Senate candidates spar over national securityby Tom Scheck, Minnesota Public Radio
The war in Iraq and homeland security are likely to be the biggest issues in this year's U.S. Senate race. The major party candidates have been airing their differences on those topics this week.
St. Paul, Minn. — The proposals by Democrat Amy Klobuchar and Republican Mark Kennedy come a week after British authorities arrested several alleged terrorists before they could enact a plan to blow up several U.S.-bound airliners.
Klobuchar used the backdrop of a fire truck and police and firefighters to announce her proposal. She says Congress should adopt many of the recommendations by the independent 9/11 Commission. Klobuchar stressed the need for more money for emergency personnel, since they would be the first on the scene of a disaster.
She also wants all cargo screened at U.S. ports, and increased sharing of intelligence and terrorist surveillance among federal agencies.
Klobuchar blamed President Bush and Congress for not passing all of the recommendations by the 9/11 Commission, and for cutting funding to local law enforcement.
"We must refocus on the threats that face our nation, to make sure the information sharing is where it should be, to equip our police and firefighters, to make sure that we have the cops on the street that we need and to protect our borders, by steering a new course with new leadership in Washington," Klobuchar says.
Klobuchar estimates her proposal would cost $8 billion. She said some of the money would come from savings produced by greater congressional scrutiny of the Department of Homeland Security. She says the department has wasted billions on items that have nothing to do with fighting terrorism.
Klobuchar also said the war in Iraq has distracted efforts from the broader war on terror, and from efforts to reduce nuclear threats in countries like Iran and North Korea.
"I believe when you spend over $300 billion in one country, and you have the energy and the focus of your State Department and your Pentagon and your military on Iraq -- I believe that it has distracted us from other things that we should have been doing in the fight against terror," Klobuchar says.
Klobuchar says she opposed the war in Iraq from the beginning, and argues the focus of the war must change. She has not supported a deadline for an immediate troop withdrawal.
Klobuchar's Republican opponent, Mark Kennedy, says he will not support a troop withdrawal in Iraq unless the military commanders on the ground suggest it. Kennedy, who currently represents Minnesota's 6th Congressional District, says the war in Iraq is an important part of the global war on terror. He dismisses Klobuchar's assessment of the conflict.
"The fact that Iraq is a distraction from the war on terror would be a surprise to Zarqawi, to Zawhari, to Bin Laden -- who are certainly not treating it as a distraction," says Kennedy. "The real question that you have is this is the fundamental challenge of our time. I have not heard one word from my opponent as to the necessity of winning the war on terror."
On homeland security issues, Kennedy says he voted for the Patriot Act that helps federal and local law enforcement agencies investigate and fight terrorism. He says he also voted for legislation that provided more money to local law enforcement agencies. He's calling for more money for those agencies.
Kennedy also criticized Klobuchar for not supporting President Bush's warrantless domestic wiretap program, which is used to monitor terrorists in the United States and globally. A federal judge ruled the process unconstitutional for violating privacy and free speech. Kennedy says he supports the program, and doesn't think it's unconstitutional.
"Something went right when somebody was saying 'If al Qaeda is talking in America, I want to know what they're saying. That was something else that was mentioned in the 9/11 Commission," Kennedy says.
Klobuchar says that in her position as Hennepin County attorney, she actually received warrants for wiretaps. Klobuchar has said she would work to address any of the concerns with the current wiretap law.
Robert Fitzgerald, the Independence Party's endorsed candidate, says he supports an immediate troop withdrawal in Iraq. He characterized the situation there as a civil war, and says the cost of U.S. troops in Iraq is too high.
Fitzgerald also says he supports the elimination of the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. He says Minnesota taxpayers should not be funding the Department of Homeland Security. Instead, he says local communities and states should be the ones to plan and pay for emergency efforts.
"Homeland Security is another layer of government, it's become a slush fund for no-bid contracts and taxpayer-funded giveaways, and would see that it is eliminated."
Fitzgerald says he also wants to see the FBI, the CIA and local law enforcement agencies to work better on investigating potential terrorist acts. He also says he believes the warrantless domestic wiretap law is unconstitutional.
- All Things Considered, 08/18/2006, 5:19 p.m.