BEMIDJI -- Candidates from two races for the Minnesota Legislature took part in a forum Wednesday at City Hall that started slow, but escalated quickly.
In the House District 2A race, candidates Roger Erickson, DFL-Baudette, and GOP challenger Dave Hancock faced off against each other in the debate. In the House District 5A race, John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, along with Republican opponent Phillip Nelson also took part.
Wednesday's forum, which wasn't as well attended as League's city and county forum the night before, got off to a sleepy start. However, toward the end there were a few audience-submitted questions that prompted candidates to get specific on hot-button issues like the Affordable Care Act and gun control.
Erickson acknowledged the ACA rollout was troubled, but encouraged people to think of the health care situation before the law was implemented.
"In Minnesota, we had thousands of thousands people that did not have health insurance," Erickson said. "We can start talking about, 'is health insurance is a right or is it a privilege.' If we start calling it a privilege, that means that people who cannot afford health insurance just suffer on their own ... that's the reality of what was."
In Hancock's view, the ACA siphons too much money away from programs like Medicare.
"The Affordable Care Act is, to me, the greatest threat to Medicare," he said.
Hancock went on to say the law was "good-intentioned," and voiced support for a provision that prevents insurance companies from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions.
Persell said there was "no doubt" the law was helping Minnesotans.
"We're starting down the road to where everyone can have affordable health care," he said. "There's going to be fits and starts."
Nelson was concerned the law may put a damper on the medical device industry, which has strong roots in Minnesota.
"My chief concern ... is not that I'm so much against the socialization of health care," he said. "If somebody isn't leading the advancement in medical technology, where is that going to leave us? Stuck in 2014 when it's 2211?"
In response to a question on gun control, Hancock said shooting incidents usually occur in places where guns are banned.
"If we look we look at the areas where tragedy has occurred with guns, they are usually in gun-free zone(s)," he said. "Where you have people armed and carrying concealed weaponry, the criminal in use of a gun thinks twice."
Persell disagreed, saying carrying weapons can exacerbate tense situations.
"Folks that are out there carrying, playing cop ... I don't think we want them to be doing that," he said. "There's more instances of people being killed because they are carrying, and they think somebody said something nasty, and they felt threatened, and so they shot them."
When it came time for his turn to speak, Nelson pulled out a small knife and displayed it to the audience.
"This is my right to bear arms," he said. "I'm really okay with anybody having any kind of weapon that they want on their person, at any time, for any reason, in any location."
Erickson said while he is a Second Amendment supporter, the rights provided by the amendment have limits.
"Sooner or later, there has to be a line in the sand, that says, 'this is where reasonable, law-abiding people will agree that we're here, and anything that (goes) past that doesn't seem to make sense in an organized, civilized society.'"