Gubernatorial candidates Rep. Tim Walz (D-MN-01) and Republican Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson squared off at the Minnesota State Fair Friday in their most heated debate yet.
In front of a large crowd at the St. Paul fairgrounds, the two typically cordial candidates hurled an atypical number of accusations at one another to both applause and jeers from the audience.
Beginning with the issue of the state budget, Minnesota Public Radio’s moderator asked the candidates to name two areas Minnesota “should be spending more, and spending less.”
“I’m not sure where we should be spending less,” Johnson, who has promised to not raise a single tax as governor, responded. He emphasized K-12 education and public safety as two of his spending priorities, while noting that he would focus on cutting the state’s “welfare budget,” which is double the national average per person.
“It’s a fiscal document, and a moral document,” Walz responded, repeating a mantra he commonly uses on the campaign trail. Walz explained that he is open to increasing the gas tax to invest in transportation, which he claims is “severely underfunded.”
His Republican opponent jumped in to criticize Walz for making “about 40 promises” to “increase spending,” saying he believes “the taxpayers need an ally in government.”
“You’ve made promise after promise after promise to increase spending,” Johnson continued. “We can’t make promises we can’t keep.”
Throughout the debate, Johnson repeatedly criticized Walz for being a “feel good candidate,” painting himself as the politician who will be “honest about what they’re going to do.”
Walz, on the other hand, incorrectly suggested that Johnson, who has promised to not raise any taxes, would not increase any state spending.
“You don’t understand taxes very well,” Johnson replied.
The two then discussed the racial achievement gap in Minnesota’s public schools, with a Thursday annual performance report card showing that a quarter of all public schools in the state received low marks.
“It’s clearly not just spending more money. Let’s empower parents and let’s empower teachers,” Johnson, a strong advocate of school choice, responded, saying the state needs to “give parents more control over their children’s’ schools.”
Walz touted his experience teaching in Minnesota’s public schools for 20 years, though Johnson butted in to criticize his opponent for believing the answer is to increase spending.
“Once again, the entire answer is: we just have to spend more money and that’ll solve the problem,” he said. “I think you help them [students] by helping the parents.”
Addressing the elephant in the room, the moderator then pressed Johnson on his support of President Donald Trump, which propelled the Republican in his primary victory over former Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
“I support the direction he’s taking this country. If you want to play this game, then you better start asking where Walz stands with Keith Ellison,” Johnson stated, while Walz said he believes the “allegations must be taken seriously.”
“Do the investigation that I’ve asked for, if the evidence is there, then I think you ask people to step aside,” the Democrat elaborated.
The two also sparred over issues of climate change, gun control, and sexual assault in the workplace. It was their third public appearance together since their respective primary victories in August.
Watch the full debate: