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U.S. Senate candidates share concerns, priorities

The Bemidji Republican U.S. Senate Forum was held Thursday evening to meet four U.S. Senate candidates from the Twin cities area. From left, moderator Kath Molitor listens to candidate Pete Hegseth and Dan Severson give opening remarks. Not pictured are candidates Kurt Bills and Harold Shudlick. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI -- The four candidates seeking the Republican endorsement for U.S. Senate all agree that Amy Klobuchar needs to be replaced, but their main areas of concern varied, covering national debt, Obamacare, foreign policy and the size of government.

"This is why we need Lincoln-Douglas-style debates with Sen. Klobuchar," Candidate Kurt Bills said. "These are things that the American people and Minnesota want explained and discussed."

The Beltrami County Republicans held a Senate forum Thursday evening to discuss issues in the United States and ways they would change things if elected. The candidates who attended the forum were Bills, Pete Hegseth, Dan "Doc" Severson and Harold Shudlick.

Bills, who serves in the state House of Representatives, said that, if elected, his first priority would be to address the national deficit and its need for a budget.

"If there was only one thing, I would have to go with the platform to revitalize America," Bills said. "If there was one thing that we could tackle, it would be our deficits, our debt and our spending. That would bring more of an equilibrium to our overall economy."

All four of the candidates said they would not vote to raise the national debt ceiling. Hegseth said if the national debt ceiling is raised, it will likely result in raises in the future, putting the country further in debt.

"(Klobuchar) is part of the process that continues to kick the ball down the road," he said.

Hegseth said the country needs to take on the entitlement programs and other drivers of the debt to make them solvent for future generations and not continue to raise the debt ceiling and creating problems in the future.

Severson, who served four consecutive terms in the state House of Representatives, said if he was elected, his first focus would be a sunset clause for all federal departments.

"We have no systematic review that is going on to ask how this comes across in the constitution. Is this an actual authority that has been given to the federal government?" Severson said. "As we do that, we begin to reduce the costs of doing business and eliminating those that are unconstitutional."

Hegseth, who recently returned from a deployment to Afghanistan with the National Guard, said his first focus would be to eliminate Obamacare, something all four candidates want to happen. (Obamacare is an informal name for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.)

"I hope and believe that the first and most important vote I would cast as your U.S. senator would be to appeal Obamacare," Hegseth said. "It is not something we can deal with piece by piece; it is something that we have to get rid of entirely."

Severson said that in addition to getting rid of Obamacare, the government needs to get away from the argument that health care is an entitlement.

"If we want a good health-care system, one that is responsive, we need to go to a free market system," Severson said.

For Shudlick, the one thing he would like to see accomplished is for America to come home.

"We've been taking care of others too often, and we have forgotten that self-care is God's work, too," Shudlick said. "If we can't take care of ourselves, how are we supposed to take care of others?"

Shudlick said the United States should get out of the United Nations, and, in turn, the U.N. should get out of the United States.

Though all candidates have their own priorities, all four said they will support the Republican nominee who is selected and will focus on raising the money needed to compete with Klobuchar in November.

"We need that endorsement, and we need that time from May 18 to November to beat Klobuchar," Hegseth said. "We can't think that we are going to fight amongst ourselves all the way to August and then pivot and beat her."