Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz and Republican challenger Scott Jensen on Tuesday faced off during a wide-ranging television debate.
It was the second of three debates planned ahead of Election Day and the only one to be televised. TV reporters from Rochester, Duluth, Mankato and Fargo moderated the conversation that aired live on Gray Television stations outside the Twin Cities and was streamed online.
Walz and Jensen traded digs over abortion, education, health care and public safety as they tried to get their campaign platforms through to viewers.
Here are five of the biggest takeaways from Tuesday’s debate.
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1) Walz says state took unprecedented action in 2020 riots
The governor defended the state’s efforts to scale up defenses following the murder of George Floyd and he said that while it wasn’t perfect, Minnesota’s response to civil unrest in the Twin Cities was unprecedented.
“There have been several occasions from Derek Chauvin’s trial to the murder of Daunte Wright, where the potential for this to happen again was there and it did not because of the lessons learned and the ability to mobilize,” Walz said.
The state deployed the National Guard, the State Patrol and local police officers from around the region to restore order in Minneapolis. It was the largest deployment of the Minnesota National Guard since World War II, but it took days to carry out.
Jensen said the governor should’ve done more to expedite the response and to curb damage to public and private property. And he said he would have called on the chain of command to respond sooner and had a more visible role in response.
“Arguably we initiated devastation across the nation like never before and Tim Walz is proud of Minnesota’s response,” Jensen said. “Tim Walz was absent.”
2) Jensen presses for answers on food fraud scandal
Jensen said the governor’s office was “lazy” in addressing $250 million in alleged fraud at the nonprofit Feeding Our Future, a group tasked with providing federally-funded meals to Minnesota kids during the pandemic.
“Gov. Walz and his team could’ve stopped this anywhere along the line,” Jensen said of the fraud. “Two questions are big on all of our minds: what did Gov. Walz know, and when did he know it?”
Federal prosecutors have charged 49 people in connection with the fraud, and state officials have defended their actions in referring their suspicions of wrongdoing to the FBI. Walz said the state could work to make sure it has safeguards to prevent potential fraud in federal programs that the state manages. He said the federal government relaxed those safeguards because of the pandemic.
“No one agrees with the fraud. We will make sure that these people who have already plead guilty are going to jail. They’ll continue to do the investigation. We will continue to put things in place as they’ve already done at the federal level, rolling and putting back in some of those safeguards,” Walz said.
3) Walz questions Jensen’s painkiller prescribing practices
Asked about how the candidates would tackle opioid addiction and the transportation of illegal opioid painkillers into the state, Walz pointed to Jensen’s history of prescribing painkillers at his family medical practice. Walz said Jensen, a physician, was in the top 6 percent of doctors in prescribing opioid painkillers, and he questioned Jensen’s ties to the pharmaceutical companies that manufacture the drugs.
“When Scott was issuing opioid prescriptions, he issued more than 94 percent of his peers. He did that at the same time while accepting meals from the manufacturers and the pharmaceutical companies, wining and dining on expensive meals,” Walz said.
Jensen acknowledged that he’d met with pharmaceutical company representatives and later wrote about his experience prescribing opioids in the Star Tribune.
“I don’t disagree with Tim Walz that physicians and the health care system have contributed to the problem. And in terms of going out to dinner and having an educational event, that could happen as well,” he said. “But I think the important thing going forward is we need to stop the illegal fentanyl coming across the southern border.”
The state sued opioid manufacturers, alleging that they’d downplayed how addictive the drugs were and fueled a wave of opioid addiction in Minnesota and elsewhere. Minnesota communities are set to receive $300 million from a settlement with the companies.
4) Candidates split on solutions for school safety
Both candidates said the state should do more to help ensure that students and teachers are safe in Minnesota schools, but they split on what spurred dangerous shootings and other incidents. And they put forward different solutions to address the issue.
Walz said the state should continue working to prevent guns from getting into the hands of dangerous people by cracking down on straw purchases and support additional funding for law enforcement groups.
He also said Minnesota should put in place new restrictions, such as requiring additional background checks to buy a firearm and allowing a judge to have a person’s firearms removed temporarily if they are believed to pose a risk to themselves or others.
“We have to have a conversation about guns, we have to have a conversation about fully funding our local police. To get there, we need to make sure we’re doing all we can to make sure that if you’re using a gun in a crime that there’s a heavy cost to it,” Walz said. “And we need to move upstream in the prevention of it.”
Jensen, meanwhile, said schools could do more to review school entry points and state government could help bolster police forces around Minnesota. He also said the dangerous situations in schools are part of a larger pattern of violence in the state.
“This is a product of a lawlessness that has swept over our state and it started with Tim Walz delaying in May and June of 2020. He unleashed, if you will, a poisonous spread of lawlessness,” Jensen said. “Arguably, he is the godfather of the crime epidemic that has swept our country.”
5) California Clean Car rule comes into question
Asked about the state’s Clean Car Rule, which requires auto manufacturers to make more hybrid and electric vehicles available in Minnesota starting in 2024, the governor said the transition would give more options to consumers and help the state move toward its goals on lowering carbon emissions.
The rule is modeled on one in California and has sparked widespread debate.
“If you’re going to buy (an electric vehicle) in Minnesota, we have the opportunity to grow our economy, to continue to make that decision, to understand that that is where the market and the climate is going,” Walz said. “This is a win-win-win.”
But Jensen didn’t see it that way.
The Republican said the rule forced changes in the auto market despite low demand for electric and hybrid vehicles.
“He’s forcing the market, he’s forcing inflationary pressures on all Minnesotans. He hasn’t come up with his own plan, he simply copied California over and over and over again,” Jensen said.
MPR News is set to host the final gubernatorial debate at noon on Oct. 28.