DFL governor candidate Tim Walz shares his views

U.S. Rep. Tim Walz sits for a portrait.
U.S. Rep. Tim Walz sits for a portrait inside the Kling Public Media Center in St. Paul, Minn. on Wednesday, July 25, 2018.
Evan Frost | MPR News

As governor, DFL candidate Tim Walz said he would support legalizing recreational marijuana, raising the gas tax to pay for transportation projects and would help bridge the urban and rural divide in the state.

Walz, a congressman representing Minnesota's 1st Congressional District, is competing in a three-way DFL primary against Attorney General Lori Swanson and DFL-endorsed state Rep. Erin Murphy. In the Republican primary, former Gov. Tim Pawlenty is facing off against GOP-endorsed candidate Jeff Johnson.

With just weeks to go until the Aug. 14 primary, Walz sat down with MPR's Kerri Miller for an hour on Wednesday. Here's what they talked about:

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On the urban and rural divide

Walz said the urban and rural divide is exacerbated by elections, with Republicans exploiting tensions to win more seats. He said his gubernatorial ticket, which includes state Rep. Peggy Flanagan, DFL-St. Louis Park, would be the best positioned to bridge those divides. Flanagan serves in the metro and Walz, who lives in Mankato, has represented rural interests for the last 12 years in Congress. "I've worked and lived in a rural congressional district, dealing with these issues in a practical way to find solutions," he said.

On legalizing recreational marijuana in Minnesota

Walz said he would sign a bill to legalize recreational marijuana in Minnesota if it lands on his desk. "I support it," he said. "I believe that we regulate, we tax, we make it a Minnesota-grown business." He also said as a teenager he experimented with marijuana. Like alcohol, Walz said he thinks adults should be able to decide whether they want to smoke marijuana. "As a lawmaker and as a governor, I don't drink at all, but I don't pass any judgments," Walz said. "That needs to be regulated, and I think the same thing needs to be done on the marijuana piece."

On gun control

Walz, who has received an A-rating from the National Rifle Association in past campaigns for Congress, said he believes the organization has become "too extreme" in its viewpoints. He grew up using guns for hunting and served in the Army National Guard. "I believe my children should be able to come home to school safe," Walz said. "The NRA of my childhood is not the NRA of today." He now supports expanded background checks, so-called red flag protective laws, banning assault-style weapons and expanding research into gun violence. Walz said his experience with guns and serving in rural Minnesota best positions him to actually help pass gun control legislation in the state.

"The country has changed, the situation has changed, and as a leader, I recognize there are things I can do," he said.

On Polymet and Twin Metals copper nickel mining

Walz said copper is a valuable resource in building solar fields and moving away from carbon emissions. With Polymet, Walz said he would support allowing the project to move through the environmental review and permitting process, similar to current DFL Gov. Mark Dayton. "We need to follow the science about how do you do this, how do you mine," he said. "We need to make sure the environmental impacts and studies are as stringent as they can be." He's more reticent to support Twin Metals, which is situated close to the Boundary Waters Wilderness, but didn't directly say he would oppose the project. "This is a place that has shaped who I am."

On refugees

Walz supports state programs that resettle refugees in communities and he opposes a plan from Johnson, the Republican-endorsed candidate, to suspend that program. He said in his southern Minnesota district there has been "overwhelming" willingness to resettle refugees, who go on to contribute to the local economy. "There's plenty of room in Minnesota for all of us," he said. "This country was founded on immigration and founded on compassion."

On pipelines

Walz said as governor, he would do what he could to block pipeline projects from running through Native lands, but he would allow some projects to go through the state's permitting process.

"As governor, we will have a transparent, inclusive policy on how we discuss these issues," he said. "We will have an environmental permitting and review process that is stringent."

On the gas tax

Walz said he supports raising the state's gas tax to pay for transportation projects, but by how much would be decided with the Legislature. "The state of Minnesota needs to have that honest conversation about what it would take," he said.

He also supports more bonding for transportation, as well as the idea of creating an infrastructure bank to support projects.