All seven candidates hoping to represent the 8th Congressional District took the stage to voice their opinions for the first time on Sunday night.

Immigration reform and gun control were among the topics addressed during the two-hour candidate forum before an audience of more than 100 people at the College of St. Scholastica. Republican Pete Stauber, Independence Party candidate Ray “Skip” Sandman and five Democrats - Joe Radinovich, Kirsten Hagen Kennedy, Leah Phifer, Michelle Lee and Jason Metsa - are vying to fill the seat that will be vacated by U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, D-Crosby, who decided to not run for re-election this year.

Audience members listen to Sunday’s 8th Congressional District candidates forum. (Steve Kuchera / DNT)
Audience members listen to Sunday’s 8th Congressional District candidates forum. (Steve Kuchera / DNT)
On immigration reform, many of the candidates said they support creating pathways to citizenship for those who entered the United States illegally and for the “Dreamers” who were brought to here as children. Sandman, a member of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, received laughter and applause when he started his comments saying, “Immigration? Well … now that the door’s open …”

Kennedy said people need to stop talking about immigration reform “like it’s dirty” and be clear that a majority of terrorism in the United States is perpetrated by “caucasian Americans right on our soil.”

Phifer said she saw the effects of Congress’ unwillingness to enact effective immigration reform while working for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. She said Congress needs to pass permanent immigration reform for the Dreamers and a pathway to citizenship for people who came to the United States illegally. Lee said she supports Dreamers being given citizenship and noted that processes are in place to allow in any “good person” who wants to come to the United States. Metsa also said the focus shouldn’t be on “chasing people out of their communities” and that Congress should ensure that people brought into the United States as children should be able to stay.

Stauber said he supports legal immigration to the United States. However, the country needs to get a handle on people who overstay visas, he said, and he supports the construction of a wall on the United States’ southern border to stop drug and human trafficking.

Sandman said constructing a border wall would be “a waste of money” and that the country needs to “get real” about immigration. Radinovich said immigration reform begins with creating a pathway to citizenship for people who immigrated illegally and that the United States “should be building bridges and not walls.” Phifer said that building a border wall “is absolutely the worst idea to address criminals trying to cross our border.”

8th Congressional District candidates Jason Metsa (from left), Joe Radinovich, Kristen Kennedy, Leah Phifer and Michelle Lee.
8th Congressional District candidates Jason Metsa (from left), Joe Radinovich, Kristen Kennedy, Leah Phifer and Michelle Lee.
When asked about gun control, many of the candidates noted that they were gun owners themselves or had been personally affected by gun deaths.

Radinovich, Kennedy, Phifer and Metsa said they support implementing universal background checks for gun purchasers. Kennedy, Lee and Sandman said they support banning assault rifles. Radinovich and Lee said they support banning bump stocks and high-capacity magazines. Stauber and Metsa called for a records system that can be accessed nationally to indicate those can’t have a gun due to circumstances such as domestic violence or mental health crises.

Phifer said people on both sides of the gun control issue can agree that children shouldn’t have to spend time training for school shootings and she said she’d find areas where there’s bipartisan support to begin to implement changes.

Sandman said people need to stop the National Rifle Association and politicians need to stop accepting money from the NRA.

Suicides account for about 60 percent of gun deaths per year, Radinovich said, telling the stories about his brother’s attempted suicide and his mother’s murder 11 months later. He said he supports additional mental health services and ensuring that schools are safe, as well as raising the minimum age to purchase assault rifles to 21 years old.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention should be allowed to research gun violence and potential solutions, Kennedy said, and she supports funding that research “so we can get real statistics on gun deaths and have a real debate about it.” Phifer, who is a gun owner, also said she supports allowing the CDC to research gun violence because it’s a public health crisis.

Lee, who is a gun owner and whose brother was shot and killed, said she supports legislation that creates “responsible solutions” for gun control.

Stauber, who is retired from the Duluth Police Department, said school resource officers should be in every school and anyone having a mental health or drug crisis shouldn’t have access to guns.

Metsa said “we’ve gotten too far away from the idea that everyone should feel safe and secure in this country,” a right he believes people have in the United States. He said laws need to be “smartened up” so that students feel safe in their schools.

The event was sponsored by the College of St. Scholastica Student Senate, in cooperation with the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group at the University of Minnesota Duluth, with help from the CSS History and Politics Department, the Democratic and Republican student organizations at UMD, and UMD’s Political Science Department. The forum was co-moderated by professors Thomas Morgan from CSS and Jennifer Moore from UMD.