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Governor candidates give greater Minnesota a choice

Governor forum moderator Marvin Rhodes of KECY television talks to Democratic candidate Erin Murphy Thursday night, July 26, 2018 in Mankato. Don Davis / Forum News Service1 / 2
Minnesota governor candidates Democrat Tim Walz, left, and Republican Jeff Johnson share a laugh before a Mankato candidate forum Thursday night, July 26, 2018. Don Davis / Forum News Service2 / 2

MANKATO, Minn.—Greater Minnesota leaders left a governor candidate forum not surprised that they saw big differences in how the two parties would deal with their issues.

Two Democrats talked about adding money to state programs for cities in the Thursday night, July 26, Mankato forum. The lone Republican said he will not promise to spend more on any state program.

U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, a Democrat, told his hometown audience that the state needs to invest so rural communities can succeed. He said items like broadband get a lot of discussion, but state officials should look over a broader range of issues to make greater Minnesota a success.

The other Democrat, state Rep. Erin Murphy of St. Paul, said she does not hear much about helping one geographic part of the state or another. What she said people tell her is that their specific area needs attention, not saying they are more important than others around the state.

"Getting left behind is a common feeling" around the state, Murphy said.

Republican Jeff Johnson said he is the only candidate from either party with roots in rural, suburban and urban areas after growing up in Detroit Lakes, living in Plymouth and serving as Hennepin County commissioner dealing with urban issues. He said there is a lack of trust among the regions.

As Johnson and Murphy talked about their trips around the state, Walz said: "I don't go out to greater Minnesota, I wake up here."

"That was a good line," Johnson said to laughs from about 500 in the audience.

The forum was sponsored by the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities and some Mankato organizations.

Walz, a Nebraska native, was a long-time Mankato teacher and coach before being elected to the U.S. House. He also was in the National Guard for 24 years.

Murphy is a state lawmaker from St. Paul and a former nurse. She is a Wisconsin native and served as the Minnesota House majority leader and was has done lots of work on health-care issues.

Johnson was a legislator, unsuccessfully ran for attorney general in 2006 and for governor last year.,

Attorney General Lori Swanson confirmed she would be the third Democrat at the forum, but pulled out because of a health issue experienced by her 87-year-old mother in Milwaukee.

For Johnson, it was the second time he was on stage with just Democrats. Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty's campaign said he had a schedule conflict.

Pawlenty and Swanson are expected to join Murphy, Walz and Johnson at a Farmfest forum near Redwood Falls at 10:30 a.m. Aug. 7. It will be broadcast on WCCO, 830AM radio. Like at the Mankato event, the Farmfest questions are expected to center on greater Minnesota issues.

Before the candidate forum, an informal poll of Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities members showed they expected Walz to win the Democratic primary on Aug. 14, and most wanted him to.

For Republicans, the majority thought Pawlenty would win, but hoped it would be Johnson.

Hours before the forum, Walz announced that if elected, he would launch a One Minnesota Community Prosperity Plan, with city and tribal leaders involved. It would, he said, increase spending on Local Government Aid, infrastructure, broadband and workforce housing.

Pawlenty issued a statement critical of the Walz plan: "Here they go again, Democrats teeing up massive tax increases on hardworking Minnesotans. It's telling when they say that a big tax hike is only a 'starting point.' Tim Walz and the Democrats want as much money as they can take from your pocket."

One of the most important issues to greater Minnesota cities drew a Republican-Democrat division.

Murphy and Walz said they support adding funding to Local Government Aid, a state program that sends money to rural and urban cities.

Murphy blamed Pawlenty for cutting LGA funding 15 years ago, and city leaders say they still receive less than they did then.

Johnson, like other Republicans, complained that the original idea of LGA is good, with a goal of helping small and medium-sized businesses. But most LGA money, he said, now goes to Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth.

Johnson said the program should return to its original concept of helping communities that cannot collect enough property taxes to fund fundamental services.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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