Farmfest draws large crowd for first debate between Walz and Jensen

The governor was confronted by an attendee after the debate who said Walz’s DNR “wiped out my 30-year-old farm.” 

Gov. Tim Walz and Scott Jensen on stage during Wednesday's Farmfest debate. (American Farm Bureau/Vimeo)

Gov. Tim Walz and Dr. Scott Jensen squared off in their first debate of the campaign season Wednesday at Farmfest in Redwood County, Minn.

In front of one Farmfest’s “largest crowds in years,” Walz and Jensen sparred over the government’s response to COVID-19, the role of state government in reducing inflation, and the nuances of agricultural policy.

There were moments of levity when the two candidates agreed on things like bringing down the cost of insulin and reforming the way insurance companies reimburse mental health care providers.

Some of the most heated moments came during discussions of Walz’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Let’s be clear: there is nothing about our response to COVID in regards to our seniors, our frail, our elderly, our assisted living or our nursing homes that would be a model for the United States,” Jensen said.

“What we did by locking nursing home patients into their facility after we did this copycat of California and New York and watched them die alone, frequently bathing in their own stool and urine, is our legacy,” he added. “Never again.”

This came after Walz suggested that his handling of COVID-19 in nursing homes was “the model for the rest of the country.”

The candidates were later asked about the role of biofuels in Minnesota’s transportation policies.

“I’m going to thank everyone in this room who knew this industry was big 20 years ago,” Walz said. “I believe in the innovation of our biofuels … When anybody disrespects our biofuels industry, they’re usually quoting things from the past.”

Jensen shot back, criticizing the Walz administration’s plan to force automakers to supply the market with more low- and zero-emission vehicles.

“If biofuels are the future of Minnesota, then why did Gov. Walz hook our wagon to be a California copycat?” Jensen said.

Another question focused on how the candidates would protect the environment while still keeping regulatory costs low for farmers.

“I think it starts by recognizing that our producers are the ones that care deeply about this,” Walz said. “When folks come out and say we’ve got to get rid of regulations and we’ve got to quit doing all of this, it’s disrespectful to our producers who know that they need to do things a certain way.”

“I’m confused again,” Jensen responded. “So the producers are being disrespected if we lower the regulations and the permitting process?”

“I would say this: let farmers farm, let miners mine, let teachers teach, and let government get the hell out of the way,” he said.

Jensen focused his closing statements on public safety, criticizing Walz for allowing “lawlessness” to spread across the state.

“Had I been in the governor’s office, the National Guard would have been on the streets sooner,” he said. “You and I together recognize that the Third Precinct is a whole lot more than just a building.”

Walz referenced his service in the National Guard in response to Jensen’s criticism.

“That’s a lot more experience than watching ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ and second-guessing while our men and women are putting themselves at risk,” he said.

“We’re facing challenges. But when we’re facing challenges, the solution is not to divide more of us. It’s to come together,” Walz added.

The governor was confronted by an attendee after the debate who said Walz’s DNR “wiped out my 30-year-old farm.”

Walz and Jensen will face off in the Nov. 8 general election. Average polling has Walz leading Jensen by about 3.5 points.