ST. PAUL, Minn. — The three Democrats and two Republicans running for Minnesota governor jabbed one another about farming regulations Wednesday as the entire field met for the first and only time ahead of next week's primary that will determine who advances to the November election.
Democrats U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, state Rep. Erin Murphy and Attorney General Lori Swanson participated with Republicans Jeff Johnson and former Gov. Tim Pawlenty at the annual FarmFest in Redwood Falls, a fixture on Minnesota's campaign trail.
But while they all face competition in their hopes to replace outgoing Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton, they largely stuck to criticizing candidates from the other party rather than their opponents in Tuesday's primary.
Walz and Murphy faulted Pawlenty's budget maneuvers during his two terms for rising property taxes on farms and elsewhere in Minnesota. And although all three Democrats voiced support for expanding the state's low-income health care program, MinnesotaCare, as a public option to provide cheaper alternatives to farmers, Johnson and Pawlenty called it a non-starter.
"That is exactly the opposite of where we need to go," Johnson countered.
Even Democratic candidates referenced Dayton's administration. The two-term governor generated backlash from the agricultural community as he sought to require 50-foot buffer strips between farmland and public waterways to protect water quality from runoff. The governor later conceded he should solicited more farmer input on the plan, and his marquee water protection measure has been watered down by the GOP-controlled Legislature.
Pawlenty called it "a case study in how to not treat farmers." Swanson, in one of few public appearances since launching her last-minute Democratic bid for governor in early June, said she had problems with how the buffer policy was rolled out.
Each candidate expressed concerns about how President Donald Trump's tariffs on foreign imports have triggered the start of a trade war, with China and other countries slapping retaliatory tariffs on agricultural products like soybeans. But they said they'd resort to the bully pulpit in hopes of forcing action to relieve that burden.
"I'm going to stand with our congressional delegation and put a break on this current president because the trade war that he's engaging in is no good for Minnesota and for our economy," Murphy said.
Pawlenty echoed that sentiment, saying: "We need to be tough on China, but we shouldn't be tough on our farmers."
Nearly every candidate expressed support for the state's mandates on production of renewable fuels like ethanol and biodiesel that Pawlenty previously signed into law during his tenure from 2003 until 2011. Johnson questioned "government putting a thumb on the market" but said he wouldn't nix those requirements if elected governor.