Republican candidate touches on many topics during Crookston stop
Hailing from Detroit Lakes himself, and with a spouse with Crookston roots, Minnesota Republican gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson said during a visit here that, as governor, he’d represent rural Minnesota interests in St. Paul.
Disagreements at the Minnesota Legislature and in the governor’s mansion often aren’t about ideology, Johnson told around 45 people Friday afternoon in the back room of RBJ’s Restaurant, they’re about geography. It’s a constant tug-of-war between Twin Cities metro area interests versus rural Minnesota interests, he said.
Many of the complex formulas that determines what kind of funding cities, counties and other entities in Minnesota receive, and how much they receive, favor the metro area, he said, adding that he’d like to “start from scratch” on many of them. “As governor, I look forward to starting that conversation,” Johnson said.
Johnson’s visit was hosted by District 1B Republican State Rep. Deb Kiel of Crookston and her husband, Lonn Kiel. Republican District 1 State Sen. Mark Johnson of East Grand Forks was also in attendance. Joining Johnson during his visit was his wife, Sondi (Lee), the daughter of Lloyd and Shirley Lee who grew up and graduated in Crookston.
After defeating former Republican governor Tim Pawlenty in the Aug. 14 primary, Johnson and Democrat Tim Walz are vying for the governor’s seat after DFL incumbent Mark Dayton announced he wouldn’t be seeking another term.
Lots of topics
As part of his remarks to the audience and also in response to several questions posed by those in attendance, Johnson touched on several topics, including:
• Farmers being squeezed by increasing regulations, especially having to do with water quality: “Farmers aren’t out to destroy the land, they are good stewards,” Johnson said. “We can find solutions without going overboard.” He added that farmers need to be included in the discussions that work toward finding reasonable solutions. Johnson said an “attitude change” is necessary, and that too many decisions and too much power is concentrated in agencies staffed by unelected representatives.
• Johnson took multiple questions and listened to several comments related to immigration. While he said he’s witnessed success stories involving the Hmong population in Detroit Lakes, Johnson said similar success stories are much fewer and far between when it comes to many of the current resettlement efforts of immigrants, such as Somalians, in several other Minnesota cities. With Minnesota’s economy strong and people being able to find work, Johnson said high Somalian unemployment rates indicates that “resettlement programs aren’t working.”
As part of that discussion, Rep. Kiel noted that a pilot program is being launched in East Grand Forks to intervene with Somali immigrants there and increase the chances of them being able to speak sufficient English, keep their kids in school, and find and/or keep jobs.
Johnson said immigration is a prime example of an issue that many people are afraid to discuss frankly because of the immediate and intense “blowback” that comes their way. “You’re called racist and hateful and it makes you not want to bring it up, but we have to, we have to have these discussions,” he said. “People get so angry and they get so personal; we need to talk about it rather than just screaming.”
• Transportation: Fixing and improving roads and bridges is the most important transportation issue facing the state, Johnson said, not metro-area and suburban transit initiatives such as Light Rail, which he said cost hundreds of millions of dollars that could be better spent on roads and bridges throughout Minnesota.
“We all need roads, everywhere, but all the energy spent on transportation right now seems to be on everything but roads,” he said.
In the metro area, Johnson said buses are a less expensive and more convenient form of transit.
“People just want us to be smart, and if we are smart, we have enough money to keep up our roads,” he added.
Johnson said he’s in favor of dedicating more funding in the state’s bonding bills to transportation, road and other infrastructure costs, and not “gifts” to various communities and politicians in every corner of the state, “like it’s Christmas.”
• The state’s budget: Johnson said he expects the next statewide budget forecast to still include a surplus, which follow a trend that’s covered six of the past seven years. But Johnson said that shouldn’t be seen in a 100 percent positive light.
“To me, six out of seven years, that’s not a sign of good government,” he said. “To have a surplus year after year means you’re taking too much money in.”
• The tax bill, and Minnesota not conforming with the new federal tax code: As governor, Johnson said revisiting tax legislation vetoed by Dayton earlier this year would be his first priority. “I want to be ready to go on that day one (of the 2019 legislative session), instead of just starting the process on day one,” he explained. “It’s a big deal, and there was bipartisan support to conform (Minnesota with the federal tax law).”
Without new Minnesota tax legislation, Johnson said some Minnesota tax filers could “have a nightmare” doing their taxes in 2019.
• Minnesota regulations: Johnson said Minnesota has several sensible regulations in place, for example, those designed to protect children. But, he added, Minnesota is one of the national leaders and in some cases the actual national leader when it comes to business regulations. Too many times, he said, new regulations are added simply because of things that might happen but haven’t actually happened. “It happens too often, where it’s like ‘This might happen so let’s create a new regulation.’” Again, Johnson noted, part of the problem is too many unelected officials with too much power having influence over regulations.
Minnesota is already seen as a state with a high quality of life, Johnson noted, but it’s also seen as being hostile to “job creators.” If the state was more friendly to them, he said Minnesota would “explode” in popularity. “Let’s not pound our businesses into submission” with more regulations, he added.