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:
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?
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 Forbes.com 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.
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.