Rep. Kevin Cramer and Sen. Heidi Heitkamp held their first debate last Thursday. With the Nov. 6 vote for U.S. Senate a little over two weeks away, the candidates showed how they differ and where they stand on some of the key issues. The following is a recap of some of the main talking points.
Heitkamp used her opening statement to apologize for a newspaper ad that named several women who either did not give the senator permission to use their name or didn’t experience sexual assault at all.
“I not only disappointed many North Dakotans, but also myself,” Heitkamp said. The senator noted that the action was not acceptable and stated her apologies. Heitkamp used most of her first two minutes discussing the misstep. “I want so much to get back to work for the state … but I cannot begin this debate without acknowledging this grave and horrible error.”
Cramer used his first two minutes to thank the audience and urge all who were watching to vote in the upcoming election.
Cramer made the point that Heitkamp and himself were voted in on the same day, which gives North Dakotans the unique ability to judge them side-by-side. “Based on six years, serving the same people, serving on the same Congress, voting on many of the same bills,” Cramer said.
The first question to candidates was whether they would vote to allow insurance companies to limit coverage based on pre-existing conditions.
“I would not, and I have not,” Cramer said. “Obamacare has been an unmitigated disaster for this country and especially North Dakota.” Cramer made the point that young people now can’t afford coverage, thus leaving them out of the risk pool, and ultimately raising the cost of insurance for all. Cramer later said he has pledged to maintain coverage for pre-existing conditions.
Heitkamp again stated her support for coverage of pre-existing conditions, adding she’d like to expand Medicaid. However, her response included an attack of Cramer.
“It is an incorrect statement for Congressmen Cramer to say he has not ever voted for a bill that would eliminate federal protections for pre-existing conditions and all the things you listed,” Heitkamp said. “He voted five times to repeal the Affordable Care Act.”
Cramer responded, saying that the Affordable Care Act was unaffordable for younger couples.
Taking time to read from his phone the Republican bill he voted for, Cramer recited: “Nothing in this act shall be construed as permitting health insurance companies to limit access to health coverage for applicants with pre-existing conditions, unambiguous.”
Trade war and tariffs for North Dakotan farmers
“Fight, fight, fight for our farmers,” Heitkamp said, noting that she knew the tariffs and the trade war would hurt North Dakotans.
“I used to say I was the chief bitcher about these tariffs because they are so wrong for North Dakota,” Heitkamp said. “We have spent 30 years building a market; we’re going to lose it in a year.” Heitkamp noted that the tariffs may have exposed North Dakota as being too reliant on China. However, she reiterated that the trade war is hurting one of North Dakota’s cash crops, soybeans.
“The best way to end a trade war quickly is to be unified on our side,” Cramer said, citing that North Dakota had created new deals with many countries. However, Heitkamp partially rejected his statement, saying that the European Union is pulling out of the new deal and Japan’s new deal does not include agriculture.
On voting against whom you’re representing
The confirmation of current Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh came after 60 percent of North Dakotans approved of his confirmation.
“Brett Kavanaugh is a great judge and Supreme Court Justice for North Dakota,” Cramer said. “That’s why a vast majority of North Dakotans wanted him.” Cramer noted that Kavanaugh sides with the Second Amendment and rolling back Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations.
“You’re going to have to make choices in life that won’t always be popular … Congressmen Cramer announced his commitment to the appointee without even knowing who he was,” Heitkamp said. She also noted that she did her job and ultimately voted on what she thought was right.
Voter ID law
The recent decision by the Supreme Court to uphold the 2017 North Dakota voter ID law has made national headlines. Cramer reiterated how easy it is to vote in North Dakota and stressed the importance of protecting the integrity of the ballot box.
“You should be able to demonstrate that you live where you’re voting,” he said. While not commenting on whether the Supreme Court made the right or wrong decision, Cramer claimed it would be hard to make that judgment. However, he did offer that he believes this law offers ballot protection.
Heitkamp noted the difference and the struggle this has put on certain groups of people.
“This mess started with the North Dakota legislator when they decided there’s certain people in North Dakota they don’t want to vote,” she said. Heitkamp also brought up senior citizens who may not have an ID could also be denied at the ballot. “That’s not North Dakota. That’s not how we do things here.”