Hagedorn, Feehan trade barbs on ethics
MANKATO — In a contentious debate hosted and televised by KEYC, Minnesota’s First Congressional District candidates accused each other of misusing funding.
Republican incumbent Jim Hagedorn and Democratic challenger Dan Feehan previously ran for the 1st Congressional seat in 2018. Hagedorn won the seat by a slim 1,300 votes. The current race remains relatively close.
Feehan drew attention to Hagedorn’s bulk mail scandal. The congressman’s office is alleged to have violated House ethics by allowing nearly $450,000 in taxpayer funds to be funneled into companies owned by his staffers.
Hagedorn said he acted honorably, and when he learned about the potential ethics issue, he made changes in his office and reported the matter to the House himself. Hagedorn attempted to deflect the accusations by accusing Feehan of accepting $500,000 from Democratic organizations and using that money to run for Congress, rather than work for those organizations.
Feehan said this was an untrue claim and an act of a desperate man in a desperate situation.
“How dare you attack my integrity,” Feehan said. “Integrity is essential to every single member of Congress, and you have shown none.”
The debate devolved into a back-and-forth argument between the candidates that ended when the moderator reminded them this was eating into their time.
Early questions focused on healthcare. The candidates were asked how they would bring down the cost of healthcare.
Hagedorn called for competition across the country through association plans. He said several private entities could offering healthcare services. He also wanted cost transparency to allow patients to know what they pay before seeking treatment. Hagedorn’s plan for pre-existing conditions was to create high-risk insurance pools to cover them without driving up premium costs for others. Hagedorn claimed Minnesota had this type of plan before Obamacare. He said Obamacare did not create access but pushed up premiums.
Feehan wants more options in healthcare, including a public option. He believes more options would drive down cost. He also supports lowering the Medicare age.
The candidates were asked what plans should be in place if the Affordable Care Act is taken away.
Feehan said he did not want the country to move backward on pre-existing conditions because it would allow insurance companies to dictate who gets coverage. He believes public options are the best way to ensure competition.
Hagedorn claimed rural hospital administrators were against a public option because it would lower their reimbursement rate. He called Obamacare a disaster but said he would vote to protect coverage for those with pre-existing conditions. He believes the pre-existing condition provision could be maintained.
With the ongoing pandemic, the candidates were asked how they would keep Americans safe while moving the country forward.
Hagedorn had a positive view of the national response to COVID. He believes the country had done a good job of reacting to a pandemic no one saw coming. Hagedorn supported actions taken by President Donald Trump and believes a potential vaccine is forthcoming. He objects to Gov. Tim Walz’s treatment of rural Minnesota.
The congressman believes Walz is being too heavy-handed with small businesses, churches, schools and high school sports, while failing to protect nursing homes. Hagedorn objected to treating the First District like the metro area.
“I don’t think southern Minnesota has gotten a fair shake,” he said.
Feehan rejected Hagedorn’s positive view of national response to the pandemic, calling is a disaster. He called for a national strategy for dealing with the pandemic that would provide adequate testing and tracing and also provide personal protective equipment (PPE).
Feehan said the claim that no one saw this coming was a lie. Feehan said he knew from his time serving in the Pentagon that the country had knowledge of what was coming, but there was no national response. He believes some of the regulations, like masks, could be eliminated in two months if a national strategy was implemented, but it would require leadership to take action instead of pretending it will all go away.
With Minnesota’s unemployment double what it was last year, the candidates were asked what they could do to bring back jobs during a pandemic.
Feehan said it was a false choice between saving the economy or fighting the pandemic.
“You have to deal with the pandemic for the economy to thrive,” he said.
Feehan believes small businesses will continue to close if COVID cases rise and if they do not get the government aid they need. He said a lot of the COVID aid money went to businesses that did not need it, and Hagedorn voted against transparency on aid money.
Feehan again called for a national strategy for the pandemic. He said no matter how well Minnesota does, if other states are not doing well, it impacts the rest of the country. He does not believe the economy would get better until the pandemic was defeated.
Hagedorn pointed to how strong the economy was before the pandemic. He believes it is possible to return to pre-pandemic numbers by decreasing taxes and regulations and expanding trade deals.
On streamlining transportation, Feehan said it took too long for Highway 14 to be complete. He believes infrastructure improvements should be made based on data rather than through political connections.
Hagedorn said Highway 14 was completed through bipartisan work, and other projects were coming along. He supported improvements to Rochester Airport as this airport is needed as a way to get tissue samples from the Mayo Clinic to other parts of the country.
On education, the candidates were asked how Congress could support efforts to get students back on track after the pandemic disrupted education.
Hagedorn believes education should be handled on a local level but Walz is getting in the way of making those choices. He called for an end of the restrictions placed on Minnesota schools and high school sports.
Feehan said Hagedorn was starting from the premise that COVID was not as bad as it seems. He accused the congressman of spreading debunked conspiracy theories about the virus and again called for a national strategy to combat the pandemic. Feehan also believes broadband internet for all students is necessary, especially in light of the pandemic. He would later comment rural broadband was needed to promote job growth in southern Minnesota.
Rural broadband was the only point of agreement between the candidates. Hagedorn agreed broadband was important and said there would be bipartisan support for its expansion.
With the unrest surrounding George Floyd’s death, the candidates were asked if systemic racism existed and whether protestors and police could both be supported.
Hagedorn said he wanted to make sure everyone is treated safely. He acknowledged that the police handling of George Floyd was unacceptable, but said it was no excuse to riot, loot and burn.
The congressman criticized Walz’s handling of the riots and the loss of businesses. Hagedorn said he supported common sense police reforms but voted against a bill favored by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that put a high standard of liability on police.
Feehan said Floyd’s murder as evidence of systemic racism in America. He believes it is possible to have safety in the community and respect human rights for everyone.
Hagedorn accused Feehan of supporting efforts to defund police, but Feehan denied this, saying he opposed defunding or abolishing the police. Feehan said he knew what it meant to serve from his time in Iraq.
On election security, Feehan said the current administration was denigrating information from U.S. intelligence communities that shows efforts from other foreign powers to interfere with elections.
“I am concerned that we have disregarded intelligence that Russia is actively trying to undermine us for years,” he said.
Hagedorn said there were efforts from the Soviet Union to undermine American elections since the Reagan era, and no one was minimizing them, but he objected to recent attempts by the intelligence community to use the information to put President Trump in a position to be impeached. Hagedorn also expressed concerns about mail-in ballots.
Feehan argued that mail-in ballots were a Minnesota tradition for several election cycles.
In his closing statement, Hagedorn spoke of facing adversity in the last two years. He was diagnosed with cancer, but the treatments were working, and he did not miss a vote because of his illness. He credited his work in his first term with helping agricultural businesses and healthcare and with helping fund the completion of Highway 14. Hagedorn said he made hundreds of stops across the district and held 27 town halls. He promised to continue fighting for Minnesota.
Feehan said in 2020 he sees hope all around him, from small businesses creating PPE for frontline workers, to teachers making sure kids get an education during a pandemic. But Feehan said hope has limits. He said the First District deserves a congressman who will put people first, instead of corporate interest or the party.