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What we haven’t heard from Mark Dayton and Jeff Johnson

The debate between Gov. Mark Dayton and Jeff Johnson at Hamline University on Sunday, courtesy of the UpTake.

In the penultimate governor’s debate of 2014, we learned that Gov. Mark Dayton smoked marijuana, and that his Republican challenger Jeff Johnson has not. We learned that Dayton and Johnson each spanked one of their children; that each owns at least one gun; and that both have a sweet tooth.

Those revelations came at the end of the debate at Hamline University in St. Paul on Sunday morning, preceded by the standard questions on budget, spending, taxes, and health care.  Save Johnson’s refusal to define what consititutes the middle class, candidates broke no new ground in their responses.  In fact, their answers, while sincere, varied little in verbiage and tone from earlier debates.

So what kind of questions could have jolted the candidates from the security of talking points, while still being relevant to the issue of how they would govern? What, after four debates, are the questions we still haven’t heard the candidates address?  

There are many, of course, but here are four areas that I think deserve more exploration:

The economy

In Sunday’s debate, Dayton opened with the accomplishments of his administration, something he’s talked about frequently.  “When I became governor in January of 2011, Minnesota was not in good shape,” he said Sunday. “[Now] unemployment is down to 4.1 percent, we have a budget surpluses rather than deficits.”

But it would be nice to have Dayton address how much control he thinks one governor can really exert over the economics of recession and recovery. If Minnesota rebounded better than other states, how much can be attributed to legislative decisions as opposed to the state’s diverse economic base? 

Job growth

Johnson has tried to punch holes in Dayton’s claim of job growth by using a state report showing that many workers are considered underemployed, that is, overqualified and underpaid. He did so again on Sunday. “It has to do with the fact that we have a tax structure in Minnesota that is not competitive, especially when it comes to small businesses, and we have a regulatory burden,” Johnson said.  “Because of that, the good jobs are being created in other states.”

But a recent report in estimates that 22 million American workers are now considered under-employed.  It would be helpful to hear Johnson explain why he believes Minnesota’s tax structure in particular is creating this problem when it seems to be happening all over the country?


Dayton was asked whether there was a circumstance under which he’d raise general fund taxes. He said no, and then segued into his efforts to increase property tax relief.  “Property tax relief has been very successful the last few years, slowing the drastic increase in property taxes over the previous decade,” he said.  “Property taxes had increased by 86 percent in the decade before I took office and now they are relatively stable.”  

But the decade before Dayton took office, from 2000 through 2010, saw one of the biggest increases in real estate values in history. Property taxes followed suit. Then came the recession and property values tanked. Although state aid and credits have blunted some increases, it would be good to hear him more clearly explain why he isn’t just taking credit for the lower taxes that resulted from declining values. 

Social issues

Dayton has tried to position Johnson as dodgy on some of the positions he’s taken. He asked Johnson why he asked for the endorsement of the Tea Party and then denied it later. Johnson replied he was looking for the support of activists who would be part of the party endorsement process.  “One of the reasons I was endorsed, and one of the reasons I won the primary is because I have reached out to every faction of our party,” Johnson said Sunday.  “We still have a lot of moderate Republicans around Minnesota.” 

Given that response, how would Johnson resist the temptation to appease the most conservative faction of the Republican Party and avoid divisive social issues? 

The next and final debate is Halloween night on TPT public television.  A tricky question or two might be a treat for viewers.

Comments (10)

  1. Submitted by E Gamauf on 10/20/2014 - 12:35 pm.

    No feather boas this election!

    Why do we need a fabricated view of the candidates, at all?
    Being governor isn’t a glamorous job.

    Why do they need to pretend to be someone else –
    and look just like each & every one of us — in the mirror?

    I would be more interested to know what a candidate thinks the middle class looks like:
    The part that went unanswered in the debate.

    Since the attack ad trend is to associate a candidate with someone else:
    It would be useful to know what went awry down in Kansas – where they got a governor similar to what Mr Johnson espouses. A faction of his own conservative party endorses the rival Democratic candidate against the incumbent Republican governor there.

    How is his vision any different that Kansas Governor Brownback?

  2. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 10/20/2014 - 10:25 am.

    It’s Clear that Our DFL-Dominated Legislature and Gov. Dayton

    Have guided our state in directions that have us moving in positive directions.

    What I’d like to ask Mr. Johnson, is this,

    “How and when in your previous life were you rendered so ideologically rigid that you can admire Wisconsin’s Scott Walker,…

    when the actions that he and the Wisconsin legislature have taken Wisconsin,…

    and especially the lives of its average citizens,…

    in a clearly LESS prosperous,…

    far more negative direction, than Minnesota has recently gone.

    What events in your earlier life have twisted you in ways that make it seem to you as if moving the lives of the average citizens of Minnesota in damaging directions is a good idea?”

    And a follow up question: “If you are not interested in serving REGULAR Minnesotans, who, as governor, would you be planning to serve?”

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 10/22/2014 - 09:57 pm.

      Time Delay

      Now you do realize that the Democrats in MN did not do anything in MN until ~16 months ago, and many of the laws / taxes did not take hold until later.

      My point that no one knows what the DFL changes will mean for MN. Our current success is still a result of fiscal restraint that occurred before…

  3. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 10/20/2014 - 10:43 am.

    Johnson is right!

    Johnson said there are a lot of moderate Republicans around Minnesota. There has to be moderates out there because they have been kicked to the curb by the tea party for over 8 years. Moderation is not yet allowed in the Republican Party. Extremism reins in the Republican Party that now only serves a very special few.

    • Submitted by jason myron on 10/20/2014 - 02:01 pm.

      Does Johnson really consider himself a moderate?

      Here’s a guy who stated that he wants to “go all Scott Walker” on Minnesota. I’d hardly consider Walker a moderate politician.

      • Submitted by Tom Christensen on 10/20/2014 - 03:11 pm.

        I agree

        I think it is his attempt at trying to sound moderate. I don’t consider him a moderate either. He can’t seek tea party support and be moderate nor can he go all Scott Walker and be a moderate either. It is typical Republican speak. Say one thing and mean the exact opposite.

  4. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 10/20/2014 - 12:24 pm.

    Good questions

    All four are areas that have, so far, gone untouched. Addressing them could easily provide voters with some interesting windows into each candidate’s philosophy.

  5. Submitted by James Hamilton on 10/20/2014 - 12:37 pm.

    What if these so-called debates were scored?

    A maximum of 5 points per question, based on whether and how fully the candidate answered the question asked and stayed on topic.

  6. Submitted by James Warden on 10/20/2014 - 03:54 pm.

    The author wrote:“But the

    The author wrote:
    “But the decade before Dayton took office, from 2000 through 2010, saw one of the biggest increases in real estate values in history. Property taxes followed suit. Then came the recession and property values tanked. Although state aid and credits have blunted some increases, it would be good to hear him more clearly explain why he isn’t just taking credit for the lower taxes that resulted from declining values.”

    This isn’t an accurate description of how property taxes work. Minnesota doesn’t have a mill rate system that ties the amount of property taxes directly to the value of a property. Instead, local governments set a levy, essentially the difference between expenses and revenue from other sources besides property tax. That levy determines exactly how much they’ll collect from property owners. Property values are then used to divvy up the levy between property owners. If the local government doesn’t change the levy, a change in property values won’t do anything to the total amount of taxes paid.

    Put another way, there are no “lower taxes that resulted from declining values.” If cities want to cut taxes, they have to actually vote for a lower levy – and make the hard choices about cutting programs and services that goes along with that.

    In practice, the opposite of what the author describes often occurs.

    Because a levy is the difference between expenses and other revenue, local governments can easily keep taxes low in good times. State coffers are full and legislators are willing to put more into state aids like local government aid or county program aid. That offsets the amount they have to collect through property taxes. In bad times, legislators pull money out of those programs and cities have to make up for that with higher property taxes, fewer services or both.

  7. Submitted by Nick Benton on 10/20/2014 - 10:52 pm.

    Why were they the only two debating?

    Hannah Nicollet, the other major party candidate was excluded from the debate.

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