Jeff Johnson, the GOP nominee for governor, said during a forum Thursday hosted at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs that he would focus on comprehensive tax reform, the state's transportation infrastructure and education policy if he is elected governor.
The forum, moderated by political science professor Larry Jacobs, touched on a wide range of topics -- including the state's business climate and the creation of well-paying jobs -- but Johnson did not deviate from well-established positions on taxes and education.
Johnson told a small crowd of two dozen students that he would be an "engaged governor" and would work to reduce tax rates in Minnesota, including the corporate tax rate which he said discourages businesses from coming to the state.
The state's tax climate, Johnson said, needs a major overhaul. "We have a tax system that is decades old," he said. "It's about being competitive with other states."
On transportation, Johnson said he would oppose new forms of revenue, including a gas tax, and instead would pay for infrastructure maintenance through the issuing of state bonds. He said the focus would be on roads and bridges, not light-rail construction.
"I'm not an anti-train guy," he said. "I'm a cost-benefit analysis guy."
On education, Johnson favors more local control for schools and said schools should be able to follow best practices to work in narrowing the state's achievement gap.
With five days left until the election, Johnson will be busy meeting with voters. His schedule Thursday also included stops in Red Wing.
Minnesota's top Democrats gathered in front of the Capitol Wednesday morning to launch a six-day, 31-stop bus tour of the state that's aimed at firing up the party's supporters and motivating them to vote next Tuesday.
Gov. Mark Dayton and Sen. Al Franken, both of whom face voters next week, joined with the party's other statewide candidates, members of Congress and congressional candidates, legislators, the mayors of Minneapolis and St. Paul, and party and union activists.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, not on the ballot this year, teased her colleague Franken, whom recent polls have shown sitting on a comfortable lead over GOP challenger Mike McFadden.
"The latest polls have him not 10 votes ahead, but 10 points ahead," Klobuchar said, a reference to Franken's razor-thin win in 2008, which led to a months-long recount and lawsuit.
Dayton's running mate, Tina Smith, related a discussion the two had a day earlier about the governor's view of where his race against Republican Jeff Johnson sits in its final days. Smith said Dayton often jokes that she's "hope" and he's "reality."
"I said, 'how do you feel?'" Smith said. "And he said, I feel like it's a hockey game, and I'm the goalie, and we're one point ahead and we've got two minutes, and anything could happen."
The red, white and blue bus chartered by the party has a busy schedule of stops in the coming days, with rallies on Wednesday alone in Mankato, Albert Lea, Rochester and Winona. Ensuing days bring stops throughout the state, as statewide, congressional and legislative candidates take turns participating.
Minnesota Republicans are not mounting a similar bus tour, but state GOP chairman Keith Downey said on Tuesday that its candidates would be canvassing the state in the coming days and at times making joint appearances, as well as appearing with local legislative candidates.
Johnson campaigned Wednesday morning at a suburban bus rapid transit station, and had plans to do retail campaining later in the day in New Ulm, Fairmont and Worthington. McFadden is campaigning in Duluth with Becky Hall, a local state House candidate.
Rachel E. Stassen-Berger and Glenn Howatt
Although DFL Gov. Mark Dayton has had a fundraising advantage throughout the campaign, Republican challenger Jeff Johnson has caught up.
According to fundraising reports made public on Tuesday, Dayton has raised just over $2 million in his quest to keep the governor's job and Johnson has raised $1.96 million since January. As of Oct. 20, neither had very much money left for the final stretch -- Dayton had just $342,000 and Johnson had $454,000.
Both candidates have spent time fundraising in the final weeks. Last week, Dayton brought former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Minnesota for a fundraiser. The cash from that fundraiser has yet to be fully reported the state because it came after the close of the reporting period.
For months, Johnson's schedule has been as likely to say he is raising money at private events as he is doing retail politics.
The push has paid off for Johnson of late.
Since Sept. 16, the last fundraising report, Johnson brought in $710,000, while Dayton brought in $427,000.
Still, over the two year campaign period, from 2013 to 2014, Dayton has raised and spent far more money.
Katharine Tinucci, Dayton's campaign manager, on Tuesday said the campaign had released its last television ad of the cycle. The ad, called "Rising," highlights the progress Dayton believes he has brought to Minnesota and hopes to bring.
"The October 20th cash on hand figure coupled with a strong last week of fundraising puts the Mark Dayton for a Better Minnesota campaign in position to finish the final week of the campaign with a robust advertising buy to help get out the Governor’s message," Tinucci said.
The campaign will spend about $350,000 to air the ad during the final week of the campaign, bringing its total ad spending to about $2 million, she said.
Dayton can only raise about $600,000 more for his campaign given the spending cap he agreed to abide by in exchange for a public subsidy.
Johnson has a lot more room to grow -- if he can raise the cash. He has spent $1.8 million so far and is permitted to spend almost $4.4 million. Johnson has a higher spending limit because he faced a contested primary.
Independence Party gubernatorial candidate Hannah Nicollet did not qualify for a public subsidy and has run a much lower dollar campaign than either Johnson or Dayton. She has raised $20,665 this year and spent $13,191.
Here's a further look at Dayton and Johnson's fundraising numbers for 2014, as reported to the state campaign finance board:
With questions about the state's health exchange and Republican campaign ads swirling, Gov. Mark Dayton dashed from a Thursday afternoon event about housing without taking questions from the waiting press.
Dayton's decision to leave the event through a side door with his staff was unexpected. His staff had indicated he would answer questions from reporters.
It was also unusual. The DFL governor generally makes himself available to the media.
Dayton, who is up for re-election in 12 days, made remarks at the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency Housing Awards announcement in St. Paul, listened to comments from two lawmakers and then, about 25 minutes in to the event got up to leave.
His spokesman, Matt Swenson, said the governor said as he left that he would not take questions from the press. Reporters who followed him out of the side door he exited saw his state vehicle exit the building's rear parking lot.
On Thursday, the Star Tribune reported that the Dayton administration had sought lower rates from an insurer that signed up to provide health insurance through MNsure, the state's health exchange. That insurer, PreferredOne, dropped out of the exchange this year.
Republican candidate for governor Jeff Johnson said Dayton should have stayed to answer questions about that.
"That’s part of the job of the governor whether it is him, me or someone else," Johnson said. He suggested the Dayton administration is panicking over the recent MNsure news.
He pledged that if he were governor, he would not avoid reporters.
"I will never unexpectedly run away from you," he said.
Also Thursday, the Minnesota Republican Party decided to delete the photo of a young boy who died from abuse in a television commercial trashing Dayton. That decision came after pressure from the boy's grandmother.
Thursday afternoon Dayton appeared at a campaign event with former U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton. He was also slated to appear at a fundraiser with the former first lady in the evening.
Photo: The governor's caravan driving away from Thursday's housing event. Source: David Joles, Star Tribune.
(Updated 4 p.m.)
The grandmother of 4-year-old Eric Dean, whose death by abuse in 2013 exposed gaps in Minnesota's child protection services, said Thursday that the state Republican Party agreed with her request to remove the child's photo from a TV ad critical of Gov. Mark Dayton.
"Our family's trying to heal, and with this now, it's bringing everything up again and it's just so hard to move on," Yvonne Dean told the Star Tribune. "This type of ad campaign needs to stop."
Yvonne Dean said she got several calls Thursday morning from Republican Party chairman Keith Downey about the ad, after she called the party seeking to get the ad taken down. Dean said Downey initally told her the party felt within legal rights to reference the case and include an image of Eric Dean. A short while later, she said Downey called back to say the image of Eric would be removed from the ad.
Downey did not respond to an interview request. The party released a statement shortly after noon apologizing for not notifying the Dean family prior to the ad, and saying it would remove Eric Dean's picture from the ad.
"The ad is currently being revised and an edited version will begin airing as soon as possible," the party statement said. Yvonne Dean said Thursday afternoon that after some misunderstandings, she was willing to accept an ad that showed a headline about the case, but did not include the picture of Eric or a specific mention of his case.
Yvonne Dean, who lives in Starbuck, is the mother of Eric's father, David Dean. Amanda Peltier, who was married to David Dean and was Eric's step-mother, was convicted of the boy's murder and is now serving a life sentence.
Yvonne Dean's concerns about the ad were first reported Wednesday night by Michael Brodkorb, a former Republican political operative who now blogs for the Star Tribune.
Eric Dean's death in 2013 was preceded by 15 reports of maltreatment. Last May, before the details of Eric Dean's death were widely known, the Legislature passed and Dayton signed a law that forbid county agencies from considering past abuse reports that were rejected when deciding whether to investigate a new report.
The ad, titled "Incompetence" and paid for by the state GOP, began airing this week. It criticizes Dayton for his handling of several controversial issues, including the Dean case. Over dual images of a Star Tribune front page with a picture of Eric Dean on the front, and a picture of Dayton, the narrator says it was "downright horrifying when he signed a law making it more difficult to investigate maltreatment cases."
The bill at issue got votes from both DFL and Republican lawmakers when it passed last May. After details of Dean's death became publicly known, Dayton and the bill's backers said they had not foreseen that the provisions in the bill could make it more difficult for authorities to respond to multiple reports of child abuse.
Dayton, who also said he believes Pope County officials bear the brunt of responsibility for not responding properly to the abuse reports, has since convened a task force on child abuse and charged it with proposing law changes to address gaps in the child protection system.
Dayton's Republican opponent, Jeff Johnson, has been critical of Dayton's role in the legislation, though his campaign was not involved in preparing the ad in question. Yvonne Dean, who described herself as a Republican, said she hoped Johnson's campaign would condemn the use of the case in the ad.
The Johnson campaign released a statement saying it was the right call to remove the image from the ad, and expressing condolences to the Dean family.