Minnesota’s gubernatorial candidates made their final appeal to voters Friday night, and Republican Jeff Johnson pulled no punches during the hour-long debate.
Right off the bat, Johnson went after Democrat Tim Walz for “never” answering questions, criticizing Walz for refusing to clarify his support for making Minnesota a “sanctuary state.”
“Tim, you never answer questions, and here’s another example. This is a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question. Do you think we should be a sanctuary state? You’ve said yes before, but now we’re in front of a different audience and you won’t answer the question,” Johnson claimed, prompting a heated exchange between the two candidates.
Walz responded by accusing Johnson of “fear mongering,” an accusation he used frequently throughout the night.
“You’ve got the opportunity now. We know where people are at on this. And the situation is right now is that this is a very clear statement on how you do this. We’ve done it before,” Walz continued as Johnson interrupted to again state that “it’s a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question.”
“It is not a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question,” Walz shot back. “Yes it is! Are you for being a sanctuary state or not?” Johnson responded.
“I’m for securing our communities, and holding true to who we are,” Walz ultimately concluded, leading Johnson to once again suggest that his opponent “can’t answer the question.”
Differences on immigration
The exchange followed questions directed at Walz about how he would convince independent voters that he has a “reasonable” position on immigration.
“Well, I certainly do because I’ve done this before, and I’ve said that 24 years in national service on security—numerous trips to the border to actually witness how we do security in depth, and how we do it electronically and with human surveillance. This issue right now I think all of us know, every sovereign nation has the right and the need to control its borders, but the issue is of stoking fear and telling us that we’re not stronger because of immigration,” Walz initially responded, but what really got Johnson fired up was Walz’s claim that “it doesn’t matter what your plans are.”
“The next governor of Minnesota is going to have to have the capacity to bring people together to solve problems. Immigration is an issue that has always bound this country together, that has always been positive,” Walz elaborated.
Johnson then suggested that Walz claims that “it doesn’t matter what your plan is” because he doesn’t “want people to know” his plan.
“You’ve been very, very open, at least in front of certain crowds, to say that you want Minnesota to be a sanctuary state for illegal immigrants. You can gloss over that and say well it’s fear mongering to bring that up, but you used that to win a primary. And I don’t think most Minnesotans want that,” the Republican argued.
He went on to note that, under Walz’s alleged sanctuary-state proposal, Minnesota would be “the only one in the upper Midwest.”
“We would become the magnet for illegal immigrants throughout the country, especially because we have a very generous welfare system,” Johnson continued, though Walz dismissed his arguments by suggesting that Minnesotans are more “concerned about” education and health care.
“They’re concerned about finding a governor who can unite us around one Minnesota. So, people are smart. They know what’s happening,” Walz added.
The moderators did, however, finally press Walz to clearly explain his perception of a sanctuary state, which he believes involves ensuring that the “federal government is responsible for federal immigration policy,” while state and local authorities focus on gaining “the trust in making sure that people feel that they’re able to go to the police.”
Walz repeated what has become one of his go-to arguments on the campaign trail, stating that people with questionable immigration statuses “are afraid to go to the police” to report a crime out of fear of retribution. As The Minnesota Sun recently reported, however, at least one local sheriff said his deputies do not inquire about the immigration status of witnesses reporting crimes.
‘Vile’ Campaign Ads
Ad spending is reaching record highs in Minnesota this election cycle, and is estimated to be the costliest midterm in history on a national scale. Recent reports predict that ad spending had surpassed $71 million this election cycle in Minnesota, and roughly $5 million of that has come from Alliance for A Better Minnesota (ABM).
ABM, a Democratic organization, recently produced an advertisement featuring a disabled young adult, who was given “six months to live” when he was a child.
“My parents were barely scraping by as it was, so if we didn’t have insurance, I don’t know what we would do,” the young man says in the ad as ABM claims that Johnson’s health care proposal “could allow insurance companies to deny coverage for pre-existing conditions.”
“For Jeff Johnson to treat us this way is profoundly shameful,” the young man continues.
During the debate, Johnson borrowed one of Walz’s favorite rhetorical tropes, and suggested that the ABM was guilty of “fear mongering.”
“I don’t know if you’ve seen the latest ABM ad, I’m sure you have—Alliance for A Better Minnesota. These are the folks who are essentially funding your campaign. They’ve spent close to $5 million on attack ads that have been false, as KSTP found them to be false about pre-existing conditions,” Johnson said.
“But the last one, I would argue, is a new low in the history of political ads. They are using a disabled young man to say that Jeff Johnson will not provide any health care coverage to poor, disabled, children. I think that is despicable. It’s obviously false, but they don’t seem to care about that. Is that fear mongering? Are you OK with that commercial?” Johnson proceeded to ask Walz, who denied ever having seen the commercial.
“You have to. You can’t tell me—everybody’s seen it because it’s on every ten minutes,” Johnson rebutted.
“Here’s my pro-tip, Jeff: I don’t watch TV during these last few weeks,” Walz said, though Johnson insisted that Walz has seen the ad because they’ve “been talking about it for several days.”
“I think this is vile, and if we want to move to this place in Minnesota, where you’re not just lying about an opponent, but trying to destroy that person. That’s pretty bad,” he added.
Single-Payer Health Care
Earlier in the debate, the candidates discussed their visions for health care in the state, which Minnesota voters consistently rank as their top priority heading into the midterms. Walz thinks that a single-payer system is “probably the path where we end up,” but only firmly declared his support for the position after he was asked for elaboration by both Johnson and the moderators.
“Of course there’s no market in health care because government has moved in, and now you want to take that last step, although I’m not sure what your answer was: are you for single-payer health care?” Johnson asked Walz.
“Yes, that was the answer I just gave you,” Walz replied. Johnson criticized his opponent’s response, because while Walz believes Minnesota is “going to go there,” he hesitates to say he is “for it.”
On the issue of coverage for pre-existing conditions, Walz claimed that “there were no protections for pre-existing conditions before” the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
“A vote for the ACA was the first time in this nation’s history where we had those protections. And making sure that people have that protection, making sure that they were covered, and then making sure we were focusing on preventative care where people were finally getting that under the ACA,” Walz continued, but Johnson called the claims “utterly ridiculous.”
“That’s utterly ridiculous. We did it for 40 years in Minnesota before the ACA, and we did it better before,” Johnson argued. “But let’s be honest about what single-payer is: single-payer says that everybody loses their insurance. There is no private insurance, and we are forced on to one government plan.”
Friday night’s debate was the final face-to-face meeting for Johnson and Walz, one of whom will be elected Minnesota’s next governor on Tuesday. According to the most recent polls, Walz leads Johnson by single digits—49 percent to 41 percent, though nine percent of voters are still undecided. October polls had Johnson within both six points and three points.
Both candidates will be participating in their respective parties’ bus tours across the state during the final days of the campaign.
Watch the full debate here.
– – –