Republican Jeff Johnson hammered on the Dayton administration's handling of MNsure Friday, in what has swiftly become a principal theme of his campaign for governor.
It was Johnson's third press conference on MNsure since the news earlier this week that PreferredOne, which offered the lowest rates and sold the most plans on the state health insurance exchange in the last year, is pulling out. Four insurance companies continue to sell plans on the site, but Johnson and Republican allies seized on the news as they try to take advantage of the Dayton administration's struggles to get MNsure operating efficiently.
This time, Johnson called for Minnesota's legislative auditor, a Capitol watchdog agency, to expand an ongoing MNsure audit to include a look at the Dayton administration's role in setting PreferredOne rates. Johnson said the situation "looks fishy," but was not able to offer any evidence or even specific allegations of wrongdoing.
"That's what we need to find out," Johnson said.
A day earlier, Dayton when asked by reporters said his administration did not dictate anything to PreferredOne. The company has made no allegations to that affect, either.
"The Commerce Department and the administration do not dictate to these companies what the rates are," Dayton said. "The notion that we set these rates is another one of the fallacies that those who are opposed to the system want to perpetuate."
While Johnson has tried to turn the MNsure issue against Dayton, the DFL has hit back against Johnson by highlighting some of his own past votes on health care. Specifically, Johnson acknowledged Friday that as a state legislator in 2003, he voted for a budget backed by then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a fellow Republican, that eliminated about 38,000 adults without children from state-provided health care coverage.
"That was a decade ago in the midst of a very deep deficit that we were in the middle of and that was part of the governor's plan to balance the budget without tax increases," Johnson said.
Earlier in his campaign, Johnson talked more frequently of scrapping MNsure altogether. He still says he'd seek a federal waiver from complying with the federal Affordable Care Act, but has also acknowleged that if elected he would likely have to continue to deal with MNsure.
"We have MNsure sitting in front of us and we have to figure out how to move on from that," Johnson said.
Republican candidate for governor Jeff Johnson blasted Gov. Mark Dayton on Tuesday for what he called "breathtaking incompetence," after it was revealed that the insurance company that sold more policies on MNsure than any other is pulling out of the exchange.
MNsure officials confirmed Tuesday that PreferredOne, the choice of nearly six in 10 consumers who have bought plans on the exchange, would no longer participate. Insurers are expected to release their 2015 MNsure rates in early October.
"Mark Dayton was desperate to be the first governor in the country to implement Obamacare in Minnesota through MNsure," Johnson said at a Capitol news conference. "He got to handpick his board and handpick his staff and it has been an unmitigated disaster since day one."
Johnson suggested that PreferredOne pulled out because it was offering artificially low rates on its plans under pressure from Dayton's administration. Jeremy Drucker, spokesman for Dayton's re-election campaign, called that ridiculous.
"Of course, administration officials encouraged insurers on MNsure to provide the lowest rates possible to the people of Minnesota," Drucker said. "However, the companies were solely responsible for the rates they decided to offer."
Dayton has owned up to MNsure's struggles. He apologized to consumers who struggled to buy coverage through the glitch-ridden website, and earlier this month he called MNsure's troubled launch the single biggest disappointment of his first term as governor.
Johnson said if elected, his first goal would be winning a federal waiver that would allow Minnesota to pull out of conforming to the Affordable Care Act. If that's not successful, Johnson said, he would seek to replace MNsure's board of directors and its leadership staff. He also said he'd try to increase competition among those companies selling plans on the site.
Drucker predicted that if Johnson is elected, he would seek changes that undermine MNsure's mission of boosting insurance coverage rates.
"This would be devastating to Minnesotans," Drucker said.
Gov. Mark Dayton said Tuesday that the Minnesota Vikings should suspend running back Adrian Peterson until accusations of child abuse against him have been resolved in the criminal justice system.
Calling the allegations and their fallout "an awful situation," Dayton said he believes Peterson is innocent until proven guilty and that he deserves due process. But he also called the allegations, that Peterson used a wooden switch to discipline his four-year-old son, "a public embarrassment to the Vikings organization and the state of Minnesota."
Dayton's remarks came in a statement from his office. The governor was in Washington, D.C., Monday and early Tuesday, raising funds for his re-election campaign.
"Whipping a child to the extent of visible wounds, as has been alleged, should not be tolerated in our state," Dayton said.
Peterson has denied being a child abuser, saying he was using the same disciplinary methods that he experienced as a child. The Vikings had kept Peterson out of Sunday's game, but announced Monday that he would be reinstated and playing next Sunday.
Vikings spokesman Jeff Anderson did not immediately return a call seeking comment on Dayton's statement. The DFL governor has worked closely with the team throughout his first term, both as advocate for partial public funding of the new stadium now under construction in downtown Minneapolis, and to help promote a subsequent, successful bid for Minnesota to host the 2018 Super Bowl in that new stadium.
"I will not turn my back on the Vikings and their fans, as some have suggested," Dayton said. "The Vikings belong to Minnesota -- and in Minnesota. This has been the team's only home; and our citizens, including myself, have been its most dedicated fans."
Gov. Mark Dayton is raising campaign cash in Washington this week as he tries to keep a financial advantage over his Republican opponent, Jeff Johnson.
Dayton and running mate Tina Smith traveled to Washington Monday. They're appearing at an evening fundraising reception at a private home, with contributors urged to give $1,000, $500 and $250. Sen. Amy Klobuchar is also appearing at the fundraiser.
Also on Dayton's schedule is a Tuesday morning fundraiser at D.C. lobbying firm Forbes-Tate, also with Klobuchar in tow. That one has higher suggested donations of $2,000, $1,000 or $500.
Throughout the summer Dayton maintained a significant fundraising advantage over Johnson, whose primary campaign left him with little money in the bank by mid-August. Johnson has said he's spent large amount of times on fundraising since then.
The next snapshot of the candidates' fundraising progress comes at the end of September, which will give a sense of whether Johnson has made any progress toward closing the gap.
Johnson campaigned in southwestern Minnesota on Monday morning, including at several events with his primary opponent Marty Seifert.
The Minnesota DFL Party is releasing a television ad hamming Republican candidate for governor Jeff Johnson on education.
The ad is part of $1 million ad campaign the party is planning to support DFL Gov. Mark Dayton's re-election.
The DFL's television campaign is one of the largest so far in the low-profile governor's race.
Dayton has reserved ad time for later this month. Johnson, whose campaign has had less money in the bank, said over the weekend that he hopes to be on the air as well by the end of the this month.
The DFL ad gives the appearance of a positive ad, featuring happy music and parents talking about education, but attacks Johnson largely on decade-old votes he took in the Legislature and praises Dayton.
"It seems like schools are not Jeff Johnson's priority," Jennifer Nelson, a teacher who is clearly pregnant, says in the ad.
Johnson, who is now a Hennepin County commissioner, served in the Minnesota House from 2001 to 2006. When he first joined the Legislature he had said that education was one of his top priorities.
It still is a top priority, Johnson communications director Jeff Bakken said.
"Unlike Mark Dayton, Jeff was educated entirely in Minnesota public schools and his kids are being educated entirely in Minnesota public schools," Bakken said. "Jeff repeatedly voted to increase education funding as a legislator. Like most Minnesotans, Jeff also knows that there is a lot more to education than just spending."
Earlier this month, big spending Alliance for a Better Minnesota also released a television ad hammering the Republican candidate on education.
That the two Democratic groups picked the same issue to blast over the airwaves should be no surprise.
For years, Democrats have participated in a polling and research consortium, called Project Lakes and Plains, that allows them to share information.
The result is they read from the same playbook and that playbook says in the midterm election that Minnesota voters care deeply about education issues. By July, Minnesota Democratic campaigns had paid Project Lakes and Plains nearly $200,000.
It is not clear whether the Minnesota Republican Party, which is still recovering from a previous administration's debt, will run any television ads this year on Johnson's behalf.
Last week, Republican Party spokesman Brittni Palke, said: "The MNGOP will not be announcing an ad buy." But did not clarify whether that statement means the party would not announce an ad buy in advance or would not make an ad buy this year.
Here's the new DFL ad:
Data editor Glenn Howatt contributed to this report.
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