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Candidate Q&A: Minnesota’s First Congressional District

Author’s note: This is a continuation of the Herald’s features that will run over the coming months in which candidates for various offices will address questions about specific issues that affect citizens of Mower County and the surrounding areas. For this feature, questions were submitted to Rep. Jim Hagedorn (R-MN1) and challenger Dan Feehan (DFL) regarding the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Here are their responses.

Jim Hagedorn

Dan Feehan

Q: What has been the most consistent concern you’ve heard from district residents regarding the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic?

Hagedorn: Just several months ago, before COVID-19 hit, Minnesota and the U.S. boasted the strongest economy in our lifetime with record low unemployment. Demand was so strong, the only complaint for business owners was the lack of available workers. Even farmers, after six long years of low commodity prices, were getting optimistic again, based upon passage of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada (USMCA) trade agreement (which I strongly supported), Phase One with China, proper implementation of the Renewable Fuel Standard and what appeared to be a great growing season on the horizon.

Certainly, the pause in the economy associated with the coronavirus has set our economy back. I regularly travel throughout the First District and visit Main Street businesses and discuss the issues with community leaders, business owners, employees and residents of southern Minnesota. The most consistent concern I hear is the need to sustain our small businesses and reopen Minnesota’s economy, fully.

The arbitrary decrees issued by Gov. Walz that enabled big box stores to remain open and small business closed have taken a toll. Leaders and business owners are generally pleased with the federal government’s response to help businesses, particularly through the Paycheck Protection Program, but are extremely dismayed by Gov.Walz and the Democrats’ continued extreme responses and use of emergency powers, none of which is based upon science or accurate estimates.

Feehan: Farmers, small business owners, and working families all across southern Minnesota have told me how worried they are about the cost of healthcare and prescription drugs amidst this global pandemic. They are incredibly frustrated that in this time Congressman Hagedorn chooses to side with his donors in the drug and insurance industry rather than fighting for southern Minnesotans. Congressman Hagedorn voted against bipartisan legislation to lower prescription drug prices and is actively working to undo the Affordable Care Act and get rid of protections for patients with pre-existing conditions. Healthcare must always be affordable, accessible, and high-quality, and that is more important than ever. In Congress, I would fight against the entrenched corporate special interests to ensure healthcare and prescription drugs are affordable for every southern Minnesotan.

Q: What steps should be taken to provide economic relief to farmers unable to sell crops/livestock and small businesses that were temporarily closed because of the pandemic?

Hagedorn: The pause in the economy and closure of restaurants hit our farmers hard. Demand for finer cuts of meat along with futures markets fell through the floor. Then we experienced packing plant disruptions and excess supply of market-ready hogs. Congress enacted some money for farmers in the CARES Act, but it wasn’t near enough and included counterproductive payment limits.

I have introduced two bills to mitigate losses for our pork producers: one to compensate farmers for destroying animals and not using the meat for the food supply, and another to make up for losses as hog farmers sold into depressed markets. Additionally, I support a third market facilitation payment to alleviate trade shortfalls, as well as replenishing the USDA’s Commodity Credit Corporation and creating incentives to stabilize the biofuels industry. We must sustain all our farmers, who are dealing with depressed markets and financial shortfalls through no fault of their own.

As for small businesses, I worked in bipartisan fashion with Democratic Rep. Chris Pappas of New Hampshire to gain passage of the Employee Retention Tax Credit and I was a strong advocate for the Paycheck Protection Program. I’m open to additional support for small businesses, but we must ensure such funds are truly needed.

Feehan: Our farmers need direct support to offset the losses, not just from COVID-19, but also from disastrous trade policies and the EPA, which has prioritized oil companies over our farmers. For all of our farmers, I would fight to end Washington’s disastrous trade policies, prevent further undermining of the market for corn ethanol, and fund programs and initiatives to help our farmers be even more resilient. Furthermore, to support our pork producers specifically, we need to ensure our pork processing plants are able to run at full capacity in a way that is safe for all workers. We can only do this when we have a national plan to test and trace and have sufficient PPE for all of our frontline workers. Finally, while Congressman Hagedorn takes corporate PAC donations from out-of-state oil companies which have sought to undermine the market for corn ethanol, I won’t ever take a dime from oil companies or any other corporate PAC because I want to be fully focused on supporting and serving farmers and ag communities in southern Minnesota.

Q: Should the federal government extend the $600 per week unemployment benefit beyond the July 31 deadline (as included in the House-approved HEROES Act)?

Hagedorn: No. I believe this provision discourages employees from returning to work. I support unemployment for those out of work through no fault of their own, but not above a level that exceeds full-time wages. Businesses are begging employees to come back to work and the biggest impediment is the extra $600 per week unemployment.

Feehan: Over the past few months, I’ve spent a lot of time on the phone with small business owners, local officials, farmers, veterans, and working people all across southern Minnesota. Many in southern Minnesota are rightfully frustrated at both parties in Congress for failing to pass sufficient bipartisan relief that would help our hospitals, farmers, small business owners, towns, cities, and counties — while they have succeeded in passing bills that help Wall Street and the biggest corporations in America. Some in Washington are trying to pit small business owners against workers, and I reject that premise. We need to ensure workers and small businesses affected by COVID-19 have the aid they need to stay afloat. One way we can do that is to continue extending the $600 per week emergency COVID aid because so many working families across southern Minnesota need it to pay for medical bills, prescription drugs, childcare, groceries, and the other costs of life. While this is not a silver bullet or a perfect solution, it is a start. In Congress, I would work with Republicans and Democrats to build upon this and find ways to ensure aid programs prioritize our workers and small businesses over megacorporations and hedge funds.

Q: Do you support or oppose actions taken by the Trump Administration to reopen the economy?

Hagedorn: I have consistently supported reopening our economy and have been an open and direct critic of Gov. Walz’s arbitrary decrees that limited business activity and our constitutional rights. By contrast, my opponent has never criticized Walz’s heavy handed approach that shut down or severely restricted hospitals, small businesses, churches, schools and other entities. I have taken a stand for people in need of routine medical care and cancer screenings, our small businesses (vs. big box stores), our First Amendment right to freely worship, and enable border town small businesses to compete and not lose business to Wisconsin, Iowa and South Dakota. I would also like to note neighboring states have been fully open for business for two months, or the entire time like South Dakota, yet Wisconsin’s per capita death rate is 50 percent of Minnesota’s and South Dakota’s is just 33 percent.

Feehan: Washington has failed to respond to both the public health crisis and the economic crisis caused by COVID-19. We need our economy to thrive, but it can only do so when we have a national testing and tracing plan to get this virus under control and sufficient PPE for our frontline healthcare workers. The Administration and Congress have failed to set-up a national testing and tracing plan and our frontline healthcare workers still do not have sufficient PPE. If small business owners are afraid to open up their businesses or if customers are afraid to go out because of potential exposure to COVID-19, then our economy here in southern Minnesota cannot thrive and grow. Furthermore, while Congress has authorized some aid, it is not enough, and more importantly, it is going disproportionately to megacorporations, hedge funds, and even directly to politicians, rather than the families and small businesses that need it most. While Congressman Hagedorn voted against disclosing the recipients of the Paycheck Protection Program, I will fight for transparency of federal aid programs to ensure that we know that taxpayer money is going to the small businesses and working families it was intended for.

Q: Anything else you want to add?

Hagedorn: One of my top priorities has been to provide adequate reimbursement and financial stability for our fine institutions of medicine, from the Mayo Clinic to our extraordinary rural hospitals. I led a bipartisan group of 35 congressmen and women in sending a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar requesting that rural hospitals receive a proportionate share of CARES Act appropriations. The Secretary complied with our request and hospitals all across the First District have been receiving funds to avoid bankruptcy. These and other initiatives have helped stabilize our rural medical care providers during the pandemic. The reason I am so committed to this issue is that our rural hospitals not only provide high-quality and timely medical care to southern Minnesotans, but often they are the largest employer and a strong driver of the economy in our communities. I will continue to support our fine medical providers.

Feehan: Roadside bombs were a persistent reality of life and death when I first deployed to Iraq as an Army Ranger in 2006, and they were hard to find. The uncertainty of when and where the next explosion might be led to units driving as fast as possible with the hopes that the bombs would miss more often than they hit— but we knew that hope alone wouldn’t work. Using more than hope as a strategy, my platoon and I walked off of the road slowly where we could find and cut the wires leading to the bombs along the road. It was deliberate and required each soldier to do their part. It created a common purpose and pride to find more bombs than would find us. Politicians in Washington like Jim Hagedorn, who spread disinformation about COVID-19 and are just hoping it goes away without any real plan, could learn a lesson or two from soldiers who disabled roadside bombs in Iraq. Hope alone is not enough. We need leadership, especially when COVID-19 cases rise and testing wait times increase, to develop a national testing, tracing and PPE plan so we can deliberately defeat COVID-19 and our economy can thrive.