Governor candidates face off in Mankato

(from left) Jeff Johnson, Erin Murphy and Tim Walz

MANKATO — Three of Minnesota’s gubernatorial candidates, Jeff Johnson (GOP), Erin Murphy (DFL) and Tim Walz (DFL) were at the Civic Center Plaza in MankatoThursday night for a candidate’s forum. Former governor and current GOP candidate Tim Pawlenty declined an invitation to attend the forum. Lori Swanson (DFL) was forced to bow out at the last minute due to a family emergency.

The forum was co-sponsored by the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities, Greater Mankato Growth and the greater Minnesota Partnership.

Going into Thursday’s forum, Johnson and Murphy were the endorsed candidates in their respective parties.

A key issue brought up was the divisive nature of politics on the state and federal level. The candidates were asked how they would bridge Minnesota’s rural verses metro split.

Walz said the differences have always been part of Minnesota and it would be disingenuous to say there was no difference between the two. He said it was important to bring in leaders who can be trusted to make the right decision. He also supported investing in broadband as a way to keep the rural and metro areas connected.

“The divide is real,” Johnson said. “There is a lack of trust when you separate between urban, suburban and greater Minnesota. I think have someone who has worked in all three areas is the best way to bridge the gap.”

Murphy believed the gap between rural and urban was a false political argument used to beat the other side. She said the real divide was in the state capitol, which needed to be fixed.

As the only Republican in the forum, Johnson had the greatest difference of opinion on the questions. On the topic of budget priorities he said out front he did not want to spend more money because the state could not sustain it. He made no promises to increase spending on any areas. Johnson did relent on roads and bridges as one area he could consider investing more funds, but he rejected the idea of a gas tax.

If elected, he promised to be an involved governor from the beginning to the end of session. He wanted to fix tax conformity issues that blew up during the end of the last session.

Murphy said her first act would be to start budgeting for the future and that included an increase to Local Government Aid (LGA), which had been cut during the Pawlenty administration. She also supported affordable healthcare, investment in the schools and broadband infrastructure.

Walz promised to stop the last minute budgets agreements that have been commonplace over the last few session. He too supported better funding of schools, roads, healthcare and broadband.

Walz and Murphy were in agreement on the need for LGA increases, which help balance out the needs in rural communities.

Johnson would not promise spending extra money for LGA, but said he supported the idea behind LGA. He believes the state’s LGA formula needs to be improved. He stated some of the larger communities do not need LGA compared to the communities with smaller tax bases.

Walz and Murphy supported funding C-CAP in order to help with childcare needs in Minnesota. Walz went further and suggested block grants to communities could be used to create daycare centers.

Johnson blamed government over-regulation for driving childcare providers out of the industry. He proposed looking at reforming the system of regulations to remove the burden.

Murphy agreed that certain regulations might need to be changed or bent to help certain areas. She believed there was no universal way to improve daycare access as each community had different issues.

“First and foremost the answer will come from the communities,” she said.

Workforce development is a top issue for Minnesota businesses. Johnson said people need to change their attitude about the need for four years of college education and support those who go to two year colleges or go directly into the work force.

“We need to be proud of students who do what is right,” he said.

Murphy supported creating partnerships between workforce and schools.

“Students can choose what industry they want to go to while in high school,” she said. “There is no doubt business knows where our business is coming from.”

Walz wants the state to embrace the immigrants that are coming to Minnesota. He cited the changing demographics and the need to use these talents.

Immigration is itself a hot topic in the country. Murphy and Walz both supported bringing in immigrants and refugees as a way of securing Minnesota’s future.

Murphy called the actions of the federal government at the border as reprehensible and Walz said the Statue of Liberty did not say “get the hell out.”

Johnson was once again the odd man out. He stated he was against the sanctuary state policy and did not want to ban ICE. He even called for a halt to the refugee resettlement until the costs could be managed. He did support helping the refugees already settled in Minnesota.

On transportation the Democratic candidates both said they would support a gas tax to pay for the roads and bridges. Johnson refused to support a gas tax because Minnesota already paid the some of the highest taxes in the nation.

Walz argued that “you get what you paid for.” He pointed out that states with lower taxes did not have as high quality infrastructure as Minnesota.

The last question in the forum was about how they planned to fix the divisive nature of politics at the capitol. Each candidate spoke about the need to negotiate with their political opposites and working with both houses to prevent last minute bills.

After the forum the three candidates took questions from the media. On the subject of ongoing gun violence, Murphy and Walz both supported universal background checks as well as red flag laws to prevent weapons from falling into the wrong hands.

Murphy supported banning assault weapons. She viewed gun violence as a public health issue that needed to be better researched.

Johnson was against banning weapons. He said the ban lets us off the hook from talking about the real problems. He pointed out that many of these shooters are young men and we need to look at why this was so prevalent.

Marijuana legalization was a hot topic in this year’s campaign. Both DFL candidates supported full legalization and the expunging the records of those convicted for processing the drug.

Johnson said he supported medical marijuana, but not full legalization, though he said he expected the laws to change regardless of his stance.

Minnesota’s 2018 primary is scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 14.

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