Video And Transcript -Walz And Johnson Debate

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Bill Sorem

Candidates for Minnesota governor, Tim Walz (DFL) and Jeff Johnson (R), debate workforce issues. The TwinWest chamber of commerce hosted the one hour debate at the Marriott Minneapolis West.


MODERATOR: Thank you Roshini, and thanks everyone for being here this morning. I’m excited to moderate this debate. Let’s, without further ado, let’s bring up the two candidates: Congressman Tim Walz and Jeff Johnson, round of applause.

AUDIENCE: (applause).

MODERATOR: I want to thank both candidates for being here this morning to discuss these important workforce and talent issues. Before we do get started, I just want to go over some ground rules, the Code of Conduct, and format for today’s debate. We do ask that you not hold up any signs or displays while on the premise. All questions have been prepared and vetted by TwinWest and their partners. Questions will be focused on education, talent, and workforce development issues, and we will not be accepting questions from the audience.

Please refrain from applauding, or in other ways, demonstrating support or non-support for a candidate. Please silence your cell phones. But, you can tweet.

AUDIENCE: (laughs).

MODERATOR: The hash tag is MNGov. MNGov is the hash tag. And there is to be no taping of the event by audience members. We are livestreaming the event on UpTake.

Each candidate will be given three minutes for opening statements, and three minutes for a closing statement. We’ll have a round of questions and each candidate will have about two minutes or less to respond to each question. If either candidate wants to respond to something the other one said, they can request a one-minute response.

Everyone understand the rules? We’re good? Great. Let’s get started, why don’t we start with Commissioner Johnson. Your opening statement first.

JEFF JOHNSON: Yeah, well thank you Nick, thank you all for being here. I know you already had a jam-packed morning. But this is a really important issue, and I think I can probably speak for both of us, as we travel around the state, and talk to small-business owners, and big-business owners, this comes up more often than anything else. Even more often than regulation and taxes as a difficult issue for employers. So we know how important it is, and I think we both put some focus into it.

Background on me: I was born and raised in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota. My wife is from Crookston, Minnesota. We went to college in Moorhead. So we are children of northwestern Minnesota, but we’ve, after spending a few years away, have lived in Plymouth now for almost 25 years. We have two teenaged boys. Thor is in college, Rolf is in high school.

I spent most of my adult life in the private sector. I started out as an employment and labor attorney at a firm in Chicago, and then here in the Twin Cities. And then moved in-house to Cargill and did a lot of labor negotiations for them. And then, in, well probably 18 years ago, I went off on my own and I’ve been self employed ever since then. I have my own business where I do workplace investigations, of harassment and discrimination claims, I do some workplace training and an occasional mediation. And during that time, I also served six years in the Minnesota House, way back when, and now I’m in my third and final term on the Hennepin County Board.

And I got into this race over 16 months ago. And we have not stopped moving since Day One. We’ve put probably 100,000 miles now; first on the old Jeep, and now on the big RV. And I can’t tell you how satisfying, how meaningful it is to be able to talk to the tens of thousands of Minnesotans we’ve talked to. And look them in the eye, and tell them how we’re going to change the direction of Minnesota and make their lives better.

How we’re going to allow them to keep more of what they earn to spend on their own family or on their own business. How we’re going to start holding Minnesota government actually accountable to them. And how we’re going to change the attitude, the culture, in our state government. Especially our state agencies. From that of controlling and directing and helping us all make better decisions about our own lives or our own businesses or our own families or our own farms, to actually serving the people who pay their salaries. Actually serving us, because that is why we created government in the first place. To serve us.

And I think we’ve lost that to a certain extent in state government the past decade or so. And that is such a personal message for people. Whether I’m talking to sportsmen or women about the DNR, or to childcare providers about the Department of Human Services, or business owners about the Department of Commerce. It is a very personal message for people. They are looking for a different direction and a different attitude in government, and that’s what I’ll focus on as governor. Thank you again for having us today, and I look forward to answering your questions. Thank you.

MODERATOR: Thank you, Commissioner Johnson. Congressman Walz?

TIM WALZ: Well, thank you, Nick, for doing this. Roshini, thank you. I don’t if you noticed that, it was no cakewalk on our side of the primary aisle, either.

AUDIENCE: (laughs).

TIM WALZ: The herding cats analogy works really well with us. But thank you. To each of you, thank you for what you do. Thank you for creating opportunities, thank you for this room as a testament to that Minnesota collaborative spirit about when challenges present themselves, Minnesotans have always seen that as opportunity. And this issue of a growing economy, the issue of a high standard of living, but an issue of a workforce shortage that is real.

I’m a geographer by training, and demographics are real. They’re coming, they’re happening. Average age of a agricultural producer in the First District of Minnesota is 57 years. That’s why you have deliberate programs like Beginning Farmer and Rancher to address those programs. To our Jewish neighbors who are here, a blessed day as you observe Yom Kippur.

But I can tell you what I have learned traveling the state and looking at it. This sense of what is about Minnesota, and it’s not just a campaign theme, this sense of One Minnesota. Of people who are resilient, of people who carved out a way of life out of what others might have seen as a harsh, cold northern climate. Is one that has a living standard second to none.

It’s a place where we welcome others. It’s a place where we understand that at times, neighbors help neighbors. It’s at other times that we know what innovation has done for this state like no other. For goodness sakes, we are the state that invented Scotch tape, open-heart surgery, and on weekends, invented waterskiing. It’s something else we do on the side.

AUDIENCE: (laughs).

TIM WALZ: We’ve done that by deliberative collaborative efforts. We know the University of Minnesota, the investments we make, that’s where the next Earl Bakken is going to come from. And the opportunity of growth that moves into the private sector, that creates those jobs that allows people to live in our communities.

We know what attracts people to communities. Is when we have good quality schools. When we have the amenities they’re looking for. But they must have the jobs and the career paths that allow them to live that standard of living where, what they’re trying to choose to do. That’s where all of you come in. That’s where the agency, that’s where the cross and the ability to bring people together to solve those problems.

You have seen it nationally. What’s holding us back is a small, petty, divisive politics. What’s holding us together in Minnesota is a sense of One Minnesota that we’re in it together. A diverse economy, ranging from one of the largest agricultural producing states in the nation, to mining and forestry to high tech.

We have the capacity here if we align our resources and bring that workforce, this is Medical Alley. We’re not going to be the state that continues to talk about healthcare insurance. We’re going to be the state that talks about curing cancer. We’re not going to be the state that talks about, “How are we going to get this age down from 57 years?” We are the state that already has, and will continue, to feed, clothe, and fuel the world. That’s the possibility that sets out there.

This issue of workforce development is a challenge. But it is one that is solvable. Minnesotans have done it before. We’ll do it together. And if I get the opportunity and the privilege to be your governor, it’s my role as I have, whether it be in the classroom, in uniform or in Congress, building coalitions to solve problems and ratcheting down the partisan rhetoric. Thank you.,

MODERATOR: Thank you, Congressman Walz. Just a reminder to hold your applause until the end. And also, one more reminder, both of you guys, great job, you stayed under three minutes. And I think you both noticed, but we have a timekeeper down here in case you’re over your skis.

So let’s start. First question. You’re both going to get the same questions, but Congressman Walz, we’ll start with you. As our labor market changes, so too does the demand for certain skills, competencies, and post-secondary credentials. What changes, if any, do you think are needed at University of Minnesota and Minnesota state colleges to better meet employer needs?

TIM WALZ: Yes, and I would go down to our two-year youth colleges and the trades that are working in their apprenticeship programs, of aligning what the needs are. We know, and we’ve seen this, a changing world and changing needs. We also know that we see in our two-year institutions seem to have more flexibility and the nimbleness to be able to change to address to what business needs. We need to continue to make sure, and that starts with the collaboration. I knew this as a classroom teacher for many years. My responsibility was to provide the best opportunity to every single child. My second responsibility was to make sure, if you uphold to what Thomas Jefferson said is, we need a well-educated population so that we can run our democracy.

And the third piece of that was to make sure we were providing the skills to the economy that allowed us to create what we needed to create. The way we do that is make sure we’re listening. In Fairmont, Minnesota, we have a welding academy. We have students, six of them that graduated last year because we built tractors down in southern Minnesota. We built dump trucks in southern Minnesota from the ground up. That takes that skill set, that higher education we need to make sure that we’re doing. Where does that next Earl Bakken come from? Where does that next collaboration come from? Are we aligning those resources to make sure that we have mid-career opportunity trainings that are inside your companies that are there? Making sure that we’re listening to you, what we need to do?

And then making sure that we understand. That there is a responsibility for that higher-end research and that higher-end job training, especially in the tech, especially in the capacity to fill the jobs that have not even been dreamed of yet. Minnesota has that capacity. But here’s what we can’t do. We cannot let a single child fall through the cracks here. Both morally, or economically, we must make sure that workforce is totally trained.

Seventy percent of the workforce in the next 25 years is going to come from communities of color. That achievement gap matters. And we have to continue to make Minnesota a welcoming state. So when you put out whether it’s an H-1B visa, or we attract people here, there’s a reason that more people are fleeing Kansas and Wisconsin to come here. We have better opportunities, higher pay, we have better quality of life. We need to make sure that the University of Minnesota and those are training those skills in a smart way and using taxpayer dollars to focus on what you’re asking for.

MODERATOR: Commissioner Johnson.

JEFF JOHNSON: So I really see two issues when you’re talking about higher education. Whether you’re talking about traditional four-year colleges or two-year degrees. Number one, or one of them, is the fact that it’s just not attainable from a cost standpoint for so many students now. And for those who are able to attain enough loans to go through, some of them are coming out with loans that will last them for many decades. By the way, I can speak from personal experience. I paid off my law school loans just a few years ago. And we got a kid in college now, and one who’s looking at going there. So that’s a pretty personal issue for me.

And then the other issue is to make sure that we are encouraging, or sometimes pushing, higher education, to actually be flexible enough to address the needs of the business community later, once these kids get out, so that they’re actually have the skills they need to be successful. On the cost piece, that’s much longer than a two-minute question by itself, but I can tell you one thing that I think is important.

With respect to student aid, we tend to send at least some, if not a lot, of the student aid to the universities and to the schools to dole out amongst students. I would prefer to move as much of that as possible to actually go to the students then, to use in the marketplace of the schools, to create some competition and create some more flexibility for those kids, or in some cases, for those adults.

With respects to the flexibility, we have to start looking at the fact that there are going to be more and more nontraditional students going to college, and going to tech school. And we have to make sure our schools are catering to them. They might be students that just go in the evenings. They might be students that just go in spurts of time. They might be students that do it online, or maybe it’s on-the-job learning. And we need to really encourage our higher education institutions to be catering to that, because that is the future of the state.

MODERATOR: Commissioner Johnson, we’ll stick with you for this question. Currently, the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development distributes approximately $116 million from the Workforce Development Fund to support job training programs. How do you think we could better maximize this investment?

JEFF JOHNSON: Well, I think it’s about modernization and it’s about flexibility, and it’s about accountability. We need to modernize this system because it seems to be stuck in the same place that it was 10 or 20 years ago, and Minnesota has changed dramatically. And we also have to be more flexible. I actually believe that we should let businesses tap into those funds to train workers., for example. That might be one example. Let’s make it more flexible so employers can use it in more ways than we are right now.

But also there’s an accountability piece here. And that is a theme that I just have across state government. We have lost the level of accountability that we used to have in this state. When you look at MNLARS, when you look at MNsure, when you look at child care fraud, when you look at elder abuse. When you look at the Met system, which is a county program and it’s just not working. And there doesn’t seem to be any accountability. And I know, I know this firsthand as a county commissioner, we have layer after layer of these programs. It’s not just the one that you’re talking about. And we don’t measure very well which ones work, and which ones don’t.

I actually believe that we should put a permanent process in place, at the state level, that is constantly auditing our state programs. That it’s just a rolling audit of state program after state program. And yes, we will have to invest some money in that audit. And that is not to find fraud or waste or abuse. We have a legislative auditor that can do that, and is actually doing that and showing us some of the problems. This is to determine whether the programs are actually working or not.

If we say, for example, that we want to help people find jobs, let’s not just measure whether they found a job. Let’s measure whether they were able to stay in the workforce or not, or whether they’re back on a program again in three months. Because if we have a program where most of the graduates of that program are back in again in a few months, that one’s not working. And so we shouldn’t be funding it anymore, and probably moving that money into programs that work. So it’s an accountability issue as well.

MODERATOR: Congressman Walz.

TIM WALZ: I agree with Jeff mostly on this. I think this issue of measuring what we’re looking for, setting those outcomes, and then back-planning from that to find that. I’m a big supporter, too, of audits. I carried legislation in Congress to audit the Pentagon. I think that might be a good idea. And it has not happened. And I was also the co-author with then-Congressman Ron Paul to audit the Federal Reserve to give trust. Because when you audit programs, you not only find out what’s working and what’s not, you supply trust to the people who are there, the taxpayers, to understand. Because I know there’s good work going on. I know these programs are out there, the Pathways and other things that are working. But I do think it matters so it does have a snapshot of where we’re at, to plan where we’re trying to go.

We know what demographics say. I’m a geographer by training, and the demographics are coming at us. We know what they say, and let’s be deliberate about it. That’s where the role of government comes in. That’s where the idea of not just asking about it, it’s having a background and having effectiveness and having done this, where you bring people together to form around the idea that this is going to take a collaborative, concerted, deliberate effort on how to get there.

And that is where we have folks in this room from the business community, we have folks in the room from the nonprofits, we have folks in government at all levels,. It’s about the alignment in that, and having the accountability and putting things in place. And Jeff is exactly right. It is unacceptable to allow any taxpayer dollars focused on something to fall through or to be misused.

It’s why we did something that was basically unprecedented in Congress. We’re tackling something that I fought for since the day I got there. That why did the DoD, the Department of Defense and all the services, have a different medical record than the VA? Why would they not be aligned under the same system, so that when you got in, you went there and the care would be better?

It makes sense because that’s how you deliver care. That is going to be a $20 billion, 10-year operation. And I said, “Oh no, I’m not going through this. Cost overruns, shutdowns, all of this.” We instituted something that hadn’t been done: a new subcommittee that will have that responsibility, take the responsibility as I will as governor, to make sure that we don’t have, when we transfer from legacy systems like MNLARS, the next one is going to happen. Because if we do not change this, Jeff is right on this, there will be another one. And as governor, we need to ensure it doesn’t happen, to align resources smartly to provide the workforce.

MODERATOR: Congressman Walz, what would be the top two things you, as governor, would do to close the education achievement gaps? What would you do to close the talent gap?

TIM WALZ: Yes. And here in Minnesota, we must be very clear. We have one of the highest states with graduation rates of 93%. We also are failing when it comes to our communities of color. It’s because we have to approach this, and again, children don’t come to school in pieces. If a child comes to school, to my geography class after they slept in a car the night before, or they’re hungry, or they have a toothache that can’t be addressed because they have no insurance, that child will not learn. So we’re seeing great opportunities. We’re seeing it across from Mankato to Duluth to here in Minneapolis, where we have full-service community schools that address the issues on the front end, understanding that investments save money in the long run.

It is a shame we know by kindergarten vocabulary, with pretty good certainty, incarceration rates. We cannot keep up. We cannot end up like Pennsylvania, where we spend more on incarceration and prison systems than we do on higher education. So the things that I would do is address this holistically, making sure a child gets to school that way. We have Washington Magnet School in St. Paul; 90% free and reduced lunch, 90% children of color, and 90% graduation rates. They do it by several things. They have mentors. We have equity mentors to make sure it’s in there. It’s critically important in the achievement gap, that children have people who are culturally competent in how to teach them. It’s also important that they have people standing in front of them, teaching, that look like them to encourage that.

So the things that we would do is make sure we would have the quality teachers in the classroom; we have the resources necessary to get there; and that we are aligning services in a smart way to get the outcomes we want to see. Because in the long run, not only does that provide you with that workforce I talked about, 70% are going to come from that community coming up. And along with immigration, but it also makes sure is that we save resources on the back end by addressing the problems that end up becoming systemic. So I think those are the first two starts to start closing that gap.

MODERATOR: And Commissioner Johnson.

JEFF JOHNSON: So I think this is the most significant moral issue we have in Minnesota today. We have had either the worst, or one of the worst achievement gaps in our education system for 40 years in Minnesota. And nothing has gotten better. We’ve spent a lot of money on it, but nothing has gotten better. We wring our hands about it, and we say it’s terrible, but nobody changes anything. And that has to stop, because we are failing thousands of kids every single year.

And Tim is right. If you don’t graduate from high school, you don’t generally end up in a very good place. So when I look at this, every study you see says that there are two factors that will help determine whether a kid is successful in school: parents and teachers. There’s not a lot we can do as government about parents, about whether you’re a good parent or not. But what we can do, for those parents that want their kids to have a great education, we can empower them. We can give them more control over their own kids’ education. And if their kid is in a school that they feel is failing them, we can give them some power to do something else.

I cannot tell you, over the last 16 months, how many parents I’ve talked to; frankly, a lot of single moms from north Minneapolis, because we spent a lot of time there; who have said to me, “I just want to send my son or my daughter to a school that I think is safe, and gives them a decent education. But I can’t afford to do that. I don’t have the means to do that.” And government doesn’t let them.

We can help them with that. I also happen to believe there’s something called a parent trigger that some states have done, mostly blue states have done, that says, if you don’t want to send your kid across town, to a different school, which most parents would prefer not to, we’re going to give you power to actually change the school that your kid is already in.

The other is teachers. Teachers are absolutely crucial. And I would argue that most teachers in this state are amazing. But there are some that aren’t as good. Just like any other profession. And we completely tie the hands of schools to move those teachers on and replace them with better ones. That’s the union. We have to stop doing that.

MODERATOR: Congressman Walz, would you want to respond to that?

TIM WALZ: Well, I would respond as a 20-year high school teacher, that is absolutely false. The administration has the capacity, if they do their job. And I can guarantee you the person who is very frustrated with a bad teacher is a good teacher next door. But I want to come back to this issue that we’re going to allow these people. Keep in mind, you’ve got children, 15% who are homeless. Many are living in cars or on the streets or in tent cities. And you’re going to give them a scholarship or a voucher, where they don’t have transportation, they don’t have housing, they don’t have anything to be able to do that. By taking that money out of that school and spiraling down, what we do know, because there’s no data to support that.

What we do know data supports is, when we put the money into full-service community schools, we see those graduation rates go up. We see the equity gap close. We see the teacher retainment and retention shoot up, and we start to see the things that we want to do. So I understand philosophically, we’re going to say, “I don’t want them doing that.” The fact of the matter is, the basic data supports the fact. That workforce is going to come from those public schools. There are things that we can do to recruit and retain. And the idea that we can’t get rid of bad teachers: we certainly can. But here’s what I’m here to tell you. You’re not going to fire your way to good schools, you’re going to hire your way to good schools with the best teachers.

MODERATOR: Congressman, ah, Commissioner Johnson.

JEFF JOHNSON: Yeah, empowering parents is not going to solve the problem alone. But it will help for those parents who want something different. And you know, the answer always is, “Well, we just have to spend a little more money.” Or maybe a lot more money. That hasn’t worked. All by itself, that is not going to solve the problem. If we don’t change some things in a significant way, we’ll have yet another decade of having one of the largest achievement gaps in the country. And I just don’t think that’s acceptable.

We have to try different things. And you know what, if we try different things and they don’t work, then so be it. Let’s try something else. But just continuing to say, “Well, let’s just send more money and see after 40 years, it all of a sudden magically works.” It’s not going to. So money is a piece. But if we’re not doing other things, we’re just going to continue to do the same thing, which is a really bad thing for our kids.

MODERATOR: Commissioner Johnson, how might you facilitate the use of data within and across state government to advance inclusive growth and prosperity for Minnesota, its businesses and its citizens? And this is a question somewhat regarding the data that DEED collects when it makes investments across the state.

JEFF JOHNSON: Well, this goes back to something that I’ve already talked about, which is somewhat what I’ve already talked about. We just don’t do a good job of measuring things. And I know it’s not very sexy in politics, and you know, I kind of harp on this a lot in government. But we collect all this data in so many areas, and we don’t do a particularly good job of using it, to make sure that the programs that we are funding, the programs that our constituents are funding, as politicians, are actually working.

And so I will go back to this same idea, whether it’s DEED or anywhere else. Let’s start measuring in a very significant way the programs we fund. Because I can tell you, firsthand, as a Hennepin County commissioner, there are a lot of programs out there that are doing a lot of good. Whether they’re internal programs or whether a nonprofit is running them, there are programs out there that are changing people’s lives in a really positive way. That are helping people become self-sufficient. Or, that are taking care of people who can’t become self-sufficient.

I happen to believe there are also programs out there that are not doing that. And we don’t do a very good job of measuring that. And it means, frankly, more data than what we already have, and doing longitudinal studies, and seeing what happens to the people who are receiving these benefits. Are we changing their lives for the better? Or are we just funding programs to make ourselves feel good as politicians? I want to get rid of the programs that just make us feel good, and move that money into the programs that are actually working. So, more data, and let’s use it wisely by auditing programs.

MODERATOR: And Congressman Walz.

TIM WALZ: Once again, I’m in pretty much agreement with Jeff on this. I think the ability to be able to use that, especially now. We know this is a challenge. You know it in your businesses. That data is both the curse and the blessing, and it doesn’t do you any good if you don’t figure out how to put it to use.

What I would say is that just having that idea, it has to be put into practice. It has to be this idea of how can we build these, in some cases, counterintuitive coalitions, to solve the problems we’re going to have. The DEED data is one thing. But I’m telling you, this issue of, is so complex about the workforce development. It includes housing, and the issue of housing.

And that issue of housing is so complex. From Rochester, where it’s difficult now because of the growth and the things that are happening, for teachers to afford housing. To Worthington, where we send a lot people in from Sioux Falls, because it’s a problem that sounds like it would be okay. The rent is too low. Well, if the rent is too low, developers, as you know, there’s nothing to build on that.

So what it takes is a concerted effort to decide where our strengths are, what that workforce is going to look like, and how do we bring to bear the data that’s pointing to that in a way that gets there? I’m going to use Greater Mankato Growth, the Chamber in Mankato, and their initiative on Green Scene. We understood that the strength of Mankato was around an agricultural economy second to none in the world. But how do we get that value added, and how did we align that to make sure that we were bringing people in, and bringing business and startup opportunities that would benefit from the incubator that was at MSU Mankato, working with the private sector?

For those of you in the room not familiar with MSU Mankato, that is the Harvard of the Midwest, for us alumni, just so you know.

AUDIENCE: (laughs).

TIM WALZ: And that institution aligned with Cargill, aligned with CHS, aligned with the Chamber and the businesses, but aligning with the school district, and aligning with the data that we’re getting out of the housing and the realtors. Those are the things that make us have smart growth.

And Jeff is exactly right. We should not be talking about freezes when we should be evaluating programs based on their merit. And if they work, we should have the courage to plus them up and ask taxpayers why we’re doing that, if can see an ROI on them. If they’re not, bring them down. And this data is there, it’s working. Mankato is an example of where they’re using it smartly.

MODERATOR: Congressman Walz, we heard earlier today about the need for career-connected experiences in K-16 education that foster early career exploration, and development of soft or employability skills and social capital. How might you and your administration support these efforts?

TIM WALZ: Yeah. I couldn’t agree more. And we’ll be rolling out a more concerted plan working with you. We do these after we set and talk; we spend all this time with you. Because the plans, you’re not – you shouldn’t be looking for a governor to stand in front of you and say they’ve got the best 10-point plans, because the experience sets in this room, the experience out there, the governor’s job is an alignment of these issues to bring them together.

And what I’ve seen is some of the best proposals that are already happening on career alignment, and this is a cultural thing. Jeff and I talked about this. We have children about the same age. My daughter’s 17. My son, Gus, is 11. Talking about where their future lies, the idea of Gus comes home and tells me he wants to be an electrician, it’ll be the happiest day of my life. Because I know there’s employability, I know there’s a skill set, I know it’s where his intelligence lies, and the genius and the nobleness of trade.

But we have to be able to do is, we have to have the flexibility in our schools, not just to seek tech ed programs, these are high tech. These are 3D printing, this is megatronics. This is all the things that are there. But the exploration of showing them what the potential is. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel here. Whether it’s our two-year colleges, or whether it’s our building trade partners, they’re out there to have those skill sets. Expose them to them and let them know.

When I’m traveling in this, I’ll take my young staff down, and we were looking at a training facility for example for sheet metal workers, which is architectural sheet metal. It’s art, it’s science, it’s important, it’s roofing, it’s flashing, it’s all that. After a four-year apprentice program, you become a journeyman in Minneapolis. They’re making close to $90,000 a year with benefits. That is a career that is the path to the middle class, with no student loan debt with the opportunity.

And for all of you out there, you should want to get rid of student loan debt, especially if you own a car dealership. Especially if you’re a realtor. Especially if you’re a clothing retailer. Those are the ways that we make the economy smart, so that we’re starting to adapt with what the free market is creating, what those needs there.

And I think that’s working with schools, we saw it in Fairmont, we see it all across this state, in Alexandria, where we have smart people working together. It facilitates by talking to parents, showing where those opportunities are there, understanding the nobleness, and as a teacher, I understand this multiple intelligences where kids lie, and foster that as an early age and make that connection. That is a much better pipeline. It is a much better way to make sure you have that workforce.

MODERATOR: Jeff Johnson.

JEFF JOHNSON: So there are, as we’re traveling the state, we’re seeing this in action. Actual, practical education in the schools that business is bringing in. We were just in Hutchinson, I think it was. They have the TigerPath Academy or TigerPath Program, something like that. Where business is actually coming into the schools, for students who want that, and helping teach them the skills that might actually work for them.

I think that’s wonderful, and as a governor, you could celebrate those things. We also have other programs at the state level that are helping connect businesses with schools, whether they’re high schools or tech schools or colleges, to make sure our kids are learning the skills that will make them successful in five or 10 years. Let’s continue to promote those.

But I go back to what Tim mentioned, which is that there is still this culture. And it’s more prevalent in the Twin Cities than it is in Greater Minnesota. But I think it’s still there everywhere. Where there’s a belief that if a kid doesn’t get a four-year degree, he or she is just not that successful. And that is really sad. You know, we’ve got a senior in high school. And he’s actually looking at the Harvard of the Midwest as one option for him-

AUDIENCE: (laughs).

JEFF JOHNSON: … as well as a bunch of other options. And I know, if he chooses something other than a four-year college, which is a possibility for him, we’re going to have a bunch of people in my community who will feel sorry for me as a parent. Which just makes my heart sink, because we should be so proud of these kids who make the right choice for them, and frankly, help serve a great need in society by learning a skill that we all want, rather than one that maybe isn’t as marketable.

So I think, as governor, you can use the bully pulpit to just constantly push that, try to change that culture. Celebrate these decisions. Spend time at our two-year tech schools and the other alternatives that are out there, and make sure Minnesotans, especially Minnesota parents, understand that this is an awesome option for your kid, and it might be a better fit, than what you’ve always assumed he or she should do.

MODERATOR: Commissioner Johnson, limited access to affordable quality childcare, especially in Greater Minnesota, can for many be a barrier to participating fully in the workforce. What solutions do you think are needed?

JEFF JOHNSON: It’s a huge problem, particularly in Greater Minnesota. We hear this a lot. And I’ve actually spent a lot of time with both childcare providers in Greater Minnesota, and former childcare providers in Greater Minnesota. I think the last stat I saw said we lost something like 16,000 childcare providers in Greater Minnesota in the last decade. And I think we’ve lost 25 or 30% of them just in the last few years, statewide.

And you know, part of that is the market. But I would argue that a larger part of that is government. We’ve actually helped cause this problem. And this one’s personal for me as well, because my sister has had an in-home daycare for 25 years in Detroit Lakes. And I get an earful every time I go home about how hard it is to make that work in DL. She keeps doing it on a very small margin because she loves it, and she just wouldn’t be able to say “no” to the families who need her so badly.

But we have areas of the state where … We were down in … Honestly, I can’t remember what city we were in, but we met with about 10 childcare providers. And they were either small centers or in home. All of them had a waiting list that was longer than a year long. And a lot of them had the same people on their waiting lists. And the problem that government has caused, one of it is the unionization games that this administration has played. That drove some of them right out of business. I’ve talked to them. They said, “I just gave up. We’re not dealing with that silliness anymore.”

But a bigger problem is how they’re being treated by regulators. Particularly the Department of Human Services. DHS is regulating some of our childcare providers right out of business. I’ve heard it from them firsthand. And you know, this is the same agency that claims they didn’t know that there was $100 million in childcare fraud. Well, they’re paying attention to something because they’re fining childcare providers because there was a plunger out in the bathroom, or a bobby pin on the counter. So maybe they should be focusing as heavily on something else.

We need to step back as government and actually regulate, but help our small businesses succeed. And that will help solve this problem.

MODERATOR: And Congressman Walz.

TIM WALZ: This issue is dominant. And there’s a lot of people making career choices based on childcare availability or at least quality of life issues. There’s few issues than all of us in the room. I know my running mate, Peggy Flanagan, is here today, and her daughter Siobhan started school here a week or so ago, and Peggy talked about, “Oh, she got a raise, because you’re paying the childcare costs,” or whatever.

We all know it’s the most important decision we make. It’s heart-wrenching, when you’re going and that little one and you’re handing them over. And wanting to see the quality that’s there, and wanting to make sure they have the best quality care. But I think it’s important for all of us to understand, and this is folks that understand markets in here. It’s pretty hard to make a living in two areas in Minnesota. One is caring for our most vulnerable children. On that end. And it’s for caring for the seniors on the other end. Those have high turnover rates, it’s very difficult, it’s hard to make a living.

And let’s be clear. We should always strike for the proper balance in regulation, but let’s also be very clear. An incident when we read in the paper of a child being, something happening in a daycare facility. That’s unacceptable. But it’s not a reason, then, to overstep those boundaries on people who are doing it correctly, and trying to find that middle ground. This is a case, again, of working together. I think there are other things that we can do. We certainly have to make sure we’re forecasting that childcare assistance program, and guarding every single dollar to go where it’s supposed to go.

But I think there’s things that we do, and research knows this, and some of you may actually be doing this. I have never had the pleasure, when I had small children to have this, where you have daycare inside the facilities where you work. Because we’re giving tax credits to incentivize that, and you can actually have lunch with your children. There’s a lot of research showing what we get out of that.

So this piece of high-quality childcare, as it moves into pre-K and education, is all a piece of closing that achievement gap. That achievement gap is basically baked in by about age three to five. So it’s critically important we’re getting the right people, it’s critically important that we’re doing what government needs to do. Protect them and do the regulation. But get it correctly. But I think it’s also important for us, as a state, to have a conversation: Do we really want the lowest-paid workers to be the ones who are caring for our children, or for our seniors, and what is it in the model of what can we do to incentivize, to get folks into that to show that outcomes at the end? And I think as governor, it has to be addressed, because this is adding to your workforce shortage.

JEFF JOHNSON: Can I add something?


JEFF JOHNSON: Part of this issue, and this is a little bit broader because it becomes not just about childcare, but about pre-K. But you’ve all seen that there’s been a big debate over the last few years at the legislature, about if we’re going to fund, if we’re going to help parents who want to send their children to a pre-K program, which is in lieu of just childcare, how do we do that? Do we give scholarships to parents who are in need to use out in the market? Or, do we say every school is now going to start having kids starting at age two? Universal pre-K?

I feel very strongly, very strongly, that the answer to that is giving parents choice, rather than frankly, forcing another unfunded mandate on our schools, and saying, “If you are looking for a way to give your child pre-K education, you have to send them to the public school. And we’ll pay for it, no matter how much money you have.” That’s become a problem in government. We tend to throw money around, and then we end up not taking care of the most vulnerable people in our society as well as we should.

MODERATOR: Okay. Next question, we’ll start with Jeff Johnson. How will you ensure an adequate transportation infrastructure that enables businesses to attract and retain talent from across the region?

JEFF JOHNSON: Focus, first and foremost. That is, we have a little trouble with that in government. I have, well, one of my sons is now 20, which makes me feel old. But I still have one teenage boy, and I can remember well, when they were both in middle school, they would come home every day from school, and if I was home, part of my job was to make them do their homework. Rather than at nine o’clock at night, they’d do it at 4:30 in the afternoon. And they’d say, “Well, can I have the TV on?”

And I’d say, “No, you need to focus.”

“Well, can I put my earphones in and listen to music, ‘cause that’ll help.”

“No, you need to focus.”

“Well, can I have a snack for a little bit?”

“No, you need to focus.”

We have the same problem in government. We can’t focus on what is most important. And when it comes to transportation, I’m a return on investment guy. So let’s look at what we need in every area of the state, and let’s look at what gives us the best return. We have to start with our roads and bridges. I don’t think anybody disagrees with that. That is the network across this state, because even if you don’t drive, you need good roads and bridges to get groceries to the store and to get the ambulance to your house.

And then, with respect to transit, which is absolutely needed, and I have always been supportive of funding transit. Particularly on the County Board, as long as we’re doing it in a way that has a decent return on investment. And when I look at the plans currently for light rail, and now spending hundreds of millions of dollars on a trolley, or streetcar system, I don’t think that gives us a very good return on investment. Because the cost is tremendous, the subsidy is tremendous, and it doesn’t do much to relieve congestion.

So let’s focus on a world-class, best-in-the-world, bus system in this state, which is flexible because you can move the path from one spot to another, depending upon where people build business, rather than trying to force them into trains that don’t give us a good return on investment. So, the answer here is to focus on what is important, and what we all need, rather than trying to change people’s behavior and putting the money elsewhere.

MODERATOR: Congressman Walz.

TIM WALZ: Here’s a quote from the Humphrey School, at least for the Green Line. “From an economic development standpoint, the Green Line was well worth the investment.” It’s seeing the holistic approach to the state, it’s understanding that transportation is multimodal. That it connects us together both from a business standpoint in moving goods, moving people, but moving ideas. We have to embrace this idea that the strength of Minnesota was a One Minnesota, an economy that was diverse that could weather the storm of the recession.

Here’s an example for you, that as a member of the Transportation Committee in the United States Congress, I secured funding or County Road 12 on the east side of Mankato. It was a place, at that point, that was cornfields and everything else. The city understood, the elected leaders, the mayor, the county commissioners understood that the growth potential was there, but we needed that transportation investment to attract the private sector there.

So we did it in 2007, 2008. We built that interchange out there, and the recession came. So the businesses went on hold. So the letters were flooded. “Oh, Walz’s bridge to nowhere, it’s all this or whatever. You know, you should name that Walz Bridge, whatever.” Fast forward to today, Walmart Distribution, Fenner, FedEx, 17,000 jobs and housing developments spreading across that part of that.

I’m not going to take credit and pat myself on the back. But that’s how you align resources of people who know, making investments that appeared at the front end as spending, but came to that. And guess what? It takes a concerted effort to have the budget in there. At the federal level, you can give tax breaks and continue spending and drive up deficits and debts, because there’s nothing that stops them from doing that. You can’t in the state of Minnesota. So if you’re going to build a robust system, you have to have an honest conversation with people about how you’re going to do that.

I will work with the legislature, whatever they come up with, to do that. But I think it is not in our best interest to take that money from the general fund. That will underfund housing, underfund daycare, underfund the services that get those workforce to you. At the same time, not providing that steady stream of resources that’s there.

So yes, I have suggested we have the conversation about the gas tax. We talk about an infrastructure bank and bonding to allow people to invest in that, to have an honest conversation about the return on the dollars. That’s how I think you go about it.

JEFF JOHNSON: Can I respond to that? Tim, you haven’t said we should have a conversation about the gas tax. You said you’d raise the gas tax. And the starting point-

TIM WALZ: Governors don’t raise the gas tax.


TIM WALZ: (inaudible).

… you absolutely said that. The governor and the legislature does. And so you would push that. As a starting point, a 35% increase. But the problem is, which I don’t think is a good answer for Minnesota, because we are one of the most overtaxed states in the country. But you also made more promises than we can keep track of, of spending. Absolutely every interest group that has come to you, you’ve promised everything under the sun.

We’re actually putting together the list. We’re in the tens of billions of dollars at this point. So it’s not just going to be the gas tax, folks. And you said you’re open to lots of other gas tax, tax increases. I think we know what that means. That is a very different direction than where I believe we need to go. We are in the top five or six in most major tax categories; we’re in the top 10 in almost every major tax category. I don’t want to be number one in this area. We can be number one in a lot of areas, but we do not need to be the highest-taxed state in the country. And I think that’s where we’ll go.

TIM WALZ: This is-

MODERATOR: I’ll give Congressman Walz a chance to respond, because I want to get to one more question.

TIM WALZ: This is what happens when you think you know the price of something and not the value of something. Of making the investments that make a difference in people’s lives. And you heard, and I think it’s fair, this is a critique to see what you’re going to get: two very different visions. of Minnesota. About honest budgeting, about how you talk and do this.
I ‘ve not said we ‘d raise those taxes; I said we would take a look at them and see. But I’m also not going to shy away to say, if investments make a difference.

I have not heard the transportation plan, but I think I saw the commercial on the transportation plan. Jeff’s plan appears to me, when I was watching the Vikings the other day, Domino’s: Runs into the pothole, they come out and fill the damn thing, and shifts the burden to businesses. Because they’re gonna be fixed or not. The tax is already there on a wheelage tax breakdowns idling tax, because it’s added to your packages.

So to have an honest conversation, it’s about the targeted use of it, and it’s having honest budgeting that makes a difference. I would rather not use the Domino’s ruined pizza and put it onto you, I would rather have the conversation that would make sense to do that, that we invest by having a plan of what a modern, multimodal transportation system looks like.

MODERATOR: All right, I want to get to this last question here before closing statements. The relative affordability of housing in this state has been a competitive advantage. But in communities across Minnesota, this advantage is at risk. What would your administration do to retain this competitive advantage, and use it to attract and retain talent? Congressman Walz.

TIM WALZ: Yes. This issue comes up, and as I said, from Worthington to Fergus Falls to Minneapolis. It’s one of the reasons why I’ve put together our Community Prosperity Act. It’s one of the reasons that I’ve advocated for Local Government Aid to be able to be used by the people closest to the decision making, to make the investments in their communities. It may be housing, it may be water treatment (inaudible). It may be bike trails that add to the community’s life, that attracts businesses when those folks want to see that there.

But it is about making sure those local officials have that capacity to be able to do that. To be able to return their service. By bringing the mayors in, by bringing those decision-making, it makes the best sense of how to get there.

JEFF JOHNSON: So, I don’t believe that government should be owning more housing. But we do have some, I think we have some pretty effective programs to help incent the private sector to meet the demand in certain areas where the demand is greater. And we have actually been doing something in Hennepin County. It started a couple of years ago. It’s called Naturally Occurring Affordable Housing. It kind of uses a little bit of a social impact bond theory to it that says, if you invest, whether as a nonprofit or as a private business or as a government, it’s not a sunk cost. You’ll actually get your money back, and in some cases, you might even make a small profit on it.

And what it does, is it says, we’re going to buy property that is kind of B-level property, and not turn it into A-level property. We’re not going to put in granite countertops and stainless steel appliances, but we’re going to make it nice and clean and affordable, and keep it that way. And we have figured out a way to do that that doesn’t cost the taxpayers tens of millions of dollars. It’s actually very effective; I think we should start looking at these innovative approaches at the state level as well.

MODERATOR: Quick question for both of you. Would you increase the amount of money the state provides in tax credits for developers to add affordable housing to their complexes?

TIM WALZ: I think so. There’s a great program over in North Dakota that does 25 million for this, because, and not just the company town type of thing, but to be honest with you, JBS in Worthington, or Hormel in Austin, there’s a real need to make sure that housing is there. And I think if you can tax credit incentivize that, yes, I think that makes sense.

JEFF JOHNSON: I like a concept; I am not promising to raise spending or tax credits in every area under the sun. So I won’t make a promise, but know that that would be the approach that I would take. I can tell you, though, that we don’t always do this very well. Because we have afforded federal tax credit, which had to go through our board, to a couple of building projects for affordable housing, where the units were somewhere between 500 and $750,000 apiece. That, to me, is insane. So let’s be smarter as government, about how we do this.

TIM WALZ: Could I make just one note? It’s not a rebuttal, it’s an add-on to this.


TIM WALZ: I think all of us need to be aware of this housing issue runs through all brackets. It’s not just low-income housing, workforce housing, all the way through. So it’s a complex problem, and bringing in the locals, because it’s going to be unique in each individual area, but something did happen in the last tax bill that exacerbated this problem dramatically. And those of you in housing understand this. The low-income housing tax credit that was the backstop to much of the financing for many of that, was tied to the corporate tax. And when that bill was pushed through, that’s going to drop down.

So experts in housing, and some of you are out here, know, the numbers in Minnesota is it makes it about 25 to 30% of what we were able to do, is going to disappear. So this issue of affordable and workforce housing is going to be exacerbated by that, and it’s going to once again force the states to come up with creative solutions. Because it is a financing piece. And I think it is a piece about how we view housing in general, how we view it in our communities, and what does that look like long-term for the people you’re looking for, the folks who are going to live there and work for you.

MODERATOR: All right, let’s get rolling with closing statements. Jeff Johnson, why don’t you go first.

JEFF JOHNSON: All right. Well, thank you again, thank you, Tim, and thank you all for being here. And for the work that you’re doing. It’s tough work. This is not an easy issue. And the fact that you are working on it, it’s one of the most difficult ones we have in the state. And we know that as we travel around the state.

I want to ask for your support going forward. I think, Tim and I get along great, if you can’t tell that. But we do have very, very divergent views about the future of Minnesota, and the future of Minnesotans. I believe that Minnesotans and Minnesota businesses are overtaxed. And Tim Walz believes we are undertaxed. I believe that you should have more control over your healthcare, and more choices and more options in your health insurance. And Tim has said that we need to move to a single-payer system, where everyone loses their insurance, and we are all forced onto one government plan.

I believe that we should actually cooperate with the federal government when it comes to immigration, illegal immigration enforcement. And Tim believes we should become a sanctuary state, which is on the far fringe even of his own party. I believe we should have a work requirement for those who are able to work, so they’re at least, if they’re on welfare, so they’re at least able to work part time, or looking for work, or getting training, or even volunteering. Tim disagrees with that.

And I believe that we as government need to be much more careful with other people’s money than how we have been, and Tim has made so many spending promises, no one’s going to be able to afford to live here anymore, if he actually keeps them. That is not the right direction for Minnesota. I will empower people. I will empower entrepreneurs. I will empower parents. Because I think that’s what I think government should be doing. We should be moving in there to empower people, rather than try to control or direct them as we have.

We live in a great state. We live in the greatest state in the United States of America. If I didn’t believe that, I would’ve moved somewhere else. But we can be even better, and I do fear the road we’re on, because we are losing people based upon the unaccountability of government, and the fact that we are so highly taxed in this state.

So I ask for you to take a look at us, kind of watch the race, and I would love your support. Thank you all so much.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Congressman Walz.

TIM WALZ: Well, thank you, thanks to the organizers, thank you Jeff for the work, you failed to tell them I’m gonna take their puppies, too., from them, so.

AUDIENCE: (laughs).

TIM WALZ: You know me! But I do appreciate this. And Jeff and I have been at this a long time. And I think this is what the country should expect with the poison politics, and what we’ve seen is there, and regardless of where your politics are at, name calling, divisiveness, anger, all of that, is not going to solve problems. I understand. Fear, too. Fear. I taught fourth grade. Fear is a wonderful short-term motivator.

AUDIENCE: (laughs).

TIM WALZ: It does not change behaviors. We are not fearful people. We look to the future. We don’t fear the future, we create the future. This is a state that, again, ranks at the top of so many measures. This is a state that the quality of life, and yes, you get what you pay for. I’m not interested in being Mississippi, I’m interested in being Minnesota. And it talks about conversations with people.

I am a schoolteacher. I came from a family where my father died of cancer, and those bills piled up on my mom. I joined the Army to use the GI Bill, because I do believe in hard work. And I do believe that you should earn things. But I also realize, where I saw in my family, sometimes you need a hand up, and that was Social Security survivor benefits. And what I did know was, I wasn’t ever going to get into the Harvard. But I sure could get into a great state school. And get me the skill set to live the life and achieve the dream I wanted to dream.

That’s what Minnesota’s been about. This is a place, no matter who you are, black, white, brown, indigenous, you’ve got an opportunity to succeed. This is a place that we believe that it is a fundamental need to get healthcare, and I simply reject the notion that the wonderful market is working so great that we spend twice as much as anybody else, and get half for it.

I don’t care what you call it. If it works better, more efficiently, keeps people healthy, and keeps them moving forward, that’s what we should be striving for. But none of those things will happen unless we figure out our common vision. A One Minnesota, with the wonderful diversity of ideas, but with the capacity of a governor who has proven to bring people together. To tackle the hardest problems in a divided Congress, because it was the right thing to do for veterans. It was the right thing to do for agriculture. It’s the right thing to do for the country.

That’s the choice that we get right now. A hopeful politics of the future that recognizes the differences, that lets people come to the table who are impacted by those decisions, to help make those decisions so you’re not surprised. And then do it in a way that looks to the future.

So I thank you all for what you do. I thank you for creating those opportunities, for looking out for our communities, for creating a place for when my kids drive through Mankato, they say, “I love this town.” That’s what they want to see. We are blessed people that we can self govern. We are blessed people that in 48 days, not that anyone is counting, we get to make some decisions, that we will cast a vote. Let’s not diminish the sense of government. We’re the government. We can choose to have it look any way it can. I choose for Minnesota to look like home. So thank you.

MODERATOR: All right. Now let’s give a round of applause for our candidates.

AUDIENCE: (applause).

MODERATOR: And just a quick word here from our CEO.

Bill Sorem

Bill Sorem is a longtime advertising professional who started with Campbell Mithun and ended up with his own agency. After a tour as a sailing fleet manager in the Virgin Islands he turned to database programming as an independent consultant. He has written sailing guides for the British Virgin Islands and Belize, and written for a number of blogs. In 2010, he volunteered as a citizen journalist with The UpTake and has stayed on as a video reporter.

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