The Free Press, Mankato, MN

October 10, 2012

Walz-Quist debate had its humorous moments

By Mark Fischenich
The Free Press

MANKATO — The final results are in on Decision 2012: Rob Zombie-Marilyn Manson vs. Tim Walz-Allen Quist.

A crowd of 4,000 attended the Zombie-Manson "Twins of Evil" concert Tuesday night at the Mankato civic center compared to an estimated 450 at the 1st Congressional District debate between Democratic Rep. Walz and Republican challenger Quist at the Ostrander Auditorium.

While the metal concert was the more attractive option by a nearly 10-1 margin, it was the political debate that drew a standing-room-only crowd. About 100 people were packed along the outer aisles of Ostrander after every seat in the student union auditorium was filled.

The debate focused mostly on serious issues, but there were also attempts at humor that were left out of the story in Wednesday's Free Press.

Laugh lines

If laughs determined the winner, Walz would have prevailed Tuesday night.

Quist brought up the 9 percent approval rating of Congress in a survey earlier this year, the lowest in the history of the Gallup poll, as evidence of how poorly federal lawmakers have performed.

Walz, a three-term incumbent, didn't apologize on behalf of his fellow lawmakers.

"(When) I hear there's a 9 percent approval rating of Congress, I always wonder who those 9 are," said Walz, who blamed excessive partisanship and gridlock for the public's dissatisfaction. "... We couldn't agree it's Tuesday night."

Walz, of course, used that as a segue to talk about his bipartisan efforts to reduce public cynicism about their government -- including passage of his STOCK Act, which requires lawmakers to disclose their investments and prohibits use of inside information by members of Congress to make financial trades.

In defending the new farm bill passed by the House Agriculture Committee but blocked by conservative Republicans in the House, Walz said too many lawmakers are demanding perfect legislation rather than seeking the best possible compromise.

"Perfect is what you get in heaven," he said. "The U.S. House of Representatives is closer to hell."

Quist responded: "If the House is really closer to hell, I wonder why he wants to go back there."

 And Walz used one of his most reliable laugh lines in arguing for the importance of promoting home-grown renewable energy to replace oil imports from countries that regularly spew anti-American rhetoric.

"We export $1 billion a day to countries who hate us," Walz said. "They'll hate us for free.Ó"

 Quist joked about his incessant use of the phrase "lion of free enterprise," and he congratulated his opponent when Walz adopted the words in an answer about government energy policy promoting renewable energy (energy which Walz said would be produced by that roaring feline of capitalism.)

"I'm just delighted," Quist said. "... I'm glad you've swung over to the hard-right position of free enterprise."

Republicans, by the way, would likely argue that the laughs received by Walz actually exhibited bad manners by his supporters: Laughter -- along with cheers and jeers -- were prohibited under debate rules.

36 more Quist ads?

Quist debuted his second television ad of the campaign this week and it once again features an adorable granddaughter climbing a red bar-graph representing the national debt. It's Martha starring in this ad -- a different grandchild than Lucia, who climbed an even more ominous bar graph in Quist's first ad.

And the ad goes beyond debt to a central theme of the Republican's congressional campaign: that the Obamacare health care reform unfairly punishes some married couples.

"Tim Walz voted to require middle class couples to pay up to $10,425 more each year for health insurance if they are married," the announcer in the ads says, with Quist finishing with the statement: "Join me in getting rid of this marriage penalty."

The retired St. Peter farmer and former Bethany Lutheran College instructor said he discovered the penalty and eventually got others to pay attention, thanks in part to the help of Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann. Essentially, the health care reform would provide much higher subsidies to help cover health insurance costs to two individuals making $30,000 than it would provide to a married couple with identical incomes.

Quist believes the health reform bill intentionally aims to discourage marriage by the middle class. The Free Press requested a response from the Walz campaign but hasn't received one.

Democrats, though, have said the so-called Òmarriage penalty" simply reflects that more federal health care subsidies -- which are based on the federal poverty rate -- would accrue to lower-income singles than a higher-income married couple. To provide equal subsidies for the married couple would substantially increase the cost of the health care reform law.

Quist, by the way, is going to have to get moving if he's going to feature each of his grandchildren in a campaign ad before Nov. 6. He has 38.