Jeff Johnson Downplays Populist Label

Jeff Johnson says his gubernatorial campaign’s message is not affected by Trump’s success.

MINNEAPOLIS – Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson says the overtly populist tone struck by President Donald Trump in 2016 has not affected his own campaign for governor.

While the Pioneer Press described Johnson’s launch video as “echoing Trump’s populist message,” Johnson disagrees with that overarching assessment.

“I don’t know if I would label it in any particular way,” Johnson told Alpha News, “There’s going to be a strong emphasis on taking power from government and giving it back to the people, so if that’s the definition of populism then I guess so.”

Johnson was a key backer for Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-FL) caucus win in Minnesota in 2016, though he and many other Republicans ended up Trump once he was the clear nominee. Despite that, Trump’s tone of messaging is not something that will bleed into the 2018 gubernatorial campaign. In fact, Johnson is looking to elevate the tone of his campaign.

“The message of giving more power to people wasn’t top line last time,” he said of his 2014 campaign, “I was more focused on specific issues. I think people are looking for something a bit broader than specific issues. Something more intellectual and philosophical.”

It has been Johnson’s experience that people generally believe politicians are involved in government for personal gain, rather than public service. He wants to end that perception, and will continue to wholeheartedly push a conservative message of limited government to Minnesotans.

“Independents will respond very positively to a conservative message,” Johnson said. “I won independents by ten percent in 2014. This call sometimes that we have to have a less conservative message to appeal to independents is just wrong.”

Johnson expects Democratic candidates to attempt to tie him and other Republicans to Trump, though he has some doubts about the effectiveness of that tactic. He is more concerned about the potential for another Republican primary following the end of the party’s endorsement process. Investment banker Scott Honour, and former State Reps. Marty Seifert and Kurt Zellers all waged primary campaigns despite Johnson winning the party’s endorsement at the end of May. Johnson eventually prevailed with around 30 percent of the vote.

“I do think we’ll have more candidates [enter the race] which I think is good,” Johnson said. “I think that’s positive for the party. My hope is that all the candidates abide by the endorsement process so we can avoid a messy primary. I do think that hurt my campaign in 2014.”

Johnson was the third Republican with prior elected experience to declare his candidacy for governor. Ramsey County Commissioner Blake Huffman was the first, followed by Rep. Matt Dean (R-Dellwood.)

Anders Koskinen