Student-loan debt, the job market for recent college graduates and even a question on favorite ice cream flavors were among those asked during Sunday's debate between gubernatorial candidates Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican challenger Jeff Johnson.
Held at Hamline University, the debate was the fourth face-off between Dayton and Johnson, a Hennepin County commissioner. It was the first debate of two debates to be held in the Twin Cities.
The candidates were more subdued and cordial than in recent confrontations but nonetheless outlined starkly different visions for the state.
Asked how they would preside over a divided legislature, Johnson and Dayton sparred over how they have worked with members of their opposing parties and disagreed on the worthiness of one-party rule in state government. Dayton said that if Minnesotans are satisifed with policies made by the DFL-controlled Legisture, they should vote for that to continue. Johnson said divided government has hisotorically been a good thing for the state.
"I think you just have to look at my record in the House," Johnson, a former state representative said. "What you've done is the best way to tell what you're going to do."
Johnson said that during his time as a state lawmaker, the House was controlled by Republicans but the Senate had a DFL majority. He touted his work with DFL lawmakers on eminent domain and identity-theft bills. He blamed Dayton for presiding over the state's government shutdown in 2010.
Dayton defended the clash with Republicans that led to the shutdown, saying he shared responsibility for it with lawmakers but that the outcome -- a tax hike on the wealthiest 2 percent of Minnesotans to balance the state budget -- was worth it.
"The Republican Legislature would rather raise a billion-and-half through additional borrowing than raise taxes on the richest people of Minnesota. Fortunately, that changed when we had a DFL Legislature," Dayton said.
Questions for Sunday's debate, sponsored by Fox 9, came from a panel of political reporters from two local newspapers and public radio, as well as through social media and students who were present at the forum.
The two candidates fielded questions on how they would work to reduce student-loan debt and improve the job market for recent graduates.
Dayton touted a tuition freeze bill he signed last year that affected state colleges and university as an example of how he has helped keep rising college costs in check. Johnson said he would work to cut administrative costs.
To improve the job market, Dayton said that investing in higher education and early childhood education programs would be critical. "If we do that, the opportunities are going to be out there," he said.
Johnson responded by criticizing the state's tax and regulatory climate, saying it has hurt the state's competitiveness and "because of that, the good jobs are being created in other states."
Before Sunday's debate, Independence Party candidate Hannah Nicollet and her supporters protested outside of Hamline's Klas Center over her exclusion from the forum. Nicollet, a former software developer, participated in two previous debates in Rochester and Moorhead.
Dayton and Johnson will debate once more before the general election on Nov. 4.
Minnesota's candidates for governor are keeping busy Friday as they prepare for another debate this weekend, the first in the Twin Cities.
Gov. Mark Dayton is speaking Friday morning at a leadership summit of the Minnesota State College Student Association in Bloomington.
Dayton also has an active official schedule Friday, with a handful of events closed to the press: a conference call with executives at BNSF Railway and Minnesota Power; a special Cabinet meeting for an update on Minnesota's Ebola preparedness and prevention efforts; and an evening banquet of the Minnesota State Fire Chiefs Association.
Republican Jeff Johnson does not have public events on his calendar Friday. His campaign said he would be fundraising and doing media interviews, and on Saturday had plans for retail campaigning in a number of locations.
Hannah Nicollet from the Independence Party has several campaign events Friday and Saturday as well. She's appearing Friday night on Duluth Almanac Extra, and at a Saturday conference in favor of marijuana legalization.
Dayton and Johnson are set to debate Sunday morning. It will be aired live on Fox 9 in the Twin Cities.
Both Gov. Mark Dayton and his Republican challenger, Jeff Johnson, are courting traditional constituencies on Thursday.
Johnson is appearing at a morning news conference organized by the Minnesota chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business. The group represents over 13,000 small business owners statewide, and has been a traditional ally of Republicans at the Capitol.
Johnson's campaign said he also plans to offer comments on news of premium hikes on PreferredOne insurance plans that were sold on MNsure last year.
Meanwhile, Dayton is headed later in the morning to speak at the Education Minnesota Professional Conference at Roy Wilkins Auditorium in downtown St. Paul. The state's largest teacher's union, Education Minnesota has tended to support mostly Democrats politically, and has already endorsed Dayton's re-election.
Dayton is also making remarks at the groundbreaking of a Highway 610 expansion project in Maple Grove. Also Thursday, Dayton is speaking at a DFL get-out-the-vote training event in Little Canada.
The day after the debate in Duluth between Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican Jeff Johnson, it's a quiet day on the campaign trail in the race.
Dayton, whose campaign debuted its third TV ad on Tuesday, has no public campaign stops on his schedule Wednesday. But he's got a couple of northern Minnesota appearances on his official schedule: at the University of Minnesota Crookston, at the grand opening of a sewer treatment facility in Chisholm, and at the dedication of a public library in Ely.
Dayton is also meeting privately in the afternoon with leaders of Essar Steel in Hibbing.
Johnson does not have plans to appear publicly on Wednesday. His campaign said he would be fundraising and doing media interviews.
DULUTH -- The Minnesota Vikings stadium, MNsure and mining were among the topics at Tuesday morning's debate between Gov. Dayton and Jeff Johnson, the Republican who wants his job.
The third debate of this race, at the Duluth Playhouse, was also the first to feature only Dayton and Johnson. The debate's organizers at the Duluth Chamber of Commerce did not invite Independence Party candidate Hannah Nicollet to participate, making it the first gubernatorial debate in years not to feature a major third-party candidate.
It allowed Dayton and Johnson to turn more sharply toward each other. The debate never got ugly, but both candidates got in a few solid hits on his opponent.
"I don't recall ever calling you a 'wacko,'" Dayton said to Johnson, after the Republican said Dayton had called him both a wacko and a huckster. Dayton didn't take issue with the second part.
"I do think hucksters are people who promise things unrealistically for selfish advantage," Dayton said.
This exchange came during a discussion of the proposed PolyMet copper and nickel mine near Hoyt Lakes on the Iron Range. Johnson charged that Dayton's administration purposely prolonged the environmental review process in order to kill the project.
"This governor is beholden to what I would call some pretty extreme environmental groups who don’t want to see any mining in this state," Johnson said. He argued that the only way to ensure the project goes ahead is to elect him.
The PolyMet proposal has generated plenty of controversy in northeastern Minnesota, sparking conflicts over the job opportunities versus the potential that contaminated runoff from the facility could make its way into Lake Superior.
Backers have been seeking state approval for nearly a decade. That stretches back further than Dayton's, and he said it's taken too long. But he said to short-circuit the environmental review now, in its final stages, would be irresponsible.
"We need to be able to tell Minnesotans what they can reasonably expect with this undertaking," Dayton said.
There are two more scheduled debates in this race: Oct. 19 and Oct. 31, both in St. Paul.
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