Q What are your outdoor interests?
Johnson I grew up in Detroit Lakes and fished there. I didn’t grow up in a hunting family, but I do hunt occasionally now. We always camped as a family, especially when the kids were young.
Walz I grew up in a rural community, catching minnows and hunting. I still hunt pheasants when I get the opportunity. My family and I paddle in the boundary waters as well.
Q What will you look for in a Department of Natural Resources commissioner?
Walz A coalition builder. Someone who knows the importance of habitat and of walk-in access and who can expand those activities. I want someone who can bridge the interests of agriculture, forestry, mining and urban sprawl. I want that person to take in all perspectives, but with a clear understanding that our resources represent our natural heritage and also are a driver of our economy. I have not talked to anyone yet about the job. It’s important first to lay out the skill set I’m looking for.
Johnson For all of my commissioners, not only the person who heads the DNR, I’ll look for people who have on-the-ground experience in the area they’re regulating. Ideally, leading the DNR, this means someone who is a sportswoman or sportsman. I also want commissioners who can create cultures of service — true change agents who aren’t afraid to change the way an agency works. Presently, in some of our state agencies, we have a culture not of service but of controlling people.
Q Describe your process for picking a DNR commissioner.
Johnson I would involve a citizens and/or stakeholders group.
Walz I want key stakeholders involved, from Pheasants Forever to Ducks Unlimited, to landowners, corn growers and others.
Q The Lessard-Sams council recommends habitat and other conservation projects totaling more than $100 million annually, paid for through the Outdoor Heritage Fund. As governor, would you follow the council’s recommendations?
Walz Yes. I value the process, and I think the intent when the council was established was to have their recommendations followed by the Legislature and the governor.
Johnson I think the council works well. I would follow its recommendations.
Q Can management of Lake Mille Lacs be improved?
Johnson I’m not an expert on the lake, its resources or its management, but co-management of the lake as it is currently administered isn’t working. Mille Lacs has an amazing history, but right now it’s not there for the benefit and enjoyment of everyone. We have a court decision in place, and I’ll follow it. But as governor, and with whomever I pick as DNR commissioner, I’ll bargain hard with the Chippewa bands to ensure the resource is managed better.
Walz The Mille Lacs controversy has to do with sovereignty and relationships, and also climate and the changing lake. Let’s be clear: The treaty and the U.S. Supreme Court decision are the law of the land. I reject any attempt to go to the Supreme Court again to overturn the 1837 treaty. That’s not going to happen. Nor do we want it to. But there is potential for the state and the Chippewa to work better together. Improving the lake is in everyone’s interest.
Q Should the Clean Water Council be reorganized to more closely resemble the Lessard-Sams council?
Walz My initial reaction is to go with the Lessard-Sams model while reorganizing the Clean Water Council. My leadership style reflects the concept of greater citizen involvement. The governor and the Legislature ultimately are the ones who allocate state funds on behalf of taxpayers. But I’m open to reorganizing the Clean Water Council in the mold of the Lessard-Sams council.
Johnson Yes. Citizens paying into the Clean Water Fund should have more say how it’s spent. My biggest frustration when I served on the citizens advisory committee to the LCMR [Legislative Commission on Minnesota Resources, now the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources] was that we allocated too much money to state agencies or to studies, as opposed to on-the-ground projects that, in the case of the Clean Water Fund, might actually produce cleaner water.
Q Do you support the stream- and ditch-buffer law?
Johnson Its concept and purpose are good. Most farmers have already installed buffers. But as I talk to farmers, there are two issues. One is compensation, because I think it’s wrong to take land out of production without paying for it. The other is that some farmers perceive they weren’t listened to as the law and its regulations were formulated. Many farmers have told me they have ideas how to make the law work better. I know that can be perception sometimes. But perception is important. This goes back to the issue I think we have with some of our state agencies. It’s not that regulations aren’t necessary. But I want people to think they have a role in their development.
Walz I support the clean water part of it, and buffers are one way to accomplish this. I’m not interested in pulling out of the law. But I think the rollout could have been better. We all want clean water. But I agree with farmers who say they should be compensated for taking land out of production and putting it into buffers. The compensation should be fair. Where the money should come from I’m not sure, but certainly it shouldn’t be out of the Outdoor Heritage Fund.
Q Some agriculture interests want the Clean Water Fund reorganized so it can be tapped to compensate farmers for buffers. Do you support that?
Walz I’m willing to listen to this proposal. I believe a funding solution can be found working with the Legislature.
Johnson I’ll look at all funding options. I don’t have a strong opinion on the money source for buffer compensation.
Q Do you support mining projects proposed in northeast Minnesota by Twin Metals Minnesota and PolyMet?
Johnson We have very stringent state and federal regulations about mining, regardless of where the mining will be done. I’m fine with having that process play out, and if the mining companies fulfill the process successfully, I’m going to be an advocate for mining and the jobs it will produce. It’s important also that new regulations are not added as the process develops, as a means of creating new roadblocks, based on a desire for a certain outcome.
Walz I would follow the science. I believe the environmental impact statement and permitting processes must be fair and predictable. It’s also important that enough money is set aside by mining companies to protect taxpayers. That said, copper is used to produce solar energy and electric cars. It has to come from somewhere. I believe we have a responsibility to explore. I disagree with the Trump administration’s decision on Twin Metals to pull out of the 25-year review. But I would stay true to the permitting process, and if it can be done safely, I will support it.
Q Some northern Minnesota counties have a lot of public land, while many in the south have relatively little. Do you support retaining Minnesota’s public lands and adding to them to benefit conservation and/or recreation when proposed by, for example, the Lessard-Sams council and, ultimately, the Legislature?
Walz I’m a strong supporter of acquisitions. From the time I was a kid growing up in Nebraska to now, living in Mankato, it’s been an adjustment to have to ask landowners’ permission to hunt. I understand the friction acquisitions can produce sometimes with some farmers and farm groups. But in southern Minnesota, I think acquisitions should be considered. We have to make sure we don’t create problems for neighboring landowners. But acquisitions can help protect our long-term conservation legacy.
Johnson Acquisition of additional public lands in some parts of the state, particularly the north, is, I think, a reasonable and fair concern to me and others. I wouldn’t go as far as to say there should be no net gain of public lands. I might not even slow down the acquisitions. But I would be careful about the money involved — probably more careful than others. That said, in some counties, adding more public land would have a significant impact on citizens who live there and pay taxes. For that reason, on this issue and others like it, I’m basically a local control guy. If local elected officials approve public-land acquisitions, I would also.
Q Should guns be further regulated in Minnesota?
Johnson I don’t believe additional gun restrictions will solve problems. What the debate over new restrictions does is prevent us from talking about and solving real problems. Mental health, for example. Family breakdown. The fact that popular culture, including music and video games, is drenched in violence. Also school policies, where we ignore disruptive or even violent behavior based on political correctness. People ignore these very real issues when they talk about bump stocks and other gun restrictions.
Walz I own guns and understand them. I have 24 years in the military. But as society changes, we have a responsibility to address the ideas of universal background checks for gun buyers and the legality of assault-style rifles. I’m not talking about guns people own now, and I understand rifles such as AR-15s are semiautomatic just like my shotgun is semiautomatic. I’m talking about high-capacity magazines and foldable stocks. I know the difficulty of defining what would be legal and what wouldn’t. The idea overall would be to reduce mass shootings. Regarding universal background checks, we can have a conversation about this. I’m not rigid. I have guns given to me by relatives and those transactions are important. But individual to individual, I think we need to pursue that.
Q Minnesota has a law regulating roadside mowing, with a goal of improving pollinator and wildlife habitat. But the law is rarely enforced, and conservationists and farmers have reached an impasse over the issue. How would you resolve it?
Walz This has the potential to be as volatile as mining or buffer strips. Roadsides are incredibly important for pollinators, while also becoming an income source for farmers. I am a Pheasants Forever guy, and I recognize these places represent habitat. I recognize farmers’ interests, too. We’ll have to get everyone together again and tackle it.
Johnson Farmers are angry about it. Out of the blue, there was a decision to enforce the law, which no one apparently bothered to do previously. This is an example of arrogant government. If the law wasn’t enforced, maybe it shouldn’t have been on the books. If the law is in effect, it should be enforced. A resolution will have to be worked out.
Q Why should the state’s outdoor enthusiasts vote for you?
Johnson I recognize how important hunting and fishing and our outdoor heritage are to the state, and I’ll support them. I grew up in Detroit Lakes, where the outdoors is critically important economically as well as recreationally. Also, if you’re looking to change the DNR and someone who will hold the agency accountable and require its employees to work with sportsmen and women rather than control them, and do so while making government more transparent, I’m the only candidate who will do that.
Walz The outdoors has been a part of my entire life, personally and professionally. In Congress, I’ve led on these issues on a national level, including on the federal farm bill. I’ve also helped expand the outdoors coalition to include not only hunters and anglers but backcountry people, hikers and bikers. Few others can claim my legislative accomplishments dealing with conservation and our natural heritage.