Republican Jason Lewis and Democrat Angie Craig answered questions posed to them by the Minnesota Newspaper Association, below.
Angie Craig: I was raised by a single mother in a mobile home park. At times, my family didn’t have health insurance. I worked two jobs to help put myself through state college, started my career as a newspaper reporter, and worked my way up in business to become a communications and human resources executive at a homegrown Minnesota company, St. Jude Medical. I now own part of a start-up company in St. Paul. My wife and I have four sons - three in college and one in high school - and we live in Eagan.
Jason Lewis: Prior to running for office, I spent more than two decades as a talk show radio host. On the air, I was known for an independent streak – critical of the status quo in Washington and St. Paul. Now I have taken my independent voice to Washington working with colleagues on both sides of the aisle and standing up to Republican colleagues and leadership in both parties when necessary. I was elected to Congress in 2016 to fill the seat left by retiring Congressman John Kline. I am currently in my second year serving the people of Minnesota’s 2nd Congressional District and is currently running for re-election. Since taking office, I have served on the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, the Budget Committee, and the Education and Workforce Committee. In my first term, I have led the charge on reforming or criminal justice and juvenile justice systems, reining in the Met Council, and increasing funding for Career and Technical Education. I am married to his wife Leigh, and they have two daughters - Lindsey and Lauren.
If elected, what is your top priority for the 2019 Congress? Why are you running for office?
CRAIG: As I travel around the 2nd Congressional District and speak with voters about their experiences, it is clear that the rising cost of healthcare is one of their top concerns. At times growing up, my own family went without health insurance. I worked for more than 20 years at two medical manufacturing companies and managed our employee health plans at one, so I have the background and experience necessary to meaningfully contribute to fixing our nation’s broken healthcare system. I’ll work to stabilize the ACA and lower healthcare costs, especially the cost of prescription drugs.
LEWIS: I ran for office to help protect the American dream by jumpstarting our economy and protecting our constitutional rights. I am proud of the work we did in congress to reduce burdensome regulations and pass the biggest tax cut in decades. All of this has led to historic economic growth, and I am running for Congress to continue this trajectory and build upon the work we have started.
How do you grade President Trump’s foreign policy record? Which of his initiatives do you support, and which do you oppose? Be specific.
CRAIG: We cannot conduct foreign policy through Twitter. In order to maintain our leadership throughout the world, we need a tough foreign policy agenda that protects the United States and at the same time preserves the shared American values of privacy, liberty, and diversity. We also must return to a diplomacy-first mindset and work to restore the strong relationships with our allies. We’re at our safest and strongest when we’re leading a coalition of countries committed to peace and freedom. That means using diplomatic means to advance our values, putting pressure on countries that don’t share our values, and returning to the steady, predictable leadership that America has always shown abroad.
LEWIS: When it comes to foreign affairs the priority must always be what is in the best interest of the American people, and I appreciate that the President has made this his priority. It is important that our allies invest in their own defense and do not solely rely on the strength of the U.S, and the President rightly highlighted deficiencies in our NATO partners. While, we must be skeptical and vigilant when having discussions with North Koreans, I hope that the current talks will lead to a more stable Korean peninsula. That being said, after over 50 years of failed policy toward Cuba we should begin opening up trade and increase American access to Cuba which in turn will help both the American people and the Cuban people.
What role should the federal government play in combating the opioid epidemic?
CRAIG: This epidemic has not escaped our own family. One of our sons is adopted, and his birth mother died of an overdose. I have promised him and many other families in the district to fight to address these issues. America is confronting one of the largest public health threats since the onset of the AIDS epidemic. The opioid epidemic now claims more lives every year than car accidents or gun violence. Nationwide, over 33,000 people died from opioid or heroin overdoses in 2015 alone. The 2nd Congressional District is home to some exceptional local leaders in the fight against this epidemic. The Shakopee Police Department and the Scott County Board have rolled out programs that focus on rehabilitation and recovery rather than punishment and incarceration. Whether it’s a new drug court program, treatment center, lifesaving medication for first responders, or critical new research, all these efforts have something in common: they require resources and funding. That’s how our leaders in Washington can and should help.
When I’m elected to Congress, I will work to expand the funding allocated in the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA). This bipartisan bill allows the federal government to provide states with grants to fund a variety of programs aimed at curbing prescription opioid and heroin abuse. I also will support the Addiction Recovery for Rural Communities (ARRC) Act, a bill to help rural communities fight the opioid epidemic. I’ll also work to take on the issues directly that have helped enable this national emergency, such as prescribing patterns and the marketing of drugs in this nation.
LEWIS: It will take efforts and partnerships at the federal, state, and community level to address our country’s opioid epidemic. Key in this is treating opioid addictions like medical issue, and not a criminal one. That is why I have advocated for legislation that encourages the use of drug courts and treatment programs for low level non-violent drug offenders. I also introduced legislation that would bring together employers, labor, medical professional and others to help develop best practices for places of work to help address opioid abuse that may affect their employees. Moreover, my colleagues and I just recently passed the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act, which is the most comprehensive action against a drug crisis in history. This bill supports initiatives to improve treatment, recovery, and prevention as well as efforts to protect our communities.
What role should the federal government play in ensuring that U.S. graduates can compete in the global economy? Are there specific measures that you advocate?
CRAIG: Education and career skills training are the keys to securing a strong economic future for families in Minnesota. And as the proud wife of a former teacher and mother of four sons – three in college or trade school and one at Rosemount High School – I understand the importance of a great education for all children. We must stabilize funding for K-12 education and ensure that career training and vocational education is a priority again in this country.
College is not right for every child, and students need to be supported to understand that there are other career options. American workers need to have the right skills for the high-paying, high-growth technical jobs of the 21st century. We can make sure of this by investing in workforce development initiatives and encouraging public/private partnerships in higher education as well as making vocational education a priority again in our public schools. When schools work with local employers to link training and education to the needs of the regional economy, students and employers win. Our goal should to be for each student to receive the training necessary - either through college, a technical degree, or apprenticeship program to be ready for a good-paying job. And we must be committed to continuous learning and job re-training as industries and technologies change. This requires a commitment to investing and encouraging partnerships between Minnesota companies and technical colleges.
LEWIS: We need to do better at preparing our kids for the 21st-century economy. Some of the most common feedback I get from business owners is that those graduating lack the skills they need to fill the jobs that are open. That is why I have worked hard to increase Career and Technical Education (CTE) opportunities. I authored an amendment to promote dual enrollment, so that high school students can get a head start on their careers by taking college CTE courses. This amendment was included in the CTE bill that was recently signed into law this past July. We can also increase partnerships between our education systems and our businesses to ensure we are preparing our students with the skills our businesses need.
Is the United States doing enough to reduce carbon emissions? What can the federal government do to promote homegrown energy?
CRAIG: Minnesota has taken a leading role in producing homegrown energy, providing clean, renewable energy, and reducing our reliance on foreign oil. I will fight to maintain a strong Renewable Fuel Standard and lead the effort to make Minnesota a leader in homegrown energy. We should continue to reward conversion to renewable energy sources in this country from a policy perspective. Renewable energy is growing and creating jobs at a fast pace, and we should continue to do everything possible to reduce carbon emissions and protect the environment.
LEWIS: In order to research and invest in clean energy and in order to reduce the CO2 emissions of systems in any industry you need to have prosperity and capital. According to the World Bank, CO2 emissions per person have risen at a staggering pace until 2011 when they relatively flatlined. Meanwhile, the U.S. has consistently decreased its per capita production since 1973. While the rest of the world is increasing their production, as a society, the U.S. has the willpower, public drive, and financial ability to find alternatives. It is the growing economies throughout the Middle East & Northern Africa, Latin America & Caribbean, and South Asia regions that are seeing exponential carbon emission growth. I do not mention this as a notion of finger pointing, but rather to show that unless you have a growing economy and the means by which to invest in clean air you cannot have a fully functioning and well off society.
I have met with rural, co-op, public, private, large, small, and homegrown energy producers from Minnesota and across the country. It is clear they all agree we cannot rush our system into relying solely on renewable energy. Without power sources like nuclear, coal, and the rise of natural gas our society would not function. We do not have the technological ability to store mass quantities of energy at high efficiencies. We need to continue to invest in these areas and as technology changes market forces will drive adoption. Additionally, this ensures that we do not see sweeping changes to our industrial landscape but gradual change, allowing our workforce to develop along with it.
It is the government's responsibility to remove impediments to advanced clean energy generation or cleaner emission technologies. We can be certain approvals, testing, certification, and licensing happen in an appropriate manner. To that end, one of the last major pieces of legislation I voted on was a bill my committee helped produce. America's Water Infrastructure Act of 2018 included an entire title on energy with a focus on the production of energy through the movement of water. In the language we allow for expedited permitting of hydropower projects and review the qualifications of new and existing facilities. The movement of water is entirely carbon free. I am encouraged by the strides we have made as a country to prioritize life in a clean environment and am confident this endeavor will continue.
Federal entitlements are the main drivers of rising U.S. debt. What specific steps can be taken to keep programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid solvent and still serve those individuals in need?
CRAIG: We just gave large corporations a more than $1 trillion tax break and that debt will be directly passed on to future generations and is driving up our deficits. The economic growth promised by Congressional Republicans to offset those tax breaks has not materialized. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are programs that Americans have paid into over a lifetime of hard work. Some Americans pay into these programs on all of their income and others who make more than $124,800 annually do not. I propose that we ask Americans to continue to contribute to these programs equally on all of their income. I oppose any changes that would cut, privatize, or jeopardize Social Security and Medicare and cause hardship for America's seniors.
LEWIS: First, I believe we must keep our promise to our seniors and those approaching retirement. Then we can look at what reforms need to be made to ensure the programs remain solvent for future generations. We also have to protect these programs for those it was meant to help. Medicare for All would destroy Medicare as we know it. Doctors would have to face an immediate cut of roughly 40 percent for the treatment of patients, and in turn patients would face rationing of care. Moreover, it would actually be illegal for employers to offer private health insurance benefits and competition from the private sector to provide health insurance would be illegal. Medicare for All will just further hurt the solvency of Medicare and threaten the program for seniors.
What role should the federal government play in funding state and local transportation infrastructure? Be specific.
CRAIG: Congress must invest in infrastructure revitalization by rebuilding our roads, highways, and bridges and increasing access to high-speed internet – especially in rural areas. Not only will this create good-paying construction jobs in the short-term, experience has shown that public infrastructure investment stimulates private sector jobs growth. In order to help stimulate private sector investment in infrastructure – like machinery, buildings, and factories – we must incentivize companies to bring their cash outside the United States back home. We've got a lot of work to do in this country to upgrade our infrastructure, and I'll be a strong advocate for funding these projects. We should prioritize infrastructure investments in the United States, particularly ensuring that
Greater Minnesota has access to high-speed Internet to help communities meet their needs. It is not fair that our rural communities cannot build small businesses, utilize educational resources and access healthcare from the Internet in the same way that suburban communities can. We also must address rail issues to ensure producers have reliable access to markets.
LEWIS: Maintaining our country’s transportation and infrastructure system is a partnership between the federal, state, and local entities. The federal government plays an integral role in maintaining our infrastructure. For instance, the Mississippi River runs along the length of the 2nd District, and federal entities like the Army Corps of Engineers plays an integral role in maintaining the river which is a vital thoroughfare for our businesses and vital to our economy. The same can be said for our rail systems and highways.
Assess the impact of the 2017 federal tax reform on the nation’s economy. What additional steps do you support to stimulate job growth?
CRAIG: I support tax reform that helps the middle class, working families and small business owners. What we got in 2018 wasn't that. The tax cuts prioritized large corporations and the top 1 percent. Large companies and the wealthy received 84 percent of the permanent benefits and the debt increased over $1.5 trillion, while any cuts for the middle class are temporary. In order to stimulate job growth, we need to invest not only in higher education, but in vocational skills training, as well. Higher education and job training is only part of the equation. We must encourage companies to invest in their workforce by closing tax loopholes that encourage them to move American jobs overseas, and replacing them with tax credits for companies that hire American. Let’s reward those employers who create jobs in America.
LEWIS: Tax reform has had an immediate and significantly positive impact on our economy. Minnesota’s unemployment rate dropped below 3 percent, wages are rising, small business optimism is at record highs, and we saw for the first time in years 4 percent economic growth. It is clear our economy is back on the right track. This growth is not just due to tax reform, it’s also thanks to the burdensome regulations we have repealed. This work will continue as we work to repeal these unneeded regulations that hurt our businesses, farmers, and communities. With all this growth, and with businesses hiring we also need to improve our labor participation rate. We have more job openings than unemployed people in Minnesota, yet our labor participation rate is 70 percent, we can do better at getting these individuals back into the labor force to help our businesses grow more. We in the House also recently passed Tax 2.0 to continue to reform and better our tax code.
Congress remains deadlocked on federal immigration reform. What should be the tenets of any immigration reform legislation? Do you support DACA?
CRAIG: Washington’s failure to pass bipartisan immigration reform is slowing our economy and weakening our nation. I support bipartisan immigration reform that invests in smart border security, provides a path to citizenship for DREAMERS and law-abiding immigrants, and keeps families together. As long as our immigration system is broken, people will continue to work around it. It’s clear that too many members of Congress are more interested in scoring points with their base than doing the sensible and common sense thing for our economy and our country. Industries such as agriculture and technology are starved for workers, and we must support smart immigration policies that help. It's critical that Congress take action to pass an immediate fix to Deferred Action Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA). These are hardworking Minnesotans who serve in our military, graduate from our schools and contribute to our economy. In addition, the development of a path to citizenship for law-abiding immigrants would allow everyone to contribute and pay taxes, as well as pay into Medicare and Social Security. Many of us are descended from immigrants, and we need immigrants for continued economic growth. The history of and promise of this country is that it will always be open to those who seek a better life, and are willing to work hard and help America grow in the process. In Congress, I will support policies that will continue to make this a reality.
LEWIS: I’m disappointed that Congress has not yet come to a consensus to begin to address our nation’s immigration issues, but I believe we can come to a compromise that will enable Congress to make progress in reforming our immigration system. I supported legislation that would address the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals situation while also advancing reforms that address the causes of problem, protect our national security, and ensure a fair system for all individuals who want to immigrate here. I have also long been a cosponsor of the ENLIST Act, which would allow undocumented immigrants who came here as children serve in the military and be granted legal permanent residency. These bills can serve as a basis to get to a compromise we can get signed into law.
The imposition of tariffs by President Trump has results in retaliation by foreign countries. Do you support the president’s actions? Long term, will they help or hurt the U.S. economy?
CRAIG: I do not believe you can negotiate trade on Twitter. Our nation needs fair trade agreements with strong environmental protections and labor standards. I worked in an international business that generated over half its sales in exports. In Congress, I will fight for family farmers and work toward opening new markets with fair trade agreements. Agriculture is a critical component of and opportunity for economic growth in Minnesota’s 2nd Congressional District. Once you lose access to a market, it can take years to get it back. To keep that agricultural economy growing, we must help farmers export their products to new markets. I will work tirelessly in Congress to open the door to new markets for our agricultural exports and maintain the markets we already have access to.
LEWIS: Expanding access to foreign markets and ensuring our producers can compete on a level playing field is critical for the long-term success of American manufacturing and agriculture. While ongoing negotiations have led to short-term uncertainty, I am confident we can make progress. NAFTA needed to be updated to reflect technologic advances, and I am pleased to see the progress we have made with Mexico and hope we can male advances with Canada as well. I was also glad to see the recent progress with our trade relations with South Korea.
Are there other issues you want to address?
CRAIG: Washington is broken. The way we select our representatives, the way we fund our campaigns, and the way we write our laws are flawed. The system is rigged to do one thing: make sure that results never improve for working families. Big corporations and corporate lobbyists are trying to buy and sell our elections and our lawmakers. We need a change. That's why I’ve proposed a sweeping reform agenda – Clean Campaigns, Clean Government – aimed at taking corporate money out of our campaigns, making the federal government more transparent, and keeping our elected officials honest and working for us. I have pledged to hold at least one town hall-style event per month when
I am in Congress that is open to the public, with a robust question and answer period. This is critical in regularly hearing about the priorities and concerns of people in the 2nd Congressional District. In Congress, I will represent all families in Minnesota, regardless of political party.
LEWIS: Since coming to Congress, one of the most rewarding areas to work on has been criminal justice reform. We have over federalized our criminal code, misguided mandatory minimums have taken away the ability of judges to take individual circumstances into account, and we don’t do nearly enough to reduce recidivism My Juvenile Justice Reform Act was my first piece of legislation to pass the House, and since then I have continued my bipartisan work on criminal justice reform by joining my friend Congressman Bobby Scott (D-VA) in introducing the SAFE Justice Act which comprehensively reforms our justice system.