Caryn Sullivan: The candidates must debate — but not on Twitter

It’s time for both candidates to answer tough questions so voters can cast informed votes. The future of our state depends on it. 

Gov. Tim Walz, left, and Dr. Scott Jensen

It’s election season and be it the internet, Twitter, or the airwaves, it’s getting ugly out there — and it’s only going to get worse as candidates push very different agendas.

I’ve spent most of my life in Minnesota. I’ve loved it for so many reasons. But increasingly, I feel like I’m living in a state of disbelief, rather than the state of Minnesota.

Friday’s headlines were about Thursday night’s shootout in Minneapolis. A 16-year-old, one of two fatalities and multiple victims, won’t be at school on Monday.

We hear about daily overdoses on the light rail, not to mention enormous cost overruns and delays on the Southwest Light Rail Transit project.

Kids are starting school with a huge deficit in the fundamentals.

Those are the issues that worry me most. Abortion is not even on my radar.

To get perspective on what others are thinking, I’ve been spending time on Twitter. It’s a great forum for taking the pulse of strangers, some who share my concerns, some who do not.

When it comes to politics, the battles are raging so fiercely my laptop needs a Kevlar vest.

Be it candidates, surrogates, or supporters, tweets illustrate how we’re so divided it’s as if we’re living in parallel universes. It’s not hard to discern where people get their information. It’s obvious when someone’s inhaled their party’s talking points or seen the same ad too many times.

As we head into a vital election, I suspect many voters will rely on social media, sound bites, and headlines when casting their votes. That’s concerning, since the candidates aren’t operating on an even playing field, and certainly not with the same budgets.

Candidates step forward for various reasons — a desire to serve; a belief they can effect meaningful change; or maybe just the allure of power. Voters want them to be principled and steadfast.

But we need to accept the realities of both running for office and of governing.

Elected officials can’t effectively govern from the edges. They can’t accomplish much — particularly in today’s polarized environment — without some degree of compromise.

And the reality is most of us live in the middle. To ensure the public is safe, our children are educated, and parents can feed their kids, we’re going to have to bend, just as politicians must bend, as distasteful as that may be.

Politicians evolve, just as voters do; politicians make missteps, just as voters do.

Gov. Tim Walz and his Republican challenger, Dr. Scott Jensen, have very different priorities. They each have their Achilles heels.

The Jensen/Birk team, with no record of governing together, is reminded of positions they’ve previously taken, principally on abortion, which have evolved.

The Walz team has a four-year record of governing during COVID and rampant crime.

The public deserves to hear from the candidates in a moderated forum with ample time to explain their positions.

In 2010, Mark Dayton and Tom Emmer had 26 debates. In 2018, Tim Walz and Jeff Johnson had six.

We are less than 60 days from the election, though early voting starts in 13 days. Walz and Jensen have had just one debate. Walz has agreed to a second debate two weeks before the election. That’s not enough.

It’s fair to ask Walz to defend his COVID response. It’s fair to ask Jensen to explain the evolution of his position on abortion. And more.

But not on Twitter.

And not just once or twice.

It’s time for both candidates to answer tough questions so voters can cast informed votes. The future of our state depends on it.


Caryn Sullivan

A retired attorney and author of the award-winning memoir, "Bitter or Better: Grappling With Life on the Op-Ed Page," Caryn Sullivan has inspired readers with her thoughtful commentary for the past two decades. To learn more about Caryn’s work or to connect, visit