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Schneider: I'm a 'ND independent'

Herald editorial board

Mac Schneider calls himself a "North Dakota independent" and says his record in the state Legislature and his temperament prove it.

Schneider, the Democratic candidate for North Dakota's seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, visited for an hour last week with the Herald's editorial board. The board noted that it asked his opponent, Kelly Armstrong, if Armstrong is a "Trump Republican." Armstrong responded affirmatively.

The Herald subsequently asked Schneider: "What are you?"

"I'm a North Dakota independent," he said. "That's how I tried to lead the caucus when I was in the Legislature — in a bipartisan fashion, working together to best suit North Dakota. ... For instance, energy. I'm a member of Energy Blue, which a group of pro-energy Democrats that want to invest in the next generation of clean coal technology and renewables that support fracking and responsible development of our oil resources. I'm also pro-Second Amendment. I have a long record of supporting the rights of law-abiding gun owners. It's those votes that put me in a position to independently represent North Dakota and work with both parties when it comes to facing some of these big issues.

"I did see Kelly's comments (to the Herald), and he said what separates him and me is ideology, and I think that's true. He has pitched himself as a conservative. I am pitching myself as the practical candidate who will work with Democrats, Republicans and the administration when it comes to advancing our state's best interest."

Schneider, a Grand Forks lawyer who plans to move to Fargo this summer for business reasons, will face Armstrong in the November election.

Following are Schneider's answers to various questions posed by the editorial board:

Q: You don't think Kelly would work with Democrats, Republicans and the administration?

SCHNEIDER: I think he has carved out territory as the conservative. And I think he may believe North Dakotans are conservative, so they will vote for him. I think North Dakotans, more than anything, are practical, and they want someone who will work together to find common ground and advance this country.

Q: It's apparent you and Armstrong get along personally, but we would like to separate you two a little more (with their recent editorial board discussions). What separates you?

SCHNEIDER: Kelly and I like each other and respect each other. We have debated each other a lot over the years (in the Legislature). We have been able to do that and be civil to each other. Some people may confuse that for agreement on every issue — just because people aren't at each other's throats doesn't necessarily mean they agree on everything.

I thought the Herald's story (after the North Dakota Newspaper Association debate in May) hit the nail on the head in terms of the differences. There are differences on trade—he spoke favorably about the administration's approach to tariffs and trade. I see that as a serious threat to production agriculture in North Dakota and to the backbone of our economy.

Kelly is apparently willing to let the administration give this approach a whirl. I am not. I have urged cooler heads within the administration to prevail, and I certainly hope there is a resolution that stops short of this trade war—not just with China, but now with some of our closest allies. That's a big difference. My opponent has been speaking favorably about the administration's approach to trade. I see it as detrimental to North Dakota.

Another one is corporate farming. With the farm bill stalled as a result of the pervasive partisanship in Washington, we need a return to bipartisanship and a recognition that we need to keep families on the land.

Agriculture is the backbone of our economy, and the backbone of agriculture in North Dakota is family farming. That vote in 2015 that Kelly and I took shows a pretty stark difference when it comes to allowing corporate farming or maintaining family farms as the centerpiece of agriculture.

(Editor's note: The bill in question, Senate Bill 2351, allowed restricted corporate dairy and swine operations. After passing the Legislature — largely along party lines — and being signed by the governor, the bill was put to a statewide vote. In 2016, North Dakota voters repealed the bill by a margin of 3-1.).

Another one that's critically important to Grand Forks is Medicaid expansion. I was part of a bipartisan coalition (in 2013) backed by business leaders, faith leaders and others, to expand Medicaid in North Dakota. That has been a tremendous success. Around 20,000 North Dakotans have gained access to quality health insurance as a result. The reduction in the uninsured rate is about 50 percent in just two years after Medicaid was expanded.

I was part of a wide bipartisan majority of legislators that supported that initiative. My opponent was part of a small minority that did not.

I think that's indicative of the different approach that we would have to health care on the federal level, too. My approach is, broadly speaking, pretty simple: Keep what works, and fix what's broken.

Medicaid expansion works for North Dakota. It works for our hospitals ... our citizens and our country. Let's build on that and fix the things that are broken, like the miserable individual insurance markets. That is something that has not worked well and never has worked as poorly as it is right now. But there are bipartisan solutions out there.

Q: What happens if China says they won't do business with the U.S.? If that happens, do we negotiate with them or look to trade with other countries?

SCHNEIDER: I think that, again, this illustrates a big difference between me and my opponent. Like me, he clearly understands the detriment a trade war would have on farmers and ranchers and North Dakota's economy; but he's willing to allow the administration to go down this road.

I think we should back off and take a more efficient approach when it comes to cracking down on rule-breakers like China. And that's to work with our allies.

Unfortunately, the road that has been undertaken by the administration has been to alienate our allies at a time when we're on the brink of a trade war with China.

Q: So when you see the farm bill stall and escalation of potential trade wars, and concerns about NAFTA, as a Democrat do you feel that gives you an advantage during the campaign?

SCHNEIDER: I don't want anything detrimental to happen to this country or this state. That's why I feel so seriously about these tariffs, because they could be so detrimental to the economy. The response to the tariffs in particular has been bipartisan. You have seen Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) sponsor a bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Heitkamp, that would essentially repeal these tariffs. That is a bipartisan approach to trade we haven't really seen since 1929, give or take.

Q: But do you believe all the things happening give you a bit of a leg up?

SCHNEIDER: I don't really see it through that lens. I see it as speaking to the challenges and the opportunities that North Dakota has in front of it. I think that's going to make for the best politics—talking to everybody I possibly can and meeting with individuals across the state to advance our state's best interest.

Q: One fear among Trump supporters is that if Democrats take the majority in Congress, there would be an impeachment vote. Has President Trump done anything to warrant impeachment?

SCHNEIDER: I think discussions along those lines are woefully out of place. The investigation should be allowed to run its course, and we should follow the facts where they may.

I do believe the president is entitled to a presumption of innocence just like anyone else. Call me an old-fashioned lawyer in that regard.

I just don't see the evidence at this point in time. I would carefully listen to the facts if things were to change.

What the people of North Dakota want is someone who's going to focus on economic issues that are important to the state, and not go running off into some sort of partisan rabbit hole.

Q: Do you think Trump is an issue in this campaign at all?

SCHNEIDER: I think there are the cable news types and talking heads who want to make this election a referendum on President Trump. I am not running against President Trump; I am running for North Dakota.

But certainly, his policies, which could have a dramatic impact on North Dakota — those are on the ballot. And those will be discussed up and down the ticket here in North Dakota and other states.

Q: Are you troubled at all about the president's recent statements about his authority, some of which suggest he thinks he has almost unlimited power?

SCHNEIDER: I don't think our chief executive should be declaring broad presidential powers over Twitter. I have heard from a lot of North Dakotans that they want President Trump to succeed, but that they would like him to put down the Twitter machine for a while.

When it comes to pardoning power, I can't imagine our founders, who had just freed themselves from the yoke of a monarchy, anticipating that the president could put himself above the law. I don't think the president will pardon himself and I don't believe he should.

Q: How do you feel about federal regulation of marijuana?

SCHNEIDER: I would be in favor of decriminalizing marijuana at the federal level and allowing states to make their own decisions about whether to legalize the drug.

Q: Why?

SCHNEIDER: I think it's best decided by the states. States can be decide for themselves how best to regulate and tax the product, as well as ensure that it isn't abused.

Q: So if you were making laws for states, would you vote to legalize it at the state level?

SCHNEIDER: I wouldn't vote to legalize it at the state level if it's prohibited at the federal level.

Q: OK, so let's pretend it's legal on the federal level. What we're asking is, are you in favor of legalizing marijuana?

SCHNEIDER: I'm going to vote against the ballot measure. Maybe that's not the question. I'm not trying to be squirmy, but I would need to look at what kind of legalization it is, what is the tax structure, what are the safeguards in place to make sure it's not abused.

My bias is, as a former state legislator, is that I believe states are the laboratories of democracy. I also believe North Dakotans are awfully smart. If they're going to weigh the risks of legalizing marijuana, they can do that competently.

Q: But you would legalize marijuana under the right circumstances?

SCHNEIDER: I would be in favor of decriminalizing it at the federal level so states can make up their minds whether they want to continue to outlaw it or not.

Q: Hypothetically, say it's legal on the federal level, it comes to a state ballot, and now you're just a voter. Would you vote yes or no?

SCHNEIDER: How will it be taxed? What are safeguards to ensure kids don't abuse it? What is the recommendation of the medical community? What does law enforcement believe about it? What would that impact be to North Dakota? These are things you can't really deal with in the realm of a hypothetical.

Q: How would you rate the job of North Dakota's current congressman, Kevin Cramer?

SCHNEIDER: I would take a different approach than Rep. Cramer has. I would be willing to work with the administration when it comes to repealing regulations like Waters of the U.S., Clean Power Plan—those are areas on which I agree with Rep. Cramer.

Areas where I disagree is where North Dakota's one and only member of the House needs to stand up for North Dakota, no matter who is on the other side, Democrat or Republican.

The prime example of that is trade. I think Rep. Cramer is not much different than my opponent in the sense that they are willing to let the administration go down the route of tariffs and give it a whirl.

I recognize that could lead to disaster for North Dakota's economy. I hope they walk that back.

I would take a more independent approach.

Q: Regarding the concept of nationalizing elections. Clearly, for Democrats, the name Nancy Pelosi comes up. Is she someone you are comfortable with?

SCHNEIDER: I have been very clear since I started this this campaign that I am going to vote for a change in leadership. It's time for a new generation of leadership in both parties.

I will not be voting for Ms. Pelosi. I think we need a change, and more than that, I think we need someone who can deliver an economic message — someone who can come out to North Dakota and talk to farmers and ranchers and explain why Democratic policies are better for their pocketbooks.

That's the change I will be looking for.