It’s been just one week since Rep. Tim Walz and Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson won their respective primaries, but the two are already hitting the debate circuit in their race for Minnesota’s governor seat.
On Friday, the two went head-to-head in front of a live audience in Nisswa, Minn., showing right off the bat that the fundamental differences between the two candidacies will come down to taxes and diversity-related issues.
Johnson, on the one hand, promised not to raise a single tax, prompting his opponent Walz to criticize him for closing “the door on any potential negotiation.”
He put himself “in a box that does not allow you ideologically to have that discussion,” Walz suggested.
While both agreed that costs of healthcare in the state are too high, their visions of a solution were far different. Walz expressed support for a single-payer healthcare system, while Johnson favored a free-market solution.
“I don’t believe that as governor I should be able to tell someone that if you think limited coverage is best for you, I know better. Let’s give people more options and choice,” Johnson commented, though Walz retorted by revealing that he believes “healthcare is a basic human right.”
The two then reconvened for a debate later that evening on live television. The moderators immediately addressed the elephant in the room, asking Walz if he would endorse Rep. Keith Ellison for Minnesota attorney general.
“I don’t know enough about it to do that,” Walz responded, saying “we have to take these accusations seriously.”
A second moderator pressed Walz on his response, noting that he had called for Sen. Al Franken to resign from Congress after he was accused of sexual harrasment.
“To be honest, I don’t know on that,” he again responded.
The moderators then switched to the issue of taxes, pressing Johnson on his claim from earlier in the day that he would not raise a single tax if elected governor.
“I don’t know if it’s politically popular or not, but it’s absolutely good policy. We are one of the highest taxed states in the country. We take too much money from people, and especially from small businesses in this state,” he said.
Throughout the evening’s debate, it became increasingly evident that the two had very different visions for taxation in the state, with Johnson calling it a “fundamental difference.” On the one hand, Walz has promised to raise spending, and is considering increasing gas taxes in Minnesota, while Johnson has made the exact opposite promise to add “no new taxes.”
The moderators then turned to the polarizing topic of “diversity in Minnesota,” challenging Johnson’s plans to end the refugee resettlement program in Minnesota.
“Well, the state can’t dictate it and what it would require is for me to go to Washington and make the case that we should end our participation, at least for a period of time. The reason for that is Minnesota has been more generous with refugee resettlement than any state in the country, by far. It’s not even marginally close,” he said, saying it has caused problems in certain parts of the state and is costing the taxpayers $100 million per year.
The cost to other areas of government has been tremendous, and when constituents complained to Gov. Mark Dayton, they were told “move to a different state. That’s wrong,” Johnson said.
The Minnesota economy is “dependent on immigration,” Walz responded, touting the skills and contributions of refugees who have settled in Minnesota.
The two remained amicable throughout both debates, and promised a genial campaign. While no further debates are currently scheduled, they vowed to meet several more times throughout the campaign.
Watch the full, hour-long debate: