By Marie Veillette
Candidates for governor of Minnesota participated in their second debate Oct. 8 in Hansen Theater. All three candidates— incumbent and Democrat Mark Dayton, Republican Jeff Johnson, and Independent Hannah Nicollet were involved.
Questions were taken from the audience, as well as the Twitter feed #mngov. Topics varied, covering issues from education funding to job creation to the new Vikings stadium.
It didn’t take long for the name-calling and finger-pointing to start. Though Nicollet answered each question in opposition to at least one of the other two candidates, she was mostly left out of the battle between Dayton and Johnson.
While both have backgrounds in politics, Nicollet has no prior experience. Johnson served in the Minnesota House of Representatives from 2000–2007 and is currently on the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners. Nicollet has a degree in history and has worked in finance as a software developer.
The debate displayed both Dayton and Johnson’s attitudes toward Nicollet; it seemed neither considered her a serious competitor. They are apparently not alone, as FOX9, the media organization which hosted another debate on Sunday at Hamline University, neglected to invite Nicollet to the event.
The university took criticism for the exclusion, but posted on their website, “The editorial decisions, such as which candidates would appear at this event are entirely those of FOX9.”
According to a 5 Eyewitness News report, Nicollet said she plans to file a lawsuit against the university. Nicollet was also barred from a debate in Duluth last Tuesday.
The first question of MSUM’s debate asked candidates to name some specific proposals. Johnson said he would like to implement a bill, currently enacted in California and New Jersey, known as the “parent trigger.”
Johnson said this bill would target schools that are “chronically failing,” allowing parents to give a “vote of confidence” to determine if the school should continue with no intervention. If the majority feel the school is not serving students as it should, Johnson said, “something statutorily has to change” such as replacing administration or making the school a charter.
Dayton wasted no time in attacking this proposal, reminding Johnson that he had voted for a funding cut to K-12 education in 2005—2006 as a representative.
“Your record doesn’t support your concern for education,” he said. “You go back to the same tired proposals that have been around for the last decade.”
Johnson said he was frustrated with Dayton for this accusation, as the same issue had been discussed at the first debate.
“That’s not true; you know it’s not true,” Johnson said. “The media have told you that it is not true.”
The vote Dayton referred to actually took place in 2003. At that time the state had a deficit of 4.2 billion dollars. Johnson voted for a bill reducing a proposed increase in funding for education, not a reduction of current funding. Education funding still increased that year.
Education was a time consuming topic of the debate. Much of the focus was on the inequality of funding for greater Minnesota schools compared to the metro area.
Nicollet said 43 percent of the total budget is currently spent on education funding.
“It’s a good chunk of the budget, but it could be reallocated,” she said, adding the graduation rates of Minneapolis schools, where a greater amount of money is spent, on average below 50 percent.
Johnson said the problem of unequal funding “goes back to the bigger issue of greater Minnesota largely being an afterthought to this administration.”
While schools outside the metro are afforded an average of $10,700 per pupil, metro area schools get double that; nearly $21,00 per pupil, Johnson said.
Dayton said his administration has increased funding for education by almost $1 billion. He added that this money has brought back all-day kindergarten, “opening doors for 5-year-olds everywhere.”
Dayton again jabbed at Johnson over his supposed vote to reduce the budget for education.
“The funding for education went down during the time commissioner Johnson was voting for funding cuts,” he said.
President Anne Blackhurst was allowed a question. She asked what candidates would do to keep college graduates in Minnesota — a question pertinent to her MSUM students.
Nicollet cited a Bureau of Labor Statistics study that ranked the state 41st in the nation and last in the Midwest in private sector job creation. She also said 49 percent of Minnesotans are underemployed, meaning they are making less money than expected and are overqualified for their jobs. She stressed the state needs “jobs to produce wealth” to entice new graduates to stay.
Dayton called the underemployment statistic “fiction,” adding that Minnesota has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation.
“It’s nonsense. It’s just obvious,” he said. “No one has bothered to verify it with reality.”
Johnson disagreed, and said he thinks the number is correct.
“The number you say is false comes from your administration,” he said. “To say it is no big deal, I think is out of touch. It’s a big deal to all the college graduates living in their parents’ basement because they can’t find a job to pay their loans and rent.”
The approval to build the new Vikings stadium sparked a hot round of debate.
Johnson called the whole situation a “debacle,” largely due to the source of funding for the stadium.
“A promise was made early on that we would not use general fund money for the people’s stadium, and we ended up using general fund money,” he said.
Nicollet was also concerned with the funding source and the amount that was spent.
“We must have all our needs taken care of,” she said.
She pointed out the state has many miles of roads and hundreds of bridges that need to be fixed or replaced.
Dayton defended the agreement, pointing to the 7,500 jobs created through the construction process, as well as the $1 billion in private investment in the area surrounding the new stadium site.
He said the Metrodome would have sat idle with the loss of the Vikings, and the surrounding area would suffer with the loss of the team.
“It’s easy to sit on the sidelines and have nothing to do with it and take hot shots,” Dayton said. “We didn’t dictate this agreement. The Vikings had the upper hand.”
“I have trouble hearing we had no control over this,” Johnson rebutted. “Minnesotans deserve a governor who owns his decisions.”
He also claimed that Dayton was unfamiliar with the bill — specifically, that the Vikings planned to charge seat licenses, an extra fee charged to season ticket holders to help cover the Vikings’ cost of the stadium.
According to an Associated Press article, the Vikings planned to issue a survey regarding the issue before implementing the fee.
Republican state senator Julie Rosen was quoted saying that everyone involved knew the deal included seat licenses and that there had been a testimony about it within the committees.
Nicollet said she would have “called their bluff,” and let the Vikings leave Minnesota if it came to it.
“Maybe someday a team that has more respect for Minnesotans will move back,” she said.
The candidates are set to debate at least two more times in the metro area. It is yet to be announced if Nicollet will be invited to the remaining events.