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Voter guide: Q and A with Rep. Jason Lewis

Jason Lewis

Ahead of the Nov. 6 election, U.S. Rep. Jason Lewis spoke with RiverTown Multimedia about key issues, including health care, school safety and climate change.

In this year’s rematch against his opponent from 2016, democrat Angie Craig, Lewis’s key campaign topics include support for technical skills training for high school students, expanding Republicans’ tax reform efforts and pledging to be an independent voice for Minnesota, pointing to his work on bipartisan bills.

The first-term Congressman serves on the budget, education and the workforce, and transportation and infrastructure committees. He has sponsored 13 bills, with three approved by the House.

RELATED: Voter guide: Angie Craig talks key issues

After graduating from the University of Northern Iowa, Lewis’s early career included working for his family auto supply business in Iowa and as an aide for a Republican Congressman in Colorado. There, he made his first bid for Congress, losing by 20 percentage points to an incumbent in 1990.

After earning his Master’s degree in political science from the University of Colorado-Denver in 1992, he began his career in conservative talk radio. Following stints in Colorado, Minnesota and North Carolina, Lewis began hosting “The Jason Lewis Show” on Clear Channel’s KTLK 1130AM in Minnesota. The show was syndicated nationally by the Burnsville-based Genesis Communications Network.

He says his time in conservative talk radio helped him build skills in researching and communicating about complex issues.

“When you’re doing a talk radio show and you have to fill three hours every day, you have the tendency to over prepare. That means if you're talking about farm policy, fiscal policy … you actually read and prepare ,” he said. “That actually set me on a path to make it a lot easier when I got to Washington ... I was fortunate enough to have sort of a background base of knowledge.”

He left in 2014 to focus on his online Libertarian start-up called About a year later, he announced his candidacy for the U.S. House, following Republican John Kline’s retirement.

“My predecessor retires, and I thought, there’s one more fight in me yet, gotta put your money where your mouth is. I gotta cast a vote, actually change things,” he said.  

In Congress, he serves on the Budget, Education and the Workforce, and Transportation and Infrastructure committees and has sponsored 13 bills, with three approved by the House.

RiverTown Multimedia has lightly edited the following interview for clarity and length. We’ve also added hyperlinks and additional context to key issues mentioned by candidates.

Voting closes on Election Day, Nov. 6. You can find your polling place here.  

What decisions have you made in Congress that you think best exemplify listening to voters’ concerns?

We were fortunate enough to sign the largest career and technical education bill — the Perkins reauthorization bill — in a decade … My dual enrollment amendment was signed into law under the bill. That language says that if you're in high school and you want to take a class and become an electrician … you can get credit for doing that while in high school at the community college. That sort of workforce development has been key …

The other issue, serving on transportation and infrastructure (committee), has been getting a water bill passed, so that we have the water resource development key to the 2nd District and the shipping lanes down the Mississippi. The locks, the dams, getting that done.

And of course, focusing on the Met Council. The Met Council has been a very contentious body for quite some time now and no one has taken it on. I’ve decided to do that early on. I co-sponsored, with Rep. Dan Lipinski of Illinois, a democrat, the first M.P.O (Metropolitan Planning Agency) bill to sort of reign in their expansion ideas, and now I’ve got the (U.S. Department of Transportation) to review whether they can go on being federally compliant without one elected board member

Finally, reaching across the aisle with Rep. Bobby Scott on juvenile justice and criminal justice reform. That has been a real bipartisan endeavor with the Virginia Democrat … Getting criminal justice reform done has been a sort of labor of love for Bobby Scott and myself. Those are things I’ve been working with the district.

Data source: Google Trends

Google Trends data show that “health care” has been one of the most-searched political topics in recent weeks.

You've said you would want to push for reforms that would make less expensive health insurance options available. What are some of these reforms, and how would you accomplish them?

Right now, in Obamacare there’s a price control that says if you’re going to offer plans under the federal exchanges, you can’t have too big of a difference between prices … The insurance companies aren’t going to charge everybody the lowest price. They charge everybody the highest price. And because of that, younger, healthier people said ... I'm not going to buy insurance … Our plan, in my view of this, is to get young and healthy people back into the insurance pool, so they can get a lower price … This is a common sense approach. It would clearly lower premiums.

You voted in support of the American Health Care Act. Under this legislation, states could apply for waivers to restructure health plan benefits, which would allow insurers to charge people with pre-existing conditions or illnesses more for coverage. What are your views on how insurance providers should be able to charge people with pre-existing conditions?

Just as I said, no one who kept their insurance more or could be denied. No one could be denied, they kept their insurance, if they went deliberately without insurance and then they went late to game the system, they could be charged more for one year. But no one could be denied for a pre-existing condition under our plan or a previous plan.

How would you describe the importance of protection for pre-existing conditions going forward?

It was in our original bill and we would stick with that, making certain that those conditions are protected.

Students across the Congressional district participated in walkouts in support of gun control. What are your policy ideas for keeping schools safer from gun violence?

(The U.S. House) passed the STOP School Violence Act, (which) authorized more grants to local communities and school districts, so they could hire more resource officers, so they could put in more secure facilities, like vestibules. We know that shootings happened early in the morning, they may want to add more officers then … It was a way to allow local communities to protect their schools and make them safer. We also passed Fix NICS, which strengthened background checks.


Park High School students protest gun violence during March 14 walkout. William Loeffler / RiverTown MultimediaGiven that 1.3 million dollars from Michael Bloomberg is coming in to this district to campaign against me, I’d say with all due respect, do you want more school resource officers, more funds available for schools to keep them safe, or do you want more laws? And what's going to be more effective? ... Of all the laws being proposed, none of them would have prevented the Parkland shooting. Less than 1 percent of all criminal offenses with a gun occurred with a gun that was bought at a gun shop. They’re bought in the black market. I think it’s the height of cynicism to promise the people of Minnesota, oh, we’ll make you safer with more gun control laws ... You have to allow the local communities to figure out what’s best for their community, and that’s what I find to be most key in this …

Is there anything going forward with school safety you would hope to push?

I would hope that we would have a serious conversation. … No one wants to talk about making certain we have proper mental health treatment, taking a look at certain psychiatric drugs, taking a look at kids being raised in single parent homes, or without dads. I happen to believe young boys need fathers, in perfect world anyway. If you take a look at all those things, those are some of the more social aspects to this that no one talks about. …

(Editor’s note: The New York Times breaks down some common talking points from republicans and democrats on the link between mental health and gun violence here. Overall, according to the New York Times, most experts and studies find the link between mental illness and gun violence exists, but that mental illness is rarely associated with gun violence incidents.)  

What are your priorities to help those in the agriculture communities of our district?

Well, we passed (the) Farm Bill out of the House, and unfortunately it didn't make it into the other chamber so we’ll have to do an extension, but I thought it was a great farm bill ... Most importantly, we had work requirements and training requirements for the biggest chunk of that particular bill, 75 percent of which is food stamps. We kept the food stamp benefits the same, but we said in order to get them, you have to work for 20 hours a week or get 20 hours of training a week.

A new report from the United Nations scientific panel says with current greenhouse gas emission rates, we’ll see permanent consequences of climate change by 2040. What are your policy priorities for the environment?

I’m not willing to put 4,000 people out of work at the Pine Bend Refinery. That’s exactly what the Clean Power Plan would have done, which my opponent called a good start. … I'm not going to put that at risk by fighting for clean energy ... I do think the world is warm. I am not certain as to the catastrophic consequences nor man’s contribution …The Paris Climate Accord would have cost $2 trillion by 2030. The Clean Power Plan — $33 billion domestically by 2030. You simply have to weigh the costs and the benefits to this stuff.

One of the best ways to produce electricity without greenhouse gas is nuclear power. We have a nuclear power plant in our district at Prairie Island. It’s functioning at a high level producing great power for Minnesota, but it’s got an interim nuclear waste issue. It’s being stored miles away from the (Prairie Island Indian Community). I co-sponsored a bill with Rep. John Shimkus (R-Illinois) to open Yucca Mountain (in Nevada) and get that interim waste out of there and that way that plant can grow and grow and produce emission free power. I’m for that.

(Editor's note: A source could not be found on the Paris Climate Accord costing $2 trillion by 2030. A spokesperson for Lewis points to a Stanford Study which claims it would cost $2.3 trillion globally each year to limit the amount of carbon dioxide  in the atmosphere to 450 parts per million.)

Could you explain your view on climate change?

Of course I believe in climate change, the climate changes all the time. I think the way the phrase is put out there is so nebulous, and so vague, as to elicit a variety of responses.

The climate is always changing, it always has and it always will. If you’re asking me specifically, has the climate warmed? Yes, it has. It’s also cooled ... I guess you would have to believe there is somehow a normal climate to be as worried about a cataclysmic event as some are. So I would ask some people, what should be the normal climate?

What sources of information do you prioritize finding to inform your policy decisions on the environment?

That is a problem and it’s sort of a byproduct on this very, very troubling move towards conformity in the debate today. You either will believe me or we will silence you. You will either believe that the earth is warming and it’s going to destroy us all, or you are a denier, and you don't believe in science. That is very dangerous. … The fact is, there are a plethora of sources you could look to, some of which say there has been a pause in warming. Some of the data from NASA shows that and they can't explain it. They don't want to go there because it doesn't fit the narrative … Let me blunt here, there are too many people with an agenda in this debate.  

(Editor’s note: You can find information on the study Lewis mentions here. NASA says in the write-up for the study that the rate of warming at the Earth’s surface slowed from 1998-2013. While some called this a “global warming hiatus” or “pause,” NASA says this is a misnomer. It’s true that warming at the surface slowed, but this was caused by the ocean absorbing excess heat, according to NASA. Additional information from NASA on the evidence of a warming planet can be found here.)

The Republican Party is working on a “Tax Cut 2.0,” which would expand the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Do you support this, and if so, what are some key things in the legislation that would help our district?  How would you describe your other policy goals for taxes?

The Tax Reform 2.0 has some tweaks in it which are needed, but primarily it’s a way to make the individual tax cuts permanent. The critics of the tax cut say, oh it just went to the corporations. That’s because they're assuming the individual tax cuts would expire. We’re not going to let that happen.

What is your plan to stay in touch with constituents on these things?

We’ve set a record for connections with visits every day in Washington and in the district. We have mailings that go out every day in direct response. We set a record for telephone town halls, we had three town halls earlier. We’re in touch with citizens every single day.

During the 2016 election, a lot of your opponents brought up your former radio tapes. This came into the news again this past summer when CNN reported on some of your comments. I understand you’ve said in the past that you were doing your job, which was to be provocative. Do you still stand by these statements? For example, you said, “You’ve got a vast majority of young single women who couldn’t explain to you what GDP means. You know what they care about? They care about abortion.” Is that still something you agree with?

In that case, we were talking about Hobby Lobby and we were talking about “The View.” We were talking about those who listen to that. Later in the show, we talked about men who have that same view. I would argue that in the post-Kavanaugh world — what do you think the objection, that got totally unhinged, very scary, false accusations; protests that trespassed, protests that destroyed private property, accusing people of things they clearly did not do, with a runaway lawyer on behalf of Democrats — what do you think they were opposing? Were they opposing Brett Kavanaugh as a person, or were they opposing the threat to taxpayer funded abortion on demand? Well, let’s be honest here, everyone know that taxpayer funded abortion might be limited under Kavanaugh. No one has a clue as to how he’s going to judicate the issue … But that was the essence of the objection. And so, I do think -- look, I’m pro-life, and my opponent is radically pro-choice … And that’s what we were talking about. And I still hold those views …

If you take a look at the same individual who leaked those tapes last time, he’s the same one who leaked them to CNN this summer. You don’t think that has anything to do with politics, do you?

For voters who are concerned about this, I understand you are saying, ‘okay, these are taken out of context. I was a radio host and I had to be provocative.’ But would you stand by all those statements you’ve said on the air over the years?

I’ve never taken a position on the radio that I wouldn't defend to this day. Was my job to make certain it was delivered in a provocative way? Sure it was.