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Luther, Kline face off in 2nd District debate
DFL Congressman Bill Luther and Republican John Kline engaged in their first debate in two months in Red Wing. The two candidates are running in Minnesota's 2nd Congressional District in what many consider one of the hottest races in the country. The candidates debated a wide variety of issues including health care, gun control and taxes.

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Image John Kline

The two candidates, now running against each other for a third time, have spent much of the campaign sniping over campaign tactics. But they largely stuck to policy before about 250 people who attended the Red Wing debate. They agreed that the rising cost of health insurance needed to be addressed. Luther says passing legislation that would make prescription drugs cheaper is a good way to start.

"I've been supporting a plan, first of all, to make prescription drugs part of the Medicare system so that people could get prescription drug coverage as a part of Medicare. I also have been working with Rep. Gil Gutknecht of this area, on the whole issue of importation to try to make sure that there are not restrictions to importing prescription drugs. The effect of that will be to start leveling things out," Luther said.

Kline says he, too, wants to lower the price of prescription drugs. He also says he'd like to cut regulations on small businesses and create tax incentives so they can afford health insurance.

"There have been efforts put forward to allow businesses to pool together to reduce those costs. And I think that's a very important step to take. We ought to be looking, our vision for the future ought to be a time where Americans own their own insurance. The federal government will have a role to play in that without any doubt, in many cases perhaps paying for most or all the premiums. But we ought to have individual Americans have the maximum choice on who provides their care," Kline said.

Minnesota's 2nd Congressional District encompasses the southern Twin Cities suburbs and runs south to Red Wing and Faribault. One of the key issues in the southern end of the district involves the Prairie Island nuclear facility and how Xcel Energy will handle its nuclear waste. The plant says it's expected to run out of storage space for highly radioactive waste in 2007.

Kline criticized Luther for voting against a bill that would create a permanent storage facility in Nevada. The bill passed. Luther said he voted against the measure because Congress didn't put any pressure on energy companies to create alternative energy options. He says he's proposing legislation to get Minnesota's waste out first.

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Image Bill Luther

"I would prioritize things this way in the country: I would say that if you're in the lead on alternative energy, then you ought to be at the top of the list in terms of the removal of your nuclear waste from your state, because we need alternative energy in this country so we don't have to continue to rely on the traditional sources," Luther said.

"It doesn't make any difference if you're at the front of the line if the line isn't going anywhere," countered Kline, who said he would have voted to ship the waste to Nevada. "It's important that we should explore alternative energy, but we have the predominance of energy here is provided by nuclear power and fossil fuels. We can't afford to have Prairie Island shut down and lose those jobs associated with it and lost the power."

The two candidates also debated gun control. The two candidates both say they support the rights of sportsmen. Kline criticized Luther for being reluctant to listen to the concerns from the National Rifle Association, a group that's endorsed Kline.

"Mr. Luther is right that you shouldn't always listen to a special interest group on how to do things. I suppose the trouble with Mr. Luther is that he never listens to the NRA and gets an F from them because he does not respect the rights of the individual to keep and bear arms. I do respect that right. It's an important part of our freedom. It's an important part of our rights here in America," he said.

Luther says he judges each piece of gun control legislation before making a decision. He says Kline would never stand up to the NRA if he was elected.

"I was a hunter and I still am a hunter, but I also have raised kids and raised a family here in Minnesota. And I know that things like child trigger locks make sense," Luther said.

Kline criticized Luther for being tied to his own special interest groups, mainly the Trial Lawyers Association and the Sierra Club.

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