Minnesota needs a uniter in the governor’s office over the next four years. This state’s success was built on its people’s capacity to come together to solve problems and seize opportunities. That capacity has eroded, in part because two decades of divide-and-conquer politics have pitted regions, races, genders and generations against one other.
Rebuilding a “One Minnesota” ethos in this state’s politics and government is crucial to sustaining prosperity and quality of life. DFLer Tim Walz’s aptitude and enthusiasm for that work make him better-suited than Republican Jeff Johnson to be Minnesota’s next governor. We recommend Walz’s election on Nov. 6.
“One Minnesota” is more than a slogan for Walz. His personal story, public record, policy positions and campaign performance all buttress his promise to bring bridge-building leadership to the governor’s office.
Walz, 54, is a rural Nebraska native who chose early for a life of service. He enlisted in the Army National Guard at age 17 and served for 24 years, attaining the rank of command sergeant major. His teaching career took him to China, the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, and back to Nebraska before he joined the faculty at Mankato West High School in 1996, where he taught geography and coached football. Dismay over the war in Iraq and the Bush administration’s treatment of veterans propelled him into politics in 2006, when he won the first of six terms in the U.S. House representing southern Minnesota’s First District.
His congressional record reveals his bent toward bipartisanship, particularly in service of veterans and farmers. He has consistently ranked high in Georgetown University’s Bipartisanship Index, scoring fourth among 435 House members in 2015.
GovTrack’s ideological scoring of House members’ votes in 2017 put Walz smack in the middle and notes that the DFLer cast enough businees-friendly votes to earn a 50 percent score from the GOP-allied U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
The issues that Walz emphasizes in this campaign are things that matter to all Minnesotans — educational quality, health care affordability, transportation adequacy, government effectiveness. He has eschewed wedge issues in favor of a blend of vision and candor that should set the table well for negotiation with the Republicans who have controlled the Legislature in the past two years and who may be back in charge in 2019.
For example, Walz signals willingness to make a deal that continues the 26-year-old health care provider tax, due to sunset at the end of 2019, in exchange for one or more GOP-preferred tax cuts. He says he’s open to an increase in the gax tax but that he also would seek bipartisan backing for a replacement for that increasingly obsolete highway-funding workhorse. He’d seek more flexibility from Education Minnesota — his own professional union — in devising educational betterment strategies that can overcome rising distrust in public education. He broke with the National Rifle Association early in the campaign in order to support common-sense laws meant to prevent gun violence — a change in position that critics called expedient and we’d call admirable.
Walz’s campaign has revealed much about his governing style. He has met on several occasions with GOP-allied organizations to assure them an open door to the governor’s office. He has eschewed negative attacks on his Republican opponent and avoided criticism of Republican legislative leaders. When asked how he would differ from the DFLer who has occupied the governor’s office for two terms, Walz told the Star Tribune Editorial Board he’d strive to be more collaborative. “It’s up to the governor to build coalitions and break down barriers,” he said.
His first major appointment, that of state Rep. Peggy Flanagan of St. Louis Park as his running mate, and her high visibility in their campaign also speak to his collaborative nature. Flanagan, 39, brings gender, geographic, generational and racial balance to the ticket (she’s a member of the White Earth Nation of Ojibwe). She’s a former executive director of the Children’s Defense Fund-Minnesota, well positioned to be a leader in crafting an effective response to the shortage of child care that’s hindering workforce growth in Greater Minnesota.
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As we said four years ago when recommending Dayton’s re-election, Jeff Johnson is gubernatorial material. A career in employment law, three terms in the Minnesota House and three terms representing the western suburbs on the Hennepin County Board amply qualify him for the office, as does the knowledge of Minnesota he has acquired in bids for statewide office in 2006, 2014 and this year. Johnson, 51, is affable, articulate and approachable.
He deserves credit for bringing into state politics a promising newcomer, his running mate Donna Bergstrom of Duluth. Bergstrom, 55, is a retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps reserve, a former guardian ad litem, an aspiring teacher and a member of the Red Lake Nation of Ojibwe.
But Walz outmatches Johnson in evincing the capacity and drive to heal a divided state. Johnson has shown comparatively little appetite for bipartisan compromise. His campaign website boasts about his willingness to be a “minority of one” on the seven-member County Board.
In this campaign, he has made much of a hot-button issue that belongs in the federal realm, immigration, advocating an indefinite end to refugee resettlement in Minnesota. That position flies in the face of a proud tradition and, at a time of a growing labor shortage, makes little economic sense.
On that and other issues, Johnson displays more devotion to ideology than to data about the impact of government policies. For example, he promotes adding work requirements to Medicaid eligibility rules despite evidence that such restrictions add to program costs without boosting workforce participation. He favors reinstating Minnesota’s health insurance high-risk pool, a pre-Obamacare program, despite its proven inability to affordably insure all who qualified for its coverage. His opposition to higher taxes — a Republican article of faith — extends to opposing a local option sales tax increase for street improvements that 76 percent of Duluth voters approved in 2017.
That much ideological inflexibility in the governor’s office would only worsen the divisions that already get in the way of a new Minnesota Miracle — the miracle that results when people of diverse talents and backgrounds combine their goodwill, best judgments and fairly assessed tax dollars to solving shared problems.
Minnesotans have a lot of work to do together in the next four years if this state is to thrive in the decades beyond. They must educate every child and willing adult, make health care universally available and affordable, renew an aging infrastructure, keep the natural environment fruitful and sustainable, and join the burgeoning renewable-energy revolution.
That work is best expedited by a functional state government, headed by a governor who envisions One Minnesota and works each day to make that vision a reality. Tim Walz is the candidate best-fitted for that role.