“We’ve been through this before,” Gov. Mark Dayton said early on in this morning’s debate with Republican challenger Jeff Johnson, sponsored by the Duluth Chamber of Commerce and the Duluth News Tribune.
True, the subject matter of this third debate – taxes, transportation, education, business climate — was similar to the first two. But Dayton and Johnson, while not taking out the knives, did have sharper responses on the issues and sharper attacks on each another.
A sample exchange came in response to a question on copper-nickel mining in northeastern Minnesota.
“The governor is beholden to some pretty extreme environmental groups,” Johnson said. He reiterated his support for mining expansion and also his claim that the Dayton is using an extended environmental review to stop the project. In other responses, Johnson would revisit the theme of Dayton being in the thrall of special interests.
Dayton, who overall used his time to articulate the accomplishments of his administration, deflected the mining issue with a theme central to his criticisms of Johnson.
“Irresponsible … you’re just doing it for political advantage,” he said. “I’ve been working on behalf of northeastern Minnesota for 37 years and I’ve seen the hucksters go up there and promise chopstick factories … and all those other things because they are dangling out the prospects of jobs. Well we’re going to do this one responsibly.”
Dayton also tried to characterize Johnson as the anti-cheerleader when Johnson criticized the state’s job growth. “To denigrate this state and to denigrate what the people of Minnesota have accomplished is just wrong,” Dayton said.
When Dayton defended MNsure, Johnson didn’t mince words in his response. “It has been an unmitigated disaster from day one. And not just because it wasted a fantastic amount of money on a crappy website,” Johnson said.
On Dayton’s boasting of increasing education funding, Johnson suggested it was payback to the teachers union. “I’m not an anti-union guy, but I will not let any special interest dictate policy to me,” he said.
The two candidates shared no common ground on any issue and thrust and parried in every response. Whether it was practice or the morning hour or the fact that it was only a two-man debate (Independence party candidate Hannah Nicollet was not invited to participate), Dayton and Johnson offered a more precise definition of their positions than in prior debates and statements.
They go back to the podiums in five days with a debate at Hamline University in St. Paul.