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Finstad, Ettinger offer different takes on immigration reform, federal policy on family leave, Jan. 6 hearing

The debate, held at the Owatonna Country Club, was GOP Rep. Brad Finstad and Democratic challenger Jeff Ettinger's last debate before the Nov. 8 midterms.

U.S. Rep. Brad Finstad-Candidate Jeff Ettinger Debate
A debate is held between U.S. Rep. Brad Finstad, left, and candidate Jeff Ettinger on Monday, Oct. 17, 2022, in Owatonna. The two are facing off a second time for Minnesota's 1st Congressional District seat.
Matthew Stolle / Post Bulletin
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OWATONNA, Minn. — GOP Rep. Brad Finstad and Democratic challenger Jeff Ettinger tilted at each other at Owatonna Country Club on Monday in their last debate before the Nov. 8 midterm elections.

While the tone of the debate remained as civil and polite as the first exchange, both candidates articulated sharply contrasting political philosophies and stands on how to solve the nation’s biggest problems.

Each offered their take on their No. 1 priority if elected; comprehensive immigration reform; what, if any, should be the federal government’s role on family leave and sick days; and the Jan. 6 committee hearings into the riots that disrupted the certification of President Biden’s election.

In their own words, boiled down, Finstad believes the less government, the better and local government is the best; Ettinger believes that the federal government can be a positive force, but the focus should be limited, on those “truly in need.”

Finstad, a former state legislator, is serving out the final months of the term of the late-GOP Rep. Jim Hagedorn, who died in office in February . Finstad defeated Ettinger, a retired CEO of Austin-based Hormel Foods, in an August special election for the 1st Congressional District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. They are facing off again in the midterms for a full two-year term.

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What would be your No. 1 priority in the next Congress?

Ettinger said that he was a big believer in opportunities. And if elected, the first bill he would introduce or “reintroduce” is one requiring the federal government to live up to its commitment to “pay 40 cents on the dollar for all special education costs.” He said local school districts have been hampered by this for years, because they only get a fraction of what they were promised.

"I think we could do better in southern Minnesota by providing opportunities for our young people,” he said.

U.S. Rep. Brad Finstad-Candidate Jeff Ettinger Debate
A debate is held between U.S. Rep. Brad Finstad, left, and candidate Jeff Ettinger on Monday, Oct. 17, 2022, in Owatonna.
Matthew Stolle / Post Bulletin

Finstad said the No. 1 issue he hears from voters are family pocketbook issues, from the high price of gas and food to supply chain issues. He said he would prioritize the “energy front.” The U.S., he said, is now an energy-dependent country and “we’re going to folks like Venezuela and others asking for oil.”

“If we start with energy, that will then bring the price down and also help on the cost side and inflationary (pressures),” Finstad said.

Do you support comprehensive immigration reform?

Ettinger said he did support comprehensive reform of the nation’s immigration laws. He said that means addressing the illegal immigrants who have been in the country for many years and “who have been valuable members of our community" as well as border security.

He said that during his time as Hormel Foods CEO, he helped lead a delegation to Washington, D.C., to discuss how the federal government’s failure to address immigration reform is impacting communities.

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“We’ve not had a meaningful federal bill on immigration reform in this country since the Reagan administration,” he said. “But it needs to be both border security and addressing the people who are here.”

Finstad said that within the current and past administrations, there have been two distinct approaches. Under Trump, the focus was on building a wall and bolstering security at the border. “It never quite got the immigration conversation.

“Fast forward to the (Biden administration),” he said. More than 20 million illegal immigrants have crossed the border. Fentanyl deaths have risen.

“We see a wide-open, nonexistent border at this point,” Finstad said. “So, clearly, politics have failed us."

What role should the federal government take in establishing workplace policies like sick days, paid family and medical leave, and the minimum wage?

Ettinger said the benefit of a federal policy proposal needs to be weighed against its costs. What’s it going to cost? What will it accomplish? Does it make sense for the federal government to be undertaking this, rather than the state or local governments.

“I do think it’s a shame that our country is really one of the only civilized countries in the world that has no family leave coverage whatsoever at the federal level,” Ettinger said. But he also said he wasn’t prepared to advocate for a specific policy.

He said the federal government can play a positive role in solving “some of our problems, but I think we have to decide as a society, which are the most important,” he said.

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Finstad spoke against the federal government getting involved in many of these areas. He called the southern Minnesota in which he was raised the “problem solvers. The best form of government is in our most local form of government,” he said.

“I am a less government, not more government kind of guy,” Finstad said.

He said with inflation at 9%, a minimum wage increase would be the “the most regressive thing we could do, because businesses will pass that along to the consumer.”

What were the candidates' impressions of the Jan. 6 committee and the findings into the riot that disrupted the counting of electors to certify President Biden’s election?

Finstad said that he has traveled from community to community on the campaign trail and has yet to encounter a person to raise the issue with him.

He called the Jan. 6 hearings a distraction from the pocketbook issues that people are talking about.

“I’m hearing about the price of gas, the price of food, supply chain disruptions and workforce shortages,” Finstad said. “Right now, we live in a world where there’s a lot of folks that want to create political divisions and distractions to get us all fighting with each other.”

Ettinger said he would defend individual rights; Finstad criticized Democrats for mismanaging the economy and soaring costs.

He said oversight is an important function of the federal government, but he called the Jan. 6 committee a “partisan committee.”

“But when it crosses over to the political theater and the political food fights that, again, make us sick of politics and government, we need to put an end to it and move on and advance this country in a positive way,” Finstad said.

Ettinger accused Finstad of talking to a “very narrow set of people” if the Jan. 6 committee hearings have never come up in campaign stops. He said it may not be the No. 1 issue for people, but “it’s something that people are nervous and concerned about.”

He said there are candidates in the state who reject the result of the 2020 election, and “I think that’s awful,” Ettinger said.

“We’ve already had a special election. Brad won that race,” Ettinger said. “It never crossed my mind to challenge our local neighbors who are election officials that they somehow manipulated the system.”

Matthew Stolle has been a Post Bulletin reporter since 2000 and covered many of the beats that make up a newsroom. In his first several years, he covered K-12 education and higher education in Rochester before shifting to politics. He has also been a features writer. Today, Matt jumps from beat to beat, depending on what his editor and the Rochester area are producing in terms of news. Readers can reach Matthew at 507-281-7415 or mstolle@postbulletin.com.
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