- Associated Press - Monday, May 16, 2016

FARGO, N.D. (AP) - North Dakota’s Republican candidates for governor, Wayne Stenehjem and Doug Burgum, exchanged jabs on health care and tax credits Monday during a rapid-fire debate at a Fargo television station.

In the liveliest exchange of the half-hour program, Stenehjem accused Burgum of being disingenuous by criticizing Stenehjem’s actions on President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul. Stenehjem supported a U.S. Supreme Court case regarding health exchanges for the Affordable Care Act, which Burgum has described as support for the health care reform.

Stenehjem, the longtime attorney general and the GOP’s endorsed candidate for governor, said he did the right thing by backing a health care tax credit for 16,000 North Dakota citizens and thinks “the original, authentic Doug Burgum” would agree with the idea.

“I was not standing up to support Obamacare, but I was standing up to support the taxpaying citizens, most of them lower income, who once Obamacare was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court were required by law to buy health insurance,” Stenehjem said.

Burgum, a wealthy business leader and philanthropist, responded that his “reaction as the authentic Doug Burgum” is that he would have found a better way to help a small percentage of North Dakota residents rather than supporting Obama’s health reform.

“What I’m more concerned about, if that logic applies, then we as Republicans would be supporting every large-scale tax-and-spend redistribution scheme that helps 2 percent of North Dakotans,” Burgum said.

The debate will be shown at 7:30 p.m. Friday on Prairie Public Television.

Another hot topic of discussion was Burgum’s participation in state-supported angel funds, which offer tax credits to investors. Stenehjem has questioned two funds backed by Burgum that have invested in 13 out-of-state companies. Stenehjem compared that to Burgum’s attitude toward the health care tax credit.

“I really find it a little disingenuous that you want to defend so critically and zealously your tax credit when just on the last question you wanted to take away the tax credit from the citizens who bought insurance,” Stenehjem said. “And those are the poor people of North Dakota.”

Burgum said the issue shows the difference between the attitude of a lifelong politician and a lifelong businessman.

“It ought to send a chill up the spine of any law-abiding citizen in North Dakota to know that we have a candidate for governor who’s willing to use political theater to try to advance a political agenda around a program that was passed by Republicans, supported by Republicans, expanded by Republicans,” Burgum said. “Every single person who is using the angel tax credit in North Dakota is doing it in a way as it was intended and following the law.”

Stenehjem said he generally supports the idea of angel funds and does not believe any of the participants are skirting the law.

“The question is going to come up … what are the citizens of North Dakota getting out of that,” Stenehjem said. “That’s the simple question that people want to know.”

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