. Franken says he proposed $5,000 tax credit for parents of students. Says Coleman voted to cut number of students eligible for Pell grants.

Barkley: We can’t afford to make promises we can’t pay for. I can’t increase national debt. (to Franken) “How are you going to pay for this $5,000 credit?” Says that’s the biggest difference between Franken and himself, “I’m not going to pander to you.” The reality is, he says, we’re broke.

Q: What about nasty ads?

Franken: We’re running ads about Norm Coleman’s record and they’re bad because his record isn’t so good. Coleman has run ads about me personally but “I can take it because it’s nothing compared to what the people of Minnesota are putting up with.”

Barkley: Says he has no money for ads. “I’ve been the beneficiary of the negative ads so keep on doing it.” Says it’s been embarrassing.

Coleman: Mr. Franken’s record is his career. “You have to decide, is temperament important. You have to work with people.” He said Franken doesn’t have a record of working for people in Minnesota “so there are tough ads.”

Q: What is your position on the DM&E railroad expansion (DM&E coal project)?

Barkley: Wishes they would’ve gone around Rochester. It is going to go ahead. It’s going to spur economic development for southern Minnesota.

Coleman: We won’t allow a project to go forward that poses a risk to the Mayo Clinic. DM&E project didn’t meet criteria. “Rather than studying it, I’m working on it.”

Franken: It’s a bad idea to have hazardous material traveling within 100 yards of the Mayo Clinic at 80 miles per hour. Norm Coleman voted for it. Goes back to the negative ad discussion and disputes assertion he attacked a heckler. “A heckler heckled John Dean (Howard Dean?) at a rally and he stopped him. “I was given a key to the city by the mayor of Manchester.” I’ll take those hits and I’ll be proud to.

Q: What steps would you take to eliminate the federal budget deficit?

Coleman: We’ve got to get the housing market fixed. Tax cuts. Limit earmarks.

Franken: Says Coleman voted to prohibit Medicare from negotiating with pharmacy companies on Medicare Part D. Says Coleman wanted to make private accounts for Social Security. “Can you imagine if we’d done that?” Says it’s a good idea “we didn’t do what Norm Coleman wanted to do.”

Barkley: Nothing’s changed. The numbers have gotten bigger. ” First bill I’d introduce is a four-year spending cap. No more new spending and let’s have the fight over how we spend our dollars.”


Barkley: “Norm you’re a great politcian. Al, you’re a great comedian. I like to consider myself a great doer.” Says he’s helped increase K-12 education, rebate checks, lowered property tax, car registration fees cut, light rail. Says he was a key player in Homeland Security Act.

Coleman: It’s not enough to talk and fight against. Seniors have prescription drug benefit because of Medicare Part D. Touts confirmation of Alito and Roberts and was opposed to “bitter partisanship” that’s torn this country apart.

Franken: If you like the way things have been going in Washington, and think George Bush has been right 90% of the time, then I’m not your guy. If you think the middle class is the engine of our prosperity, then I ask for your vote.