GOP candidates for governor tout track records in debate; Four hopefuls agree on most issues
The four Republican candidates for Minnesota governor would all cut taxes, keep sex offenders locked up and find ways to pay for roads, bridges and mass transit without raising taxes.
During their first joint appearance since the GOP state convention last month, the four contenders acknowledged on Twin Cities Public Television’s “Almanac” show Friday night that they agree on most issues, so voters should judge them on their track records before voting in the Aug. 12 Republican primary.
“It’s more about experience than issues,” said former House Minority Leader Marty Seifert of Marshall. He contended he has an edge because he grew up on a farm and has experience as a schoolteacher, college administrator, small-business owner and realtor, in addition to serving 14 years in the Legislature.
Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson, the Republican-endorsed candidate, said he brings the right blend of public and private sector experience for the job. He’s spent most of his career as an attorney and business owner, but also has served for more than 11 years as a state lawmaker and county official.
“I would say the biggest difference is I have been able to pull in independent votes, despite having a very conservative record,” Johnson said, adding that a Republican must get a majority of independent voters to win in November.
“I’m the only candidate in the race who has actually balanced the budget,” former House Speaker Kurt Zellers of Maple Grove said, referring to the budget he and Senate Republicans negotiated with Gov. Mark Dayton in 2011.
The Democratic governor pushed to raise taxes to erase a $6 billion deficit that year, he said, but Republicans cut a deal to fix the budget without tax increases.
“The idea for all four of us is to beat Mark Dayton,” Zellers said. “I’m the one guy who sat across the table from him and actually beat him.”
Scott Honour, an Orono businessman who’s making his first run for public office, is the only candidate in the race with no political experience, and he argued that’s an asset.
“These guys have spent collectively half a century in politics, and we haven’t gotten our agenda passed,” Honour said of his three rivals. “We need a leader who knows how to get things done. I’ve spent my life in the private sector getting things done.”
The four candidates didn’t have much time to go into detail on the policy positions during their 30-minute TV segment.
All of them said they not only want to lower tax rates and simplify the state tax code.
Seifert said he would get Minnesota “out of the top 10” in every state tax category.
They all pledged to find ways to prevent dangerous sex offenders from being released, even though a federal judge has ruled the state can’t indefinitely lock up offenders who have completed their prison sentences.
Although transportation officials say the state will need billions more just to maintain its roads and bridges, the four candidates all said they would find ways to pay for it without boosting taxes.
Zellers and Honour said they would revise the state Transportation Department’s priorities to meet its most urgent needs.
“We need to relieve congestion and repair our roads and bridges,” Johnson said, “and not spend on things that are cool or fun but unnecessary.”
Seifert said he would scrap all light-rail transit projects and use a larger share of state public works bonding bills for transportation infrastructure.
“I’m not going to raise taxes to feed the (transportation) bureaucracy,” he said.
The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.