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DFL candidates for governor differ on Vikings stadium, mining

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The DFL candidates for governor debate
The DFL candidates for governor debate inside of the Kling Public Media Center in St. Paul on Monday, Feb. 5, 2018
Evan Frost | MPR News

The six Democrats running for Minnesota governor generally agree on many issues but an hour-long forum on MPR News Monday also highlighted some sharp differences.

Rep. Erin Murphy of St. Paul said the national attention Minnesota received for hosting Super Bowl LII Sunday was a "beautiful thing." But she voted against the legislation that built U.S. Bank Stadium and still believes the public cost was too high.

"There are communities that are still waiting for things like broadband and affordable childcare and affordable and accessible health care. The human needs for me come first and they always will as the state's governor," Murphy said.

Rep. Paul Thissen said the Super Bowl was great for Minneapolis and he stands by his support of the $500 million taxpayer subsidy that built U.S. Bank Stadium. Thissen said the stadium makes it a competitive, world class city.

"It is easy for people to kind of Monday morning quarterback and talk about other priorities," Thissen said. "But when you're the governor, you actually have to step up and make tough decisions. I think it was the right decision and I think last night showed it was."

The DFL candidates also have disagreements, as do many within their party, on plans for copper-nickel mining in northeastern Minnesota.

State Auditor Rebecca Otto said she believes the potential risk to the environment is greater than the benefit of the jobs it would bring.

"All the good government studies show that government never gets enough in terms of a damage deposit," Otto said. "The taxpayers end up holding the bag, and we do not have the resources to be saddled with financial liability in the future for this type of mining."

Former St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman said he too wants to protect the environment. But Coleman said the minerals collected through nonferrous mining are critical for wind turbines, hybrid vehicles and other clean energy products.

"Are we going to get them in a place where we have the highest environmental standards? Are we going to get those minerals where we have high labor standards? Or are we going to get it from a third world country where you can turn a blind eye to environmental quality and labor standards? I'd like to prove to the rest of the world how we can do this correctly, how we can do it right," Coleman said.

Gov. Mark Dayton is not seeking a third term, and Minnesota voters have never elected a DFL candidate to succeed a retiring DFL governor. Asked about how Dayton has done, U.S. Rep. Tim Walz was among the candidates offering cautious praise.

"I think Gov. Dayton has done a fine job," Walz said. "He was very clear that he was going to be fiscally responsible, he was going to pay for things. And he made the case that I think all of us know is that budgets are more than just fiscal document. They're a moral reflection of what we value in this state."

Rep. Tina Liebling of Rochester said Dayton has done many wonderful things, but has also made what she views as "critical mistakes." Liebling said Dayton signed several bills last year that she opposed, including a package of tax cuts.

"That's one of the reasons I'm running," Liebling said. "You have to be willing to stand up, because you can have the greatest values in the world, but if you roll over when the pressure is on it doesn't help."

All six candidates said they would push for a higher minimum wage.

They also expressed strong support for welcoming refugees and other immigrants in Minnesota. But that topic touched off a brief dust-up in the closing minutes of the broadcast when Coleman accused Walz of joining Republicans to restrict the flow of Syrian refugees.

Walz said Coleman is mischaracterizing the vote, which he said was intended to strengthen screening measures.