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U.S. House candidates Sen. Kelly Armstrong, right, and Mac Schneider debated in a forum at the North Dakota Newspaper Association's annual convention in Bismarck in May.

North Dakota’s two party-endorsed U.S. House candidates agreed for the most part on issues presented in their first debate.

Republican Kelly Armstrong and Democrat Mac Schneider mostly differed on finer details at the debate hosted Saturday morning in Bismarck by the North Dakota Newspaper Association. The candidates largely agreed on issues they say deserve greater local or state control and fewer federal regulations, such as for energy development and farmers and ranchers.

Armstrong highlighted President Donald Trump’s rollback of certain federal regulations and also commended the work and accessibility of state regulators. 

“Whether it’s the coal industry, the ag industry or the energy industry, the single best thing we can do at the federal level is allow as much power to the state when it comes to regulation and policy,” the Dickinson state senator said. “Government is always best when it’s closest to the people.”

Schneider said he’s agreed with some moves by the Environmental Protection Agency, particularly its suspension of the Waters of the United States rule.

“Talk about a case of micromanagement of resources that farmers and ranchers in North Dakota are perfectly capable of managing on their own. This is government at its worst,” the former Senate minority leader from Grand Forks said.

He also noted disagreement he has with the EPA, such as Administrator Scott Pruitt issuing waivers of the Renewable Fuels Standard for some refineries, which Schneider said threatens North Dakota’s biofuel industry.

Both candidates expressed concerns for a new Farm Bill. Armstrong said he hopes for a five-year Farm Bill prioritizing crop insurance.

“The supplemental crop insurance is the difference between (being) able to plant your field the year after (a drought) or going bankrupt,” he said.

Schneider said he’s been disappointed in what he sees as partisanship and polarization surrounding Farm Bill deliberations in times of low prices and drought. He also echoed Armstrong’s call for prioritizing crop insurance and called for bipartisan efforts.

The two candidates mostly agreed on other topics, such as allowing Special Counsel Robert Mueller to continue his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, cautious hope for lasting peace for the Korean peninsula, giving resources to local school districts for students' safety and supporting bipartisan efforts to combat the opioid addiction crisis.

Schneider noted their work together in the past on state legislation and agreement on certain issues, including federal topics such as the Farm Bill.

“I’ve had a good relationship with my opponent in the past, and I’m thankful for it,” he said.

“We’ve worked on numerous bills together,” Armstrong said.

The opponents differed on a couple issues. Schneider brought up their opposing legislative votes regarding corporate farming and Medicaid expansion in 2015 and 2013, respectively. Armstrong said the two differ in their views of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and the Affordable Care Act.

Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., addressed the crowd before the debate, discussing the U.S. Senate race in which he is challenging incumbent Democrat Heidi Heitkamp, who could not attend Saturday's event.

“What you’ve done will determine whether you’re right for the job, when you have two voting records that are as diverse as our two are,” Cramer said.

Republicans Tiffany Abentroth and Paul Schaffner are also running in North Dakota's U.S. House race but did not debate Saturday.

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Reach Jack Dura at 701-250-8225 or jack.dura@bismarcktribune.com.

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Crime and Courts Reporter