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U.S. House candidates sparred Thursday evening on issues including federal health care legislation and raising the debt ceiling during the first debate of the 2014 election cycle.

Candidates for North Dakota agriculture commissioner also traded barbs at the Bismarck Radisson during the debate, organized by the North Dakota Newspaper Association.

Democratic-NPL Party House candidate George B. Sinner sought to paint first-term Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer as part of the problem in Washington, D.C., when asked about raising the debt ceiling, by mentioning last year’s government shutdown. He said Cramer had voted with fellow Republicans to close the government and kept his paycheck during the shutdown.

“If I’m elected to Congress, I will put working for North Dakota first, and if Congress doesn’t put the work first, I promise you I won’t collect a paycheck,” Sinner said.

That prompted Cramer to deliver one of the more blistering rebuttals of the night, beginning by telling Sinner he actually didn’t vote to shut down the government.

“I worked all day, every day,” Cramer added.

Cramer went on to say he donated a portion of his salary to charity but didn’t put out a press release on his salary as numerous members of Congress did at that time “to brag about it.”

“That’s not what a charitable person does,” Cramer said.

Fargo businessman Jack Seaman, the Libertarian Party candidate for House, said he’s in favor of repealing and replacing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. He said he favors decoupling insurance from employers allowing people to buy individual insurance across state lines.

“Get the federal government out of the health insurance business,” Seaman said.

All three candidates were in favor of the Keystone XL pipeline, which President Barack Obama’s administration has delayed for more than five years.

Sinner said Congress wants the Keystone XL pipeline, which Cramer agreed with.

“It’s the most studied pipeline in the history of the world,” Cramer said.

Seaman said the Keystone wouldn’t fully solve the issue of transporting domestic oil supplies but it could help reduce the amount being shipped by rail. Several fiery derailments in the past year have drawn national attention over the regulations governing the shipment of oil by rail.

“God forbid we have another one these ... derail in one of our cities,” Seaman said.

Ryan Taylor, Dem-NPL Party candidate for agriculture commissioner, said he’d provide balance in both the department office and on the three-member North Dakota Industrial Commission. He said balance is needed to bring fresh ideas to the table in order to allow agriculture and record energy production to co-exist. On that front, he said, the state has come up short, especially when it comes to severe backups for shipping ag products by rail.

“The planning should’ve began five years ago when the agriculture commissioner first took office,” Taylor said.

Republican Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring said in 2010 the Industrial Commission looked at where oil was expected to be shipped and found rail was expected to be far behind pipelines.

“The market determines where the oil goes,” Goehring said.

He said in numerous conversations in recent months with rail line officials that the companies are working to prioritize more ag shipments.

Taylor hit Goehring on the high turnover rate in the agriculture commissioner’s office during his tenure.

During Goehring’s tenure, turnover was at 43 employees out of an office staff of 61.

In February, Goehring also found himself on the defensive over complaints regarding his leadership style from members of North Dakota Farm Bureau administration. Complaints over instances in which his conduct with female office staff had been questioned also became public.

Goehring said prior to the complaints regarding staff going public he’d apologized and gone through training to correct his conduct.

“That’s too high,” Taylor said of the turnover. “I wouldn’t have to do training to know how to treat them.”

Goehring said the turnover number was deceptive since there were several retirements and several more were transfers within the department or to other departments within state government.

“Retention and recruitment are a challenge,” Goehring said.

Reach Nick Smith at 250-8255 or 223-8482 or at nick.smith@bismarcktribune.com.

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