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Armstrong tackles issues in Rugby

By Staff | Oct 19, 2018

Sue Sitter/PCT HAMC CEO Patrick Branco (left) listens as Republican congressional candidate Kelly Armstrong (center) speaks last Thursday at Rockin' Relics.

Rugby area residents sat down for coffee and an informal question and answer session at Rockin’ Relics with US House of Representatives candidate Kelly Armstrong last Thursday afternoon.

State Senator Jerry Klein and Representatives Jon Nelson and Robin Weisz, all from District 14, attended the meeting, along with residents from locations as far away as the Turtle Mountains.

Questions for Armstrong, a Republican running against Democrat Mac Schneider, covered a range of topics from technology to Social Security, but agricultural issues topped the list of concerns for many attendees.

Armstrong addressed President Trump’s trade policies and their effect on agricultural markets.

“I think the new NAFTA, I think it’s USMCA (United States Mexico Canada Agreement) is a really good start in the right direction,” Armstrong said. “One of the best things that came out of the ‘New NAFTA’ was the way they were grading farm products, mostly cereals. Wheat, barley, and how they go into Canada was a big deal before. We grow the best barley in the world, and that was getting graded as feed grade when it went into Canada.”

Armstrong also noted new markets opening to US exports. “Argentina’s just lifted a 15 year ban on US beef,” he said, as he also acknowledged a need to route North Dakota soybean exports to eastern and southern ports in the US, instead of only locations in the Pacific Northwest.

Armstrong also discussed mitigation packages for farmers dealing with setbacks such as early snowfall, and the importance of relationships with community banks. He described the present state of the American economy: “I know the stock market took a hit yesterday, but it’s still at an all-time high. Unemployment’s at a 10 year low; wage growth is at an all-time high. Small business and consumer confidence is at an all-time high.”

However, he stressed the importance of explaining to other members of congress how agriculture can be an indicator of health for the nation’s economy. “One thing that’s proven true over the history of our economic cycles in the United States, is when we have economic problems in Ag Country, the rest of the country is 18-36 months away from having economic problems as well,” he said.

Social Security came up for discussion, and Armstrong described the dilemma congress will face someday. “We have to insure that people at or near retirement, their Social Security and Medicare are not touched. But if we don’t start doing small reforms now on the front end, we’re going to run into a viability issue, and have some concerns with that,” he said.

Heart of America Medical Center CEO Patrick Branco attended the session, asking questions about health care, including Medicare for All, an idea promoted by New York congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

“23.6 trillion a year,” Armstrong said of the cost. “It’s coming up in my race, because I voted against it (Medicaid expansion at the state level).” Armstrong said his “no” vote came after he was unable to determine how much the idea would cost the state.

Armstrong said he favored an approach similar to that of Graham-Cassidy, the attempted replacement for ObamaCare voted down in congress last year.

“I can’t understand why anyone from the Midwest or rural states didn’t support it,” he noted, describing the bill’s provisions for block grants and coverage of pre-existing conditions.

A Belcourt area resident who reports news for the Turtle Mountain Star concerns about human trafficking on Native American lands.

Armstrong praised North Dakota law enforcement for combating the problem, but he acknowledged a need for various agencies to coordinate their efforts, due to the fact the nature of the crimes is “so transient.”

“The (efforts) really need to be federal,” he said, “but then when the Feds come in, there needs to be a way where they can interact with law enforcement together.”

Armstrong said he believed the issue was best handled at the executive level of government rather than through legislature.

How the legislature will look next January was also a topic for discussion. Would the Democrats take over the House, as they have in past Republican administrations?

“I don’t know,” Armstrong said. “I think we’re right now at the point where you just stop believing polls. We saw it in 2016; we saw it in 2012 with (Heidi) Heitkamp’s race.”

As for the contentious Heitkamp-Cramer race for the US Senate, Armstrong recognized a need for civility.

“I can say this,” Armstrong smiled, addressing the tone of the candidates’ ads, “neither Heidi Heitkamp nor Kevin Cramer hates veterans.”

The group chuckled.

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