Comparing MN-8 candidates in first public forum

On Sunday, the seven announced candidates for Congress in Minnesota’s Eighth Congressional District participated in their first major public forum. The event was sponsored by student groups from the College of St. Scholastica and the University of Minnesota-Duluth. The Uptake was there to gather video.

Five DFLers — including Kirsten Kennedy, Michelle Lee, Jason Metsa, Leah Phifer and Joe Radinovich — took the stage with Republican Pete Stauber and Independence Party candidate Ray “Skip” Sandman.

First, you can view the complete forum for yourself below or at this link:

The Uptake kindly provided a convenient time code table if you want to zoom in on particular topic:

6:23 opening statements
16:28 – Encouraging students to go on to higher education and solving the student debt crisis
27:14 What will you do to prevent future mass shootings at schools?
38:29 What does immigration reform mean to you? How would you balance national security and privacy?
50:04 How will you address the problem of homelessness?
1:01:11 PolyMet and long term economic and environmental sustainability of Lake Superior and St. Louis River?
1:12:12 What is the best way to address problems with health care system?
1:22:56 Position on pro-life and pro-choice movements
1:31:41 Is an independent commission with redistricting the best way to guarantee fair elections in the future?
1:42:38 Closing statements
1:52:02 End

For me, the forum represented a “get to know you” kind of event. The DFLers didn’t spar much with each other, given the presence of their future general election opponents. It’s worth watching if you’re just getting to know these candidates.

Some general observations:

  • One striking passage was on guns. The Eighth District is generally regarded as a haven for Second Amendment support. You can tell the national appetite for some kind of action on gun violence is real, however. You saw each of the five DFL candidates take a strong position in favor of gun control measures. Sandman, a progressive independent, did as well. But even Stauber, the staunch conservative likely to be endorsed by the NRA, offered support for measures to keep guns out of the hands of people with mental illness or who have committed drug crimes.
  • DFLers expressed few significant policy differences, but some fairly significant style differences. Phifer comes across as the most passionate. Radinovich and Kennedy pragmatic. Lee probably pegs out as the most liberal candidate, but has a smooth delivery. Metsa is mild and plain-spoken, the only one with a classic Iron Range accent.
  • The largest DFL policy debate remains copper-nickel mining. As I’ve expressed before, the candidates fall along a spectrum. Metsa the die-hard mining backer; Radinovich and Kennedy supporting the need for responsible mining, with Phifer opposed to the current PolyMet proposal and Lee outright opposed to “sulfide mining in water-rich environment.” Pick your poison. DFLers have options.
  • Pete Stauber came across poised, but left a lot of time on the board. He gave short answers. At this point his strategy probably centers around letting the DFLers damage each other.
  • Sandman demonstrated that he’ll be a liberal alternative in the general election, highlighting the tiny needle the DFL must thread to keep this seat blue.

Follow my MN-8 reporting at my special coverage page.


  1. Just a note: the laws Stauber supported to keep guns out of the hands of mentally ill people and convicted felons already exist. What he actually endorsed that was new was strengthening the data base used in “instant background checks” by funding efforts to improve reporting by creating and installing computer systems at local and state levels that would transfer data automatically and instantaneously to the central data base used in background checks.

    This has become a hot topic since the recent Texas church shooting, in which it emerged that the shooter should not have been able to buy guns due to domestic violence convictions while in the military, but that the military was not passing on that information to the central data base. The NRA has endorsed the plan. The military has promised to get its act together as well.

    Current law makes gun sales to convicted felons, including convicted domestic abusers, and to people with a history of commitment for mental health issues illegal already. The proposals Stauber made are not to change that law, but to make record keeping changes that would facilitate enforcement.

    Stauber also pointed out that local law enforcement had had dozens of complaints about and contacts with the Florida shooter, and that the FBI had received complaints as well. The problem there is that under current federal and Florida law, in the absence of a conviction for a felony or a history of commitment for mental illness, law enforcement agencies have no real power to either prevent buying of guns or to seize guns already owned. The shooter did have a history of being expelled from school for assault, but had not been either charged or convicted in court, so that also had no impact on his right to own an assault rifle. That is not surprising when you consider the general position in the US on ownership of guns and the numbers of school kids suspended or expelled for fights and assaults. In the absence of more strict laws, the rights of most of those kids to have guns is protected.

    • The new funding for building the data bank for background checks was part of the new budget passed last week, so Stauber is actually endorsing something that is already in place there as well. That was originally opposed by Trump, who wanted to cut funding for the program, but in the wake of Florida and Texas became a hot issue put forward by the NRA and its allies as a counter to more strict gun safety laws being endorsed by the student movement and others, and was included in the bill. The other gun control issue that was in the budget was the end to the ban on the CDC and the NIH doing any research on gun violence issues, although that was passed without any actual funding. Researchers will have to find other sources of funding if they want to do research under Centers for Disease Control or National Institutes of Health sponsorship. At least one of the DFLers on Sunday — Phifer or Lee? — called for funding of that research.

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