Those distinguishing factors highlighted the first debate of the 2012 campaign season as the Republican candidates faced off here Wednesday night.
GOP supporters will decide in March who to endorse for the race among Public Service Commissioners Kevin Cramer and Brian Kalk, former commerce commissioner Shane Goettle, Fargo legislator Bette Grande and West Fargo legislator Kim Koppelman.
The five contenders each stressed the need to empower states’ rights and limit the role of the federal government.
How to do that, though, is where the candidates differed as they answered questions on issues such as health care, jobs, the economy, energy, regulations and federal spending.
For instance, on flood control, several candidates said the Army Corps of Engineers’ procedures need to be revised and reformed to better work in line with the state.
“We need to find a way so the states have more input on how these projects are managed,” Goettle said.
In regard to the Fargo-Moorhead diversion project, all candidates agreed that a solution is needed, but Cramer, Koppelman and Goettle said they weren’t sold on the current plan, which diverts the Red River 35 miles around Fargo through rural communities and farmland.
“My heart says, ‘no,’ ” said Cramer, a native of Kindred, which will be affected by the project. “It grieves me a little bit quite honestly to watch it from a distance.”
Both Grande and Koppelman said officials should’ve pushed for a Minnesota-side diversion.
Grande said she believes with that alternative, “we wouldn’t have all the issues going on right now.”
Meanwhile, on federal spending, the candidates were split on how far they’d go to start cutting dollars immediately.
Koppelman, Kalk and Grande said they would not have voted to raise the federal debt ceiling in August, a controversial compromised that averted a government shutdown.
Goettle and Cramer said they didn’t agree with the compromise but said it was necessary in order to avoid the consequences of shutting down the government.
When asked which federal agency they would eliminate, Grande, Koppelman and Cramer agreed the Department of Education is unnecessary.
“It’s a states issue,” Goettle said. “It’s a local issue.”
Koppelman called the Education Department a “glaring example of where the federal government has come in and taken over.”
Kalk said he’d cut the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, saying that agency’s functions could be handled elsewhere in government.
Goettle said he’d start by consolidating programs before eliminating any particular agency. Specifically, he said he’d limit the power of the Environmental Protection Agency to start.
In answering a later question, The candidates agreed the EPA has too much regulatory power, and each proposed different ways to rein in the agency in order to protect North Dakota’s energy industry.
“The EPA is run amok,” Koppelman said. “The lunacy of overstepping regulations has to stop.”
Kalk said he’d vote to cut the EPA’s budget and thereby force regulatory reforms.
The five conservatives unanimously agreed on key social issues, including opposing abortion and supporting a traditional definition of marriage as between a man and a woman.
Throughout the more than two-hour debate, some candidates also delivered campaign pledges to potential voters.
Kalk said he’d introduce a bill to freeze all congressional and federal salaries in order to start cutting the budget.
Grande said she would not participate in the congressional pension and would fight to get rid of it.
About 115 people attended Wednesday’s debate at Valley City State University and had the chance to participate in a straw poll of the candidates at the end of the event.
The results of that straw poll were not available as of press time Wednesday night.
North Dakota’s 2012 U.S. House race has seven candidates in total.