Second NDGOP House candidate debate features more issues than attacks; Fedorchak absent

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Republican U.S. House candidates, from left to right, Alex Balazs, Cara Mund and Rick Becker participate in Republican primary debate hosted by BEK TV on May 11, 2024. Candidates Julie Fedorchak and Sharlet Mohr did not attend the debate. (Screenshot/BEK TV livestream)

BY: MICHAEL ACHTERLING

BISMARCK, N.D. (North Dakota Monitor) – Three of the five Republican candidates for North Dakota’s at-large U.S. House seat focused more on issues than personal attacks Saturday during the second NDGOP primary debate.

NDGOP-endorsed candidate Alex Balazs, former lawmaker Rick Becker and former Miss America Cara Mund answered questions from the moderators over 90 minutes and each took an opportunity to express disappointment that Public Service Commissioner Julie Fedorchak failed to attend the debate.

At the start of the debate, hosted by BEK TV, Dale Wetzel, one of the debate moderators, said all five candidates were invited to participate.

“Julie Fedorchak says she is otherwise scheduled,” Wetzel said. “Sharlet Mohr texted this morning to say that she was ill and could not take part.”

Sean Cleary, campaign manager for Fedrochak, said her son graduated high school this year and his graduation party was this weekend. He added Fedorchak participated in the first debate and plans to attend two future debates before the primary election, if all the details can be worked out.

“We’ve been really busy talking to voters and had a booked schedule,” Cleary said. “I think there is going to be plenty of time for contrast between the candidates.”

During the debate, Balazs and Becker discussed eliminating or revamping the country’s entitlement programs, such as Social Security, to address the nation’s debt concerns, while Mund vowed to protect benefits that people have been paying into their whole lives.

“This is not a hand out from the government,” Mund said. “North Dakotans rely heavily on Social Security, on Medicare and veteran’s benefits and as a fiscal conservative, I will not cut these, but I will provide solutions.”

The 30-year-old Mund said she was not opposed to raising the income cap on Social Security payments for higher-earning individuals to bring more revenue into the fund so it will be there when she retires.

Balazs said he’s not going to cut Social Security, but also suggested later in the debate that cutting entitlements would be required to get the country into a better financial position.

“You’re going to have to look at it as a whole and teach people what it means to cut entitlements because there are pieces of entitlements that are going away,” Balazs said.

Becker called Social Security a government Ponzi scheme.

“This is effectively a Ponzi scheme,” Becker said. “To not touch it is not a solution … I think the key is, we don’t touch the benefits for the people that are relying on them right now, or in the very near future, but we must touch it.”

Becker suggested increasing the age appropriate for withdrawal from age 67 to 68 and increasing the income cap would be temporary solutions for the fund’s solvency, but, ultimately, said he wants to convert the fund into a 401k-style system.

“What we need to do is get a hold of our spending so we can put money in and convert it over from this Ponzi scheme into a private, 401k model,” Becker said. “We can’t be afraid to say, ‘we will reform this,’ because it’s our responsibility.”

When asked how they would approach immigration at the southern border and the possibility of deportations, each candidate said they support changes at the southern border to ensure it is more secure and Balazs said everyone in the country illegally must be deported.

“Yeah, we’re sending them all home,” Balazs said. “You can’t start in this country as an illegal and then pretend like you’re going to become a citizen and assimilate.”

He added that most asylum claims taking place at the border are not valid claims and changes could be made to the work-visa program to allow immigrants more flexibility in moving between jobs on a job site.

Becker called the situation at the southern border an “invasion,” and said the country needs a secure border and stronger vetting of immigrants to ensure terrorists aren’t gaining admission.

“If we can improve the flow of vetted immigrants, who are here for merit-based reasons, for opportunity, I think that’s fantastic,” Becker said. Adding, legal immigrants have been the backbone of the country for 200 years.

Mund said Republicans should’ve favored the bi-partisan foreign aid and border security bill, crafted by Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., because it would’ve provided funding to help address the issue instead of just using it as a campaign talking point.

“This is something that Republicans were able to bring forward under a Democratic president and we have to stop making the border a political statement,” she said. “I really think it was a missed opportunity on behalf of the party … to not work with the Democrats, who are technically getting a lot of heat for supporting this, because, to me, our safety, our communities (are) not a political statement and we need to secure the border and we need to secure it now.”

During closing statements, Balazs, a military veteran, said he feels like he’s the most experienced candidate in the field to do the best job for North Dakotans.

“In this moment, today, with the challenges that are ahead of us, I think I’m the right person to represent you in Washington and I want your vote,” Balazs said. He added, as Memorial Day approaches, North Dakotans should take some time to share their familial stories about the military and support military service more than one weekend a year.

In her closing, Mund, an attorney, said she’s labeled a “one-issue” candidate for her pro-choice views but abortion was never brought up.

“In North Dakota, we have some of the strictest health care bans for women,” Mund said. “If we are a party of limited government, I want you out there to know that I joined this race because I am a proud Republican who thinks the government should not be in those spaces.”

She lamented that there is no clinic currently operating in the state that performs abortion procedures.

“When women in our state have to go through this procedure, it is not a choice of theirs,” she said. “It’s because they either have an unviable pregnancy, it’s because their health is at-risk, and I want people to come to North Dakota and be empowered to know that they have a choice in how their lives are lived.”

Becker, a plastic surgeon, thanked the two other candidates for sharing the debate stage, but highlighted Fedorchak’s notable absence from the event.

“For the candidate who chose not to be here, I think she has sent the viewers a message, loud and clear,” Becker said. “I’m running because I believe America is in a very tough spot. We got here by sending people to Congress who did not have our backs, who buckled under pressure, who did not have the principles, or at least, did not have the spine to stand up for those principles.”

He said wouldn’t ever compromise his conservative principles and identifies as an America-first candidate.

“I will be proud to represent you in the halls of Congress,” he said.