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St. Louis Park Patch - Keith Ellison Answers Patch Readers' Questions (Part 1)

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By Michael Rose

Lauren asks: Do you plan to vote yes or no on the voter ID amendment? Why or why not?

Ellison: I'm going to vote "no." And I'm going to vote no because there are a lot of Minnesotans who are fully eligible to vote yet who may not posses a driver's license or a Minnesota state ID. Because of that, I think that anything that restricts the right to vote is bad and we shouldn't have it. Also, the justification that proponents are offering is that it would prevent fraud. It certainly would not prevent fraud, and there is no fraud. So really, this is just a strategy to suppress the vote, and I object to that.

Donna Moss asks: Congress recently voted to keep the interest rates of federal subsidized Stafford loans frozen at 3.4 percent for the next year, at which point rates will return to their original 6.8 percent unless further action is taken. Congressman Ellison, you've frequently emphasized the importance of making higher education more affordable. What is your next step?

Ellison: My next step is to fight to keep college education affordable. I'm (a co-author) of a bill to make these student loan rates permanently low, and also to even start a process of loan forgiveness for students if they meet certain qualifications. So I think we have to keep the doors to universities open, and not just the four-year institutions--I mean the two-year ones, too. I will forever be working to reduce the cost of college education.

Seth Engman asks: Is it ever appropriate to characterize your opponent or those who disagree with you as "anti-American?"

Ellison: I think we need to focus on the issues and avoid name-calling. Certainly, I've been the target of these kind of allegations. I don't think it's appropriate at any time to call your opponent "militantly anti-American." Particularly if all they're doing is trying to promote jobs and keep America out of wars. I think our political climate has too much overblown rhetoric. If you check my record, I've never been one to engage in negative campaigning and don't intend to now--even if provoked.

Robert Hemphill asks: What specific choices would you make (i.e. who would you raise taxes on, what programs would you cut) in order to balance the budget?

Ellison: That's a good question. I would start by removing the subsidies that are now enjoyed by the fossil fuel industry. There is $110 billion worth of subsidies and loopholes that the coal, natural gas and oil companies get right now. For example, BP was allowed to write-off the clean-up of the Gulf. This is an outrage and it shouldn't exist. I would also allow the Bush tax cuts to expire, for people who make over $250,000 … I'd also seek out to close corporate loopholes that allow for off-shoring of American jobs. There are a number of those that need to be cut, not the least of which are foreign tax havens, which basically incentivize the exportation of American jobs.

Christian U asks: Can you tell us how you plan to vote and why you are voting that way on the issue of the Minnesota marriage amendment?

Ellison: I plan on voting against the amendment. I think it's better to call it the "anti-marriage amendment." Look, I don't really care what peoples' attitudes are about homosexuality. I don't think they're even relevant in this issue. I think what's relevant is, are you willing to allow Americans and Minnesotans to make their own decisions about who they want to be with? You don't have to like it--just let people live their own lives.

Kevin Parks asks: It has been reported that after the Colorado shooting, you may propose that a limit be put on ammunition purchased over the Internet, as well as that protective (i.e. Kevlar) style clothing should only be in possession of law enforcement or military. My question is, why do you believe defensive style body armor should not be held by anyone other than those parties, and why now and not months ago?

Ellison: I don't believe I proposed there'd be a ban or limit on the (purchase) of ammunition. What I said was, anybody who purchases 6,000 rounds of ammunition ought to come to the attention of law enforcement and ought to get a visit ... Because I can think of no reason that someone would need 6,000 rounds of ammunition, unless they were arming up to do something horrible. So I didn't propose a ban, but I did say that there needs to be some sort of particular system that when a certain amount of ammunition is purchased within a certain amount of time, that law enforcement should know. As it relates to defensive body armor, what it allows you to do is to shoot at people but protect yourself from being shot back at. I think that there needs to be restrictions on its use, and there should be enhanced penalties if used in connection to a felony offense ... I think it's fine for Americans to own a shotgun or a rifle or even a handgun to defend their home, to go hunting. But what we're talking about is military style stuff. And unless you plan on waging a military action against some fellow Americans, there's no reason for you to have this kind of stuff. The only people who should be authorized to use this kind of force are people who are legally entitled to do so, which are military and police officials.

Mitch Mueller asks: The last several years have witnessed a gradual erosion of religious freedom. What will you do to protect our First Amendment right to religion and religious expression?

Ellison: I haven't seen this erosion of religious freedom. I'd like to know what he might have in mind. There has been a rise in religious intolerance for some religious groups. But I don't see the government curtailment of religious freedom. But I would say that I am four-square with the first clause of the First Amendment, which states, "Congress shall make no law establishing a religion, and shall not abridge the free exercise thereof." I believe in that. The Constitution also says there shall be no religious tests for serving in office. I will be fighting for these things. And more than just protecting constitutional rights--I don't think the problem is at the constitutional level. I think it's at the tolerance level. I have been, and will continue to be, a part of interfaith dialogues to try to get people to respect each other just a little bit more and understand their commonality. I don't think that's necessarily the role of government, but as a member of Congress, you do have a bully pulpit--a profile. I think that I should be speaking against religious intolerance. I think I should be speaking for interfaith dialogue and greater respect among people.


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