FARGO, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota's two U.S. Senate candidates argued about health care, taxes and the federal stimulus plan during a debate Thursday, but it was the state's oil boom that took them into overtime.
Republican Gov. John Hoeven and Democratic state Sen. Tracy Potter met in Fargo for the hour-long event, which was first time the two men have squared off in the campaign season.
After a question about weaning the country off foreign oil, Potter criticized Hoeven for poorly managing the rapid growth in North Dakota's oil country. Potter said many people can't afford housing because oil companies have raised the cost of rent.
"I've been to the oil patch. The story I'm hearing all over is that we've gone too fast," Potter said during his final rebuttal. "We've more than doubled the oil production. This is good. It's great for the economy. But it's tough on those towns."
Hoeven asked — and received — extra time to respond from moderator Charley Johnson.
"I find it ironic that at a time when we have a national recession, Tracy wants to go to Washington D.C. because he knows how to slow things down," Hoeven said.
Potter, also granted extra time, said Hoeven had no business plan as governor. Johnson refused Hoeven's request to respond again, saying: "We're going to stop there, governor, because I'm not even sure the question got answered."
The candidates also disagreed about the merits of the federal government's $700 billion stimulus package. Hoeven said he didn't support it "in the form in which it was passed," and said it should have focused on tax credits for small businesses and more investment in roads.
"The federal government just keeps spending money," Hoeven said. "Those jobs that were created will be gone when the federal government money runs out."
Potter said not all the stimulus money was wisely spent, but something needed to be done. He said Hoeven also believes there were positive impacts because the governor has "cut ribbons" for stimulus projects all across North Dakota.
"I go to state events when there's state investment," Hoeven responded.
Asked whether the health care bill should be repealed, Potter said it should stay in place because it enhances the ability of people to see a doctor when they need one. It's not a perfect plan, he said, but a "step in the right direction."
Hoeven didn't say if he would repeal the federal health care plan, but said it needed to be fixed with tort reform and the ability for people to pick their own doctor and insurance. He also said the issue showed a clear difference between the two men and criticized Potter for supporting — while deputy insurance commissioner in the late 1970s — a "Canadian-style, single-payer" plan.
"He truly believes the federal government should run your health care. I don't," said Hoeven, who had the final rebuttal on that issue.