WILLMAR - Jeff Johnson, the Republican-endorsed candidate for governor of Minnesota, has a vision for Minnesota's future and he wants to share if with everyone. To do that though he will have to win the Aug. 14 primary against former governor Tim Pawlenty and a third challenger, Mathew Kruse.
Johnson, in an interview with the West Central Tribune Friday, said he would be the better choice to face off against the DFL candidate because he could keep the electorate energized and engaged.
"If I am the candidate, I think I can make the election about my vision for the future of Minnesota. It would be a debate between the DFL vision and my vision," Johnson said, adding if Pawlenty is the candidate, he thinks the election would be more about Pawlenty's two terms as governor and his time on Wall Street than the future. "I think if we want to win we have to be able to talk about the future."
Johnson said his vision includes reducing taxes and spending, reining in agencies like the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Department of Natural Resources, allowing parents to have more control over their children's education and replacing much of the Affordable Care Act in Minnesota.
"I am running to bring some very fundamental change to government, in particular to change the culture in state government and state agencies; from wanting to control and direct everyone to actually serving them. That requires a house cleaning in some of our state agencies," Johnson said.
Johnson also supports halting Minnesota's participation in the refugee resettlement program, which would require approval of the federal government, which decides where refugees go.
"Minnesota has been more generous than any state in the country, by far, it's not even close. We have a pretty proud history of that, there are a lot of great success stories to tell," Johnson said.
However, there are some communities in the state that have real concerns about how much those programs cost.
"There are no real discussions about the benefits versus the costs. My thought is until we can get people those answers, we should end our participation in the program," Johnson said. "Right now there is a huge question mark and a lot of concern. It is a concern that I don't think is based on some evil motive. It is legitimate: There are legitimate, reasonable reasons to have concerns about it."
When it comes to regulations and mandates for the farming community, Johnson wants those who use the land to have more say in how it is protected. While the organizations might have public hearings on new rules, Johnson said those he has talked to say they don't actually listen to the public.
"There doesn't seem to be any real input from farmers," Johnson said. "Somebody needs to sit down with them and help them come up with solutions instead of creating it in St. Paul and passing it down."
Johnson is concerned about how potential Chinese tariffs on American products, including soybeans, will impact Minnesota's famers. While he approves of President Trump wanting to get a better trade deal for the United States, Johnson doesn't think tariffs are the right direction.
"I am a free trade person as long as it is fair," Johnson said. "But I don't think tariffs in general are a good idea."
One ongoing issue across the state is the divide between greater Minnesota and the metro. Johnson wants to see fairer funding formulas used for things like education, local government aid and transportation, which he said seem to have become more metro-focused over the years. He also wants more geographic diversity for transportation funding, where greater Minnesota gets an equal share of the funding.
"I recognize there are some real needs in parts of this state that people who have never left the metro don't get," Johnson said.
As Johnson travels around the state, he said he has noticed a much higher public interest and engagement in the governor's race than he had expected. He believes that is a good thing, for Republicans and Democrats.
"It has been a real positive," Johnson said. "On both sides, people are more like 'this matters, who we elect makes a difference.'"