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GOP governor candidate Jeff Johnson shares his views

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Minnesota GOP convention
Republican gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson speaks to delegates after his party endorsed him at the 2018 Republican Party state convention Saturday, June 2, 2018 at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center in Duluth, Minn.
Derek Montgomery for MPR News

As governor, Republican-endorsed governor candidate Jeff Johnson said he would try to end a state refugee resettlement program and tamp down on government intrusion in business and individual lives, but he wouldn't support a move to make recreational marijuana legal in Minnesota.

Johnson, who participated in a wide-ranging interview with MPR's Kerri Miller on Monday, is serving his last term on the Hennepin County Board. He's the final sprint of a heated, Aug. 14 primary race for governor against former Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

On the DFL side, U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, Attorney General Lori Swanson and state Rep. Erin Murphy are competing for the nomination.

Here's what Johnson said on some of the big issues in the race:

On healthcare

Johnson said he wants to move the state away from the federal Affordable Care Act and toward a more "free-market system."

"The ACA, it was sold as reform and there was no reform in it," he said. "It expanded coverage, but it didn't do anything to address, not just the premium costs, but the rising cost of healthcare."

He supports a system where the state helps cover high-risk patients and most other residents are covered through employers or the individual market. To lower the rising cost of premiums and give people more coverage options, he would try to increase competition for insurance companies by allowing residents to buy insurance across state lines.

On state government

As governor, Johnson said he would instruct his agency heads to "back off" and reduce rules and regulations on businesses and individuals.

"You are going to see a much greater focus on changing the culture in government from that of controlling and directing and telling everybody else how to run their business and farm their land and educate their kids or, frankly, run their lives," he said. "I'm going to make that culture change, and I'm under no illusions that it's going to be easy."

On recreational marijuana

But Johnson said he would not support more individual freedoms to smoke marijuana.

He said the societal costs — work productivity, safety on the roadways and reproductive health — are too high, and he thinks legalizing recreational marijuana sends a message to children that "drugs are OK, they won't hurt you."

And no, Johnson said he has not smoked marijuana and doesn't plan to in the future.

On his primary opponent, Tim Pawlenty

He thinks Pawlenty should take an ad off the air that claims Johnson supported the Affordable Care Act. "It's possibly the most dishonest ad I've ever seen in politics," he said.

Johnson thinks Pawlenty blocked Democratic policies during his two terms as governor, but much of his work was undone shortly after he left. "He didn't do much of anything to change the structure of government in a lasting way," Johnson said.

On Donald Trump

Johnson is a strong supporter of President Trump, even after other Republicans were critical of Trump's appearance with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. Trump has since walked back comments that he didn't believe Russian meddled in the 2016 election.

"That's Donald Trump," Johnson said. "Donald Trump says what he thinks and sometimes he changes his mind."

"This incessant attack from the media and the left is a little out of control and I think it probably drives people to him," he added.

On refugees

Johnson has been an outspoken critic of state resettlement of refugees and would push to stop the program if he were governor. He said the purpose would be to put a "pause" on resettlement to get a better handle on the costs to state government and local communities.

On abortion

Johnson said he supports more restrictions on abortion and, as governor, would sign a bill similar to the "heartbeat" proposal that passed in Iowa. That bill, one of the most restrictive abortion proposals in the country, restricts the procedure once a fetal heartbeat has been detected, at about six weeks of pregnancy, with some exceptions made in cases of rape, incest or medical emergency.