GOP Candidates Call For Unity and Leadership

From left to right on stage: Jeffrey Wharton, Phillip Parrish, Christopher Chamberlin, Rep. Matt Dean, Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson. Photo by Preya Samsundar/Alpha News

WACONIA, Minn. – A field of five of the six declared Republican candidates for governor of Minnesota answered questions for an hour and a half at a packed American Legion in Waconia Wednesday night.

The event was hosted by the Carver County Conservative PAC and co-sponsored by Alpha News. Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson, State Rep. Matt Dean, former Naval intelligence officer Phillip Parrish, St. Cloud resident Christopher Chamberlin, and Redwood Falls resident Jeffrey Wharton were in attendance. Ramsey County Commissioner Blake Huffman was a late cancellation due to a family emergency.

While former U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann’s keynote address focused mostly on the threat radical Islamic terrorism poses to Western Civilization, debate moderator former State Sen. David Hann focused mostly on issues of economics, education, and transportation.

“I am not going to sign a budget that grows government,” Johnson said during the debate. “I will make that clear to every legislator whether Republican or Democrat. It can be done and it will be if I’m governor.”

Johnson previously ran for governor in 2014, losing to incumbent Gov. Mark Dayton by five percent. He and Dean were the most polished of the candidates, especially in the range of issues they were able to speak on. With Huffman absent, they were also the only two candidates present with previous elected experience.

That lack of experience showed most prominently in Wharton. While Chamberlin and Parrish also passed on a question, citing lack of knowledge on the topic, Wharton passed on several. This included local government aid, the Metropolitan Council, light rail, and state mandates regarding renewable energy.

Dean strongly condemned the state’s renewable energy mandates, which were passed by large bipartisan majorities during Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s administration. Dean was one of ten representatives, “The Toxic Ten,” to vote against the bill.

“Over time think I’ve gotten a lot of other people around the caucus and around the state to agree that it was kind of a dumb idea,” Dean said.

“It makes them feel better,” Johnson said of liberal politicians advocating renewable energy mandates. “And I’ll tell you that I am tired of this era of hurting real people in order to make politicians feel better, and this is only one of many examples of that.”

Chamberlin and Parrish kept closest to the tone that Bachmann’s keynote set, rather than that set by Hann’s line of questioning. Parrish hammered the refugee resettlement program in response to a question regarding government spending.

“We will remove ourselves from the immigration relocation act, the refugee act will pause, end, in Minnesota period,” Parrish said. “We have to stop. We do not have the resources to continue down this path, that’s a big, number one savings is to end this growth in this endless sea of welfare state.”

The Metropolitan Council was also widely condemned by the candidates, aside from Wharton who said this was the first he’d heard of the council. Parrish accused the Council of getting his wife fired from her job at a mortgage lending company shortly after he publicly criticized the council. Johnson had the clearest plan for how to deal with the agency.

“The first thing I do as Governor is go find a quiet little spot with Sondi, and pray to God for guidance, and the understanding that I’m not in control, and some humility, and then after that go fire the Met Council and dismantle that beast once and for all.”

Johnson said he would replace the Met Council with a new regional authority devoid of all taxing and eminent domain powers. He says such a board would be necessary as a venue to accept federal transportation funding, but that it should be extremely limited in its powers.

All candidates agreed that education was an issue both at the K-12 and higher education levels. Johnson and Dean both pushed for wider acceptance of trade school education, all candidates supported school choice, and Dean and Chamberlin pushed for increased safety measures for teachers and students in schools.

“Teachers are afraid,” Chamberlin said. “If we unshackle our educators and allow them to reasonably defend themselves and the other students in their classrooms, we’re doing them a favor.”

All candidates agreed to abide by the party’s endorsement. They agreed that a unified party was the only way to win in 2018.

“If we don’t have real leadership in the governor’s’ office, whether we have a Republican or a Democrat, I am really terribly worried about the direction of this state,” Dean said.

Alpha News’ live stream of the event can be watched here.

Anders Koskinen