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Martin, Carnahan only agree on dog-breeding in first debate

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 25, 2010 - In their first face-to-face debate for the 3rd District congressional seat, Democratic incumbent Russ Carnahan and Republican Ed Martin sought Friday night to drive home the same point:

Their rival is corrupt. 

Carnahan cited Martin's role in a lengthy court fight over alleged mishandling of e-mails in then-Gov. Matt Blunt's office that cost the state more than $2 million in legal fees, and settlement costs. (Martin, who had been Blunt's chief of staff, noted that he wasn't found guilty of any wrongdoing.)

Martin repeatedly brought up the $107 million in federal alternative-energy tax credits that recently went to a central-Missouri windmill farm co-owned by the congressman's brother, Tom Carnahan. (The congressman said he played no role in the award and noted that his brother's company was among more than 1,000 firms obtaining the aid.)

Their sparring on such matters at times prompted brief jeers or cheers from the crowd filling much of the auditorium at Forest Park Community College, and occasional admonitions from Kathleen Farrell, the moderator with the League of Women Voters.

The League also will oversee the second debate, slated for 7 p.m. Sunday at the Arnold Community Center.

Friday's two-hour debate featured more than two dozen questions that ran from term limits to terrorism. And for the most part, Martin and Carnahan were on opposite sides.

Martin, a lawyer, called for cuts in federal spending -- targeting, in particular, the federal stimulus aid -- and keeping all the tax cuts put in place in 2001 during the Bush administration. Martin blasted the federal bailout of General Motors and Chrysler, citing the latter's decision to still close its Fenton operation.

"Stop the spending. Stop the stimulus. Stop sending it to family members," Martin said.

He also promised, if elected, to press for repeal of the federal health insurance changes, which he predicted will prompt more companies to drop coverage for their employees.

Martin called passage of the changes "a low moment in American history," and asserted that the pricetag is too great. "We can't afford it," Martin said.

Carnahan defended the stimulus spending, saying it was needed to prevent the United States from plummeting into a full-blown Depression. However, he emphasized that he also supported reductions in federal spending, but by adopting pay-as-you-go legislation that mandates all new spending be paid for.

The congressman defended the federal health-care changes, singling out the new measures in place that allow young people to remain on their parents' plan until they are 26, bar insurance companies from denying coverage to children because of pre-existing conditions, and the requirement that insurers spend at least 85 percent of the premiums they collect on coverage.

And Carnahan stuck to his view that the Bush tax cuts should end for people making over $200,000 a year ($250,000 for couples), citing their cost of $700 billion over 10 years. It's such tax cuts for the wealthy that the nation can't afford, he said.

Carnahan decried former President George W. Bush's plan to privatize Social Security, particularly in light of the stock market declines, while Martin accused the congressman of inaccurately implying that Martin agreed with Bush. "I oppose privatization of Social Security," Martin said.

The two also battled over Carnahan's support of the House measure, known as cap-and-trade, that sought to put limits on energy pollution. Martin said the proposal would kill jobs, while Carnahan said the point had been to encourage the production and use of less-polluting forms of fuel.

Carnahan particularly drew Martin's ire when the congressman asserted that Martin was cool on alternative energy because his family owns more than $100,000 in oil-company stocks. Martin angrily replied that the stocks had been inherited by his wife.

Carnahan warned that U.S. reluctance to embrace the alternative-energy industry was helping China and India, which he said are increasingly producing the bulk of green-energy materials, such as solar-energy panels.

Other hot disagreements included:

-- Abortion: Martin emphasized that he was Catholic and strongly opposed abortion, while Carnahan said he thought the matter should be up to a woman's family and her physician. The congressman added that proper education and health care could reduce the need for abortions, while Martin contended that the new health-care law makes it more likely that federal money will be spent on abortions.

-- Don't Ask, Don't Tell: Carnahan emphasized his support for allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military, declaring that "the military is not a place for discrimination." Martin contended that such decisions should be up to the generals, and blasted what he called "social engineers deciding what our generals should do."

-- Term limits: Martin said he supported congressional term limits and cited his so-far-unsuccessful effort to impose term limits on some statewide offices that now allow unlimited terms. Lack of term limits for Congress, he said, has led to "a culture of corruption."

Carnahan, a former state legislator, said that Missouri's term limits for the state House and Senate has been a failure by "increasing the power of the unelected -- bureaucrats and lobbyists." Members of Congress already face the threat of term limits with every election, he said.

Despite such sharp differences, the debate's most conservative answers often came from the debate's third participant, Constitution Party candidate Nicholas Ivanovich.

He declared that most federal programs, including Social Security, were unconstitutional. He said that Republicans and Democrats shared blame for the nation's troubles, from the economy and overspending to illegal immigration and foreign wars.

Ivanovich called for an end to all international trade treaties, saying that the United States' problems with illegal immigrants stemmed from the North America Free Trade Agreement. He blames such trade deals for the outsourcing of jobs overseas, and called for reinstating tariffs on foreign goods sold in the United States. Ivanovich also criticized the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and called for outlawing all abortions -- even in cases of rape and incest.

One issue, surprisingly, did find all three candidates to agreement. All three oppose Proposition B, the proposal on the Nov. 2 ballot that requires dog breeders to comply with certain care standards, and limits breeders to no more than 50 breeding dogs. All the candidates called for the state to enforce the dog-breeding laws already on the books.

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.