FARGO-Wayne Stenehjem claimed in a debate that the "original, authentic Doug Burgum" would have acted as he did in trying to protect Medicaid expansion to maintain health coverage for poor North Dakotans.
Stenehjem and Burgum, rivals for the Republican nomination for governor in the June 14 primary, clashed on the issue of Medicaid expansion, a provision of the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare. The debate was held Monday, May 16, and will air on Prairie Public at 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 20.
As attorney general, Stenehjem joined several court challenges trying to overturn the health reform law, which was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. But Burgum, a Fargo businessman, repeatedly has attacked Stenehjem for signing on to defend tax credit subsidies for those covered by expanded Medicaid, which added coverage for 16,000 North Dakota residents.
"I was never a supporter of Obamacare," Stenehjem said.
However, Stenehjem defended the state's decision to expand Medicaid, and the Supreme Court upheld the subsidies. "I think too, Doug, that the original, authentic Doug Burgum would have signed on too," he said.
Burgum replied that "the authentic Doug Burgum" knows Obamacare is bad for North Dakota, and said following the logic to defend the subsidies would mean supporting every big taxing and spending government program that only covers 2 percent of the population.
In another exchange over an issue that's become controversial in the campaign, Burgum defended his use of North Dakota's Angel Fund investment program, which provides tax incentives to try to spur business investment and job creation in the state.
Stenehjem said 13 of 17 businesses affiliated with Burgum were out of state firms. Legislators are examining the fund to see whether it is benefiting the state. Although Stenehjem said he supports the fund, he asked, "What are we getting for it?" He added: "I think we need to have answers to those questions."
Burgum, a former software executive whose business interests now include venture capital and downtown Fargo redevelopment, said investors will be chilled by "political theater" over the Angel Fund and said he used the law as intended. He said private investors, not Burgum's Arthur Ventures, received the tax credits.
"I stand by my record investing in North Dakota," Burgum said. "Everybody's following the law."
The two candidates also clashed over the budget, with Burgum arguing that leaders did a poor job planning for the economic downturn that has sent state revenues tumbling.
"We can't just cut our way to success," said Burgum, who argued that the state must do a better job of making government more effective and efficient. Citing a major theme of his campaign, Burgum called for a "new and different approach" and said he has the skills as a business leader to do the job. State government has mushroomed over the past decade and spending levels are unsustainable, he said.
Stenehjem, while conceding that tough decisions and more budget cuts lie ahead, sounded a more hopeful note.
"I'm an optimist about where we've been and can be," Stenehjem said, recalling the days North Dakota seemed destined to become a "Buffalo Commons" and saw an exodus of its sons and daughters.
"We have seen a resurgence in North Dakota," he said. "That doesn't mean we don't have challenges," arguing that leaders did plan for the downturn by limiting big infrastructure projects to one-time spending and setting aside billions of dollars for "rainy day" funds.