Democratic challenger Walt Minnick repeatedly accused Republican U.S. Sen. Larry Craig of hypocrisy and “Washington double talk” during a lively, sometimes heated debate televised statewide Sunday night.
Craig, seeking his second six-year term, responded with charges that Minnick had distorted his positions on nuclear waste, balancing the budget and other issues.
“Walt’s got away for about the last six months of inaccurate advertising,” he said early in the 90-minute debate on Idaho Public Television. “I will not let Mr. Minnick get away with untruths. It won’t work that way, Walt. You just can’t play the game.”
Independent Mary Charbonneau of Chubbuck and Natural Law Party candidate Susan Vegors of Pocatello also participated in the debate, but often found themselves squeezing in comments between the Craig and Minnick exchanges.
The event sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Idaho and the Idaho Press Club was the first face-to-face debate of the Senate campaign. And Minnick took advantage of the opportunity to criticize Craig repeatedly for his support of Gov. Phil Batt’s nuclear waste agreement with the federal government.
The Boise businessman, who supports an initiative on Idaho’s Nov. 5 ballot that would void Batt’s agreement, accused Craig of doing nothing during 16 years in the House and Senate to ensure Idaho does not become the nation’s de facto dumping ground for nuclear waste.
“You let the federal government shove this waste down our throat. If you’d been doing your job this never would have happened to Idaho,” Minnick said. “We should leave it where it is until we can ship it to a permanent nuclear waste storage site.”
But Craig said members of Congress could not have crafted the agreement Batt reached almost a year ago to allow 1,130 more shipments of waste to come to the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory over the next 40 years in exchange for court-enforced guarantees that most of the waste will be out of Idaho by 2035.
He also defended his record, citing efforts to create a permanent nuclear waste repository at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain and this year’s bill to open a temporary dump in Nevada. It was approved by the Senate before stalling in the House.
Minnick said Craig had spent “15 years sitting back and letting the waste come in and encouraging it to come in” before changing his position in an election year. But the senator said the issue was not as simple as Minnick was making it.
“There’s a thing called our Constitution, and there’s a Commerce Clause in the Constitution which says that you can’t stop it at your border,” Craig said. “I’d like to stop it too, but it’s impossible to do.”
Batt’s pact gives Idaho its best chance to force the government to live up to its promises, he said.
Vegors, meanwhile, said the focus should be on what to do with the waste already at the INEL, and Charbonneau said she is convinced technology being developed there can make the waste valuable.
Craig and Minnick also clashed over balancing the federal budget. Craig said he has worked tirelessly to reduce the deficit and enact a balanced budget amendment. But Minnick said his plan would balance the budget in one year, and he charged that Craig has never actually voted for a balanced budget.
The senator said Minnick was using “phony numbers” in his budget plan, and said even the Democrat’s supporters have indicated balancing the budget in one year would require a 12-percent budget increase and maybe even eliminating the homeowners’ mortgage interest deduction.
Minnick angrily denied that, shooting back that Craig might support eliminating not only the mortgage interest deduction but charitable deductions as well.