Nine candidates for governor speak at forum

MGS at forum
Woodbury Mayor Mary Guiliani Stephens, a Republican candidate for governor, spoke at a forum in Bloomington. Tim Pugmire|MPR News

Nine candidates for Minnesota governor -- six DFLers and three Republicans -- appeared Friday at a forum in Bloomington, where they took turns making the case for their campaigns.

The candidates from both major parties have been traveling the state for months seeking the support of activists. Their first big test comes in nonbinding straw polls planned for the precinct caucuses on Feb. 6.

Following this week’s departure of Matt Dean from the race, the newly-narrowed Republican field was former state GOP chair Keith Downey, Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson and Woodbury Mayor Mary Giuliani Stephens.

Stephens is the most recent entrant in race. She announced her candidacy in late November. During her one-on-one interview with forum moderator Mary Lahammer, Stephens highlighted her accomplishments on job creation, economic development and government efficiency.

“I really think what Minnesota needs is a chief executive who’s going to have a creative, can-do and a commonsense approach to government,” Stephens said.

The forum was co-sponsored by the Center for Rural Policy and Development, so many of the questions were on rural issues, such as workforce, housing, immigration and education.

The format consisted of individual interviews of each participant. There was no candidate interaction and no opportunity for fireworks.

The DFL candidates were Erin Murphy, Paul Thissen, Chris Coleman, Tina Liebling, Tim Walz and Rebecca Otto.

Murphy, a state representative from St. Paul, was the only candidate to mention her support for issuing drivers licenses to unauthorized immigrants.

“It’s a public safety issue,” Murphy said. “That is a policy that I believe across the state of Minnesota would help employers and employees get to work in a reliable way.”

Liebling, a state representative from Rochester, was the only candidate to talk about legalizing the recreational use of marijuana, saying it should be decriminalized and taxed.

“It’s not because I love it or think people should use it or think it’s safe,” Liebling said. "It’s because the prohibition is harming Minnesota.”

Other highlights:

  • Thissen talked about his support for a MinnesotaCare buy-in option, which he believes will help rural residents.

  • Johnson said he wants to make changes in state government and end the “arrogance” he sees in state agencies.

  • Downey said he wants to reduce government regulations and try to discourage people from moving out of Minnesota due to economic conditions.

  • Coleman talked about making communities vibrant across the state and mentioned craft beers as a key to economic development in some areas.

  • Walz said quality teachers who are “culturally competent” are the key to closing the achievement gap.

  • Otto claimed to be the only candidate putting out detailed plans on key issues. She said she has one related to broadband coming out soon.

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