Guns, marijuana, abortion: Sen. Carla Nelson, DFL challenger Aleta Borrud debate issues in District 24 race

Sep. 14—ROCHESTER — GOP state Sen. Carla Nelson and DFL challenger Aleta Borrud debated a range of issues Tuesday, including health care, election integrity, guns, abortion and legalization of cannabis for recreational purposes, agreeing on a few things and offering a sharp contrast to voters.

The contest between the two women to represent Senate District 24 is a reprise of the 2020 election. Nelson, who has served in the Minnesota Senate since 2010, beat Borrud in a close race 50.9% to 49%. That was Nelson's closest race since winning the seat.

The race was seen as having statewide significance, because flipping the seat would help the DFL Party gain control of the state Senate, which Republicans narrowly control.

Tuesday's debate was sponsored by the Rochester chapter of the Minnesota League of Women voters and was held at the Rochester Public Library. Below are some questions and the candidates' answers.

Question: If given an opportunity to vote on a proposal that would allow voters to amend the state constitution banning the right to an abortion, how would you vote?

Borrud: I think Minnesotans have already decided this in the sense that overwhelming numbers of Minnesotans support abortion access. So, clearly, if the Republicans sweep both the House and the Senate and the governorship, I think we can be pretty certain that our abortion rights will disappear. I will clearly absolutely say that I would always vote to protect that right for women. Women should have the right to decide their own futures.

Nelson: I do not believe that constitutional amendments are the way to go, particularly on an important issue such as abortion. Our communities are very much divided on this. The (Minnesota) Supreme Court has ruled on this. (The court ruled in 1995 that the state constitution guarantees the right of every Minnesotan to terminate a pregnancy). It was Sandy Keith, the state's Supreme Court Chief Justice then, who issued the ruling. Should abortion be allowed up until the day of birth? So while the discussion is difficult, we need to have this discussion. I do not believe that a constitutional amendment is a way to have that discussion.

Question: Do you support the legalization of cannabis for recreational purposes?

Borrud: I absolutely do support the legalization of cannabis. Cannabis has been used for millennia, and people in our community are using it. People should not be going to jail, especially our Black and brown neighbors going to jail for using it. It becomes an issue of equity. If we legalize it, we can regulate it and improve its safety. I've heard concern from law enforcement about the packaging of gummies that are now for sale. I think we have to make sure that these are not falling into the hands of our kids.

Nelson: I have the endorsement from the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association. And I will tell you what our public safety officials all say in this regard. Until there is a field sobriety test, it is irresponsible to legalize marijuana for the broader population. Now, once there is a field sobriety test, we can open up for that conversation. But before that, it is premature, it is dangerous and it is not supported by public safety.

Question: Would you support legislative measures to reduce gun deaths?

Borrud: Absolutely, I recognize that gun violence is a public health issue. Every parent needs to know that their kid is safe going to school, and we all deserve to be safe in our homes, our churches our faith institutions. We need to close all loopholes for gun sales. We need to be able to make sure that we do permitting for handgun sales. There's been excellent research done in Minnesota on this issue. Most of the mass shootings in our schools are committed by people who are younger than 22. So we need to make sure that we raise the age of purchasing a gun to 21.

Nelson: All gun violence is wrong. It is concerning. We have seen a huge uptick in gun violence. We've seen crime grow exponentially in the last two years, specifically when it comes to gun violence. There's several things that we can and should do. Number one, we should enforce the laws that are already on the books. Secondly, we should make sure that we are maximizing the federal (National Instant Criminal Background Check System), which is a way of keeping track when someone purchases a gun. The goal for all of us should be to keep guns out of those who would do harm. As education chair, I authored a bill, the first-ever Safe Schools Aid. I'm glad that got done.