Gubernatorial candidates talk specifics while trading jabs at debate at MSUM
MOORHEAD -- Candidates for Minnesota governor were forced to be specific at their second debate Wednesday on the campus of Minnesota State University Moorhead, a shift in a campaign that has been noted for staying vague.
MOORHEAD - Candidates for Minnesota governor were forced to be specific at their second debate Wednesday on the campus of Minnesota State University Moorhead, a shift in a campaign that has been noted for staying vague.
Republican challenger Jeff Johnson pledged to hire an outside auditor to review state programs, give more power to parents of students in failing schools and speed up permitting processes.
Incumbent Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton said he would focus on funding for badly needed transportation improvements across the state by proposing a sales tax on gas, increasing funding for special education and lobbying for a child care tax credit in the state Legislature.
The gas tax was a point of disagreement between the two major party candidates and Independence Party candidate Hannah Nicollet, who said she would “possibly” support a gas increase but stressed the need for bonds.
For his part, Johnson dismissed the idea of raising taxes as “wrong.”
“I do believe that we should start bonding for roads,” he said.
The debate covered everything from the proposed Sandpiper oil pipeline to marijuana legalization, and fielded questions from social media.
Johnson took every chance to distinguish himself from Dayton by drawing attention to what he called their vastly different leadership styles and backgrounds.
Citing his upbringing in greater Minnesota, Johnson said he would be a better advocate for more rural communities.
“I think this is a fundamental difference between Governor Dayton and me,” Johnson said. “The fact that my roots are here, that my family is here, actually gives me an appreciation of greater Minnesota.”
Johnson was born in Detroit Lakes and attended Concordia College in Moorhead.
But the incumbent Democrat defended his record, saying that 38 percent of funding from recent bonding bills went outside of the Twin Cities.
“Being from greater Minnesota doesn’t automatically mean you’re for greater Minnesota,” the governor said.
The two disagreed on the state of the economy and job prospects for Minnesotans in response to a question from Anne Blackhurst, president of MSUM.
Blackhurst asked what the state could do better to encourage graduating students to find jobs in the state.
After Dayton cited low unemployment figures in the state, Johnson accused him of painting a rosy picture of the state’s economy and failing to acknowledge an underemployment problem.
“I truly think that you are out of touch,” Johnson said. “I am so tired of being told that everything is perfect.”
Johnson wasn’t the only one leveling criticism. Dayton said his challenger failed to support education when he was in the Legislature, a claim Johnson denied.
Nicollet stood out among the candidates for her support of recreational marijuana legalization and abolishing the corporate income tax.
The governor emphasized his first term’s accomplishments.
“I started running for governor in 2009 because I saw the state headed in the wrong direction,” he said. Citing a projected budget surplus thanks to his “balanced approach,” the governor said, “We’re on a sound fiscal platform now.”
The debate, moderated by Don Davis of the Forum News Service, was the second of five. The next debate will be in Duluth on Oct. 14.