Meet the Candidates: Republican gubernatorial candidate Michelle Benson

Election 2020-Minnesota-Governor
Republican Sen. Michelle Benson, alongside her family including her husband Craig and daughter Claire, 10, made the announcement to launch her campaign for governor Sept. 1 in Blaine, Minn.
Elizabeth Flores | AP 2021

State Sen. Michelle Benson is running for Minnesota governor. During her conversation on Politics Friday, Benson stressed the importance of reducing costs to counter inflation, having education funding follow children to the schools of the family’s choice, and voting security.

The following transcript has been edited for clarity. You can listen to the full conversation using the audio player above.

Let me start with the big question. Why do you want to be governor?

Because I see amazing potential in our people and in our state. We have innovators for generations who've helped build some of the greatest companies. We used to be a world leader both in health care and in education. We have great natural resources. And we're a place that can develop those natural resources, with respectful labor practices with good environmental policy. But most importantly, if our communities are safe, and we have high-quality education, our people will thrive.

So let's improve public safety, improve our education system, reduce the cost of everything, inflation is killing Minnesota families, make it easier to start those businesses so that we have a bright future for everyone who chooses to live and work and raise their family in the state of Minnesota.

How would you improve education?

I think right now, parental choice is really important. I have a friend who's in the Lakeville school district. April 14 was the first day since the pandemic started that he was allowed to go into his classroom to read with his kids.

Our public education system has been moved away from the core function of helping parents educate their children into a level of activism. And so letting money follow the child so that those kids in Minneapolis who have schools with terrible reading scores and literacy rates, those kids get a chance to go to a school where they have a real shot at learning to read, learning math, graduating. So that those families are supported in a place that they chose for their child.

And let's also refocus on fundamentals. High standards, no excuses. The Science of Reading is proven to work. Roger Chamberlin in the Senate — with my full support — has moved the Science of Reading to the front of the conversations literacy to the front of the conversation. This is where education solutions will come from. Not the same bureaucracy that has led us with the nation's largest opportunity gap. Our kids aren't learning, we need to change.

Are you talking about school vouchers? Is that the idea?

People call it vouchers, because vouchers have been slammed now for a generation. But really, it's about education savings accounts or tuition tax credit, so that the parents can say, “my public schools not meeting the needs of my child, I'm going to go to a place that meets the needs of my child.” If you're focused on the needs of the child and money should follow the child.

You talked about making things less expensive. Does that mean cutting taxes? If a big tax cut passes this year, would you look at cutting taxes again next year if you are governor?

If a tax cut passes this year — it’s a huge if, the Democrats in the House want nothing to do with it, the governor wants nothing to do with it — we need to look at tax policy as a way to help Minnesota families with their budget instead of just a budget in St. Paul. But also, how do we attract entrepreneurs, employers? How do we retain talent? How do we keep our kids who go away to college from staying away? We need to bring them back into our state.

And right now, we're very high in tax rankings across the state or across the nation. Massachusetts has a lower tax rate than we do. Iowa has lower tax rates than we do. You can look across the country and find places where it is easier to start a business — easier to keep more of your salary — and talent is moving there. People are moving there.

If you cut taxes, are you going to have to cut spending too? Have you looked at places where you would want to cut state spending?

I have looked at places where we want to cut state spending, for example, many of our state employees are telecommuting now. We have buildings that are verging on vacant, let's consolidate that footprint. Let's start there. Let's have the internal auditors in every agency do a solid accounting and have them report out. Is money being spent the way the legislature deemed it? Instead of, for example, the misappropriation of funds for payments for medically assisted treatment where nobody was checking in the Department of Human Services. CCAP where nobody was checking, Feeding Our Futures where nobody was checking. Let's start there.

Do you think you can make those cuts and still provide the services that people are used to?

We might not be able to provide the services people are used to, but we can provide the services people need. Needs, wants and “nice to haves” need to be part of the state budget discussion. And we've got a lot of “nice to haves.” We've got a bunch of “wants.” But let's get back to what we need.

On voting, you say you want to make it easy to vote but hard to cheat? Is there a lot of cheating going on now?

Well, if we look at what the Secretary of State did, by going around the Legislature and changing voting requirements during the pandemic, the Legislature had already made adjustments for the pandemic May of 2020. The court was absolutely wrong to turn that power over to Steve Simon. So we need to strengthen the laws to make it clear: the Legislature makes those decisions.

When people were not allowed to be on balloting boards because clerks decided they weren't going to have people on balloting boards. That was wrong. Massive mail-in ballots across the country, less secure than an absentee ballot, obviously less secure than voting in person. So there were challenges.

We need elections we can trust. I mean, Hillary Clinton just gave a speech where she talked about 2016, where you can be the best candidate and you still, you know, have the election taken from you, I think were the words that she used. So this is bipartisan. We need elections we can trust. We have a representative republic, we have to trust that our representatives are duly elected. So voter ID, provisional ballots, party balance on balloting boards, these are all common sense things that will help build trust on both sides of the aisle and with the public in general.

Hillary Clinton might be saying that, but former President Trump is out saying the election was stolen from him. Was it?

In Minnesota, I think Joe Biden got more votes than Donald Trump did. And I would look for decisions in a court of law. You have to be able to prove something, instead of just claiming it over and over again. Stacey Abrams did the same thing, she claims that she won. And so this is why transparency and accountability in our elections is important on both sides of the aisle.

People are saying that the best strategy at the convention where there are so many candidates competing is to be everyone's second choice. Do you agree with that? And do you feel like you're in that position?

I feel like I'm gaining more and more traction. As we get closer to the electability conversation. More than 50 percent of the electorate is female. I have had the experience that so many women and families have had when my daughter was sent home from school during the pandemic. I ran the Health and Human Services Committee while she did her work next to me. There are a lot of families that went through it. I had to explain to my daughter why there was plywood on the window of our Aldi during the riots following the murder of George Floyd. Their families have been through a lot. I walked that path with them. And I think it helps me connect with voters in Minnesota in a different way than any other candidate. And so as we move closer to the electability conversation, I'm gaining traction.

Michelle Benson is a Republican candidate for governor and a state senator from Ham Lake. Listen to the full conversation by using the audio player above.

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