Four gubernatorial candidates discuss competing visions for Minn.

Lori Swanson, Tim Walz, Jeff Johnson and Erin Murphy
Four gubernatorial candidates -- DFLers Lori Swanson, Tim Walz and Erin Murphy and Republican Jeff Johnson appear at the Economic Development Association of Minnesota conference in Nisswa, Minn., on Thursday, June 28, 2018.
Tim Pugmire | MPR News

With just over six weeks to go before the primary election, four of the top five candidates for governor from both parties shared a stage in Nisswa Thursday at the Economic Development Association of Minnesota summer conference.

It was the first time the three DFL contenders — Erin Murphy, Lori Swanson and Tim Walz — have appeared together since a brief public television interview earlier this month.

Swanson, who has been in the race only a few weeks, stressed her work as state attorney general. She also described herself as someone who can solve problems and bridge partisan divides. To that end, Swanson said if elected she will meet with all 201 state legislators before taking office.

"We do need to work across the aisle to try to find compromise. We have all this gridlock, all this dissention, bickering in our process and stuff isn't getting done because of that."

Swanson criticized the outcome of this year's session, including the failure to enact legislation to fight the opioid epidemic and elder abuse.

Tim Walz also pledged to work across the aisle. Walz said he has a history of building coalitions in Congress to get things done.

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"I'm not telling you anything you don't already know regardless of where your politics is," he said. "We're a polarized nation, and that holds everyone back. This is an opportunity for Minnesota to do what we've always done: lead. Lead in innovation, lead in civility, lead in government that works."

In what was an otherwise polite and nonconfrontational discussion, state Rep. Erin Murphy took one noticeable shot at her rivals. Murphy, the DFL-endorsed candidate for governor, made it clear that if she's elected she's ready to take a tougher approach when necessary.

"I have to say, 12 years in the Legislature has taught me this: it's going to take more than breaking bread with 201 legislators to break the log jam inside the Capitol. It is going to take us together," she said.

Murphy added that it is "no time for a tippy-toe kind of politics" when addressing tough issues.

Murphy and Walz are scheduled to appear together at another event Friday in Granite Falls. It's unclear when they will be joined next by Swanson.

Jeff Johnson was the lone Republican at the Nisswa event. In contrast to the DFL candidates, he said taxes are too high, regulations on businesses need to be eased and the government has to do a better job for the public.

A campaign spokesperson for former Gov. Tim Pawlenty said Pawlenty was unable to attend due to a scheduling conflict. Johnson and Pawlenty have appeared together only once this summer at a private event in Minneapolis. It's unclear when or if they'll face off before the primary.

"I will tell you, it's really nice to show up at something and have another candidate or two here to talk to," Johnson said. "Because he [Pawlenty] has chosen not to do that anywhere else."