Full audio: Jeff Johnson and Tim Walz debate in Willmar

Johnson: “Your voting record is quite liberal." Walz: “I would ask Jeff, would you have voted with Nancy Pelosi to improve veterans’ suicide care?"

Edgar Linares
October 09, 2018 - 10:47 pm

(Photo by Anthony Souffle/Minneapolis Star Tribune/TNS/Sipa USA)

Exactly one month from November’s midterm election the two major party candidates running for the Governor’s seat debated in Willmar, Minnesota with WCCO Radio Hosts Chad Hartman and Blois Olson moderating.

Listen to the full audio here:


- Jeff Johnson's opening and closing statements 

- Tim Walz's opening and closing statements 

With a crowd of 200 spectators, the two took on topics ranging from farming, transportation and health care. At the start, Republican, Commissioner Jeff Johnson criticized DFL Congressman Tim Walz for his voting record.

“I think our personalities are actually pretty similar,” Johnson said. “Your voting record is quite liberal. You were with Nancy Pelosi and Keith Ellison over 90 percent of the time; I think it’s 94 percent. This suggestion that you’re one of the most bipartisan people there, the bar is pretty low.”

Walz accused Johnson of unfair criticism and of trying to divide voters by pulling out his voting record.

“I would ask Jeff, would you have voted with Nancy Pelosi to improve veterans’ suicide care? Would have voted with Nancy Pelosi to improve the GI Bill? Would have voted on many of those things that all of you would agree with, this is what’s wrong with our system.”

Johnson then accused of Walz of taking a new far-left stance on a variety of topics, to which Walz replied, you need to change and adapt.


Olson asked Walz in the past he supported increasing the gas tax to pay for roads and bridges and wanted to know how he would make sure projects in Greater Minnesota and metro would be balanced.

“This backlog is continuing to grow so I think you need to have an honest conversation with the citizens of Minnesota who will pay for things that they know improve this country,” said Walz.

Walz referenced his proposal to increase local government back to 2002 levels as one way to better fund projects in Greater Minnesota. He said that approach would strengthen local decision making, and that the decrease in local government aid had led local municipalities to raise taxes to make up the difference.

“Jeff is saying he knows better than the leaders in our metropolitan area to make some of those decisions as Governor. My job is to build the coalition and to talk about those things will be very clear about this. The property tax shift that happened because of local government aid still falls upon you,” he said.

Johnson toted his opposition to raising the gas tax and said Minnesota is one of the highest taxed states in America. Olson then asked Johnson how he plans to pay for road projects without any new revenue.

“I don’t believe we need new taxes,” said Johnson. “I do believe however, that if we spent a little bit of money from the general fund for transportation for roads and bridges, maybe even a bus system, that wouldn’t be a bad thing.”

Johnson said he’s also open to using a bonding bill to pay for roads and bridges, which Walz agreed.


The crowd cheered when Johnson suggested regulators in state agencies should spend one week a year working for the people they regulate.

“So they can get a feeling of what they’re regulations actually do,” said Johnson. “Whether it’s a farmer, whether it’s a childcare provider, whether it’s a group home regulator. I’d say the same thing for the governor and legislators too.”

Walz, who spent more than 20 years as a teacher said he liked the idea and had a suggestion for Johnson.

“I think if you’re going to be Governor you should teach some school before you criticize school and tell me that all I was doing was running things up,” said Walz.


Walz has said in the past that he supports a single-payer health care system.

“The only way to bring cost down, in the long run, is to understand what’s driving up the cost in the first place,” said Walz. “I challenge all of you to tell me what it cost to fix a broken arm. There’s no market, there’s no price transparency”

Several times Johnson asked Walz to be clear with voters whether he will push of single-payer program if voted into office.

“I’ll say it again I don’t necessarily care what this looks like, but the ‘payer’ piece of this is going to impact the results for the individuals getting the care and making sure we’re compensating that,” said Walz.

Johnson replied saying single-payer means there will no longer be private insurance for Minnesotans.

“We all lose our insurance and are forced onto one government plan,” said Johnson. “I think we need to move in exactly the opposite direction. Because one of the reasons we’re in such a terrible spot right now is because government took over a lot of what we’re doing really well in Minnesota.”


A polarizing topic in rural Minnesota is immigration with many migrant workers employed at farms.

WCCO Radio moderators asked Johnson why he supported stopping refugee resettlement. He said cities like St. Cloud and others wanted to pause on the resettlement to see what the real cost was to their local communities.

“I’ve heard from people and they say ‘we don’t know how many refugees we have here, and we don’t know what the cost is, whether it’s the cost to our school system, whether it’s a cost to our county, whether it’s cost out city’,” said Johnson. “In St. Cloud at least some citizen said ‘Hey can we have a pause on this, until we can figure out what the cost are?’ The answer was ‘you’re racist! You’re white supremacists! Go away’”

Johnson said if people have legitimate concerns then the government should listen to them. He then went on to say unemployment among Somali immigrant men is 5 to 7 times higher than the statewide rate. “We‘ve got to figure out why that is,” he said.

Walz replied by saying we are a nation of immigrants and America and Minnesota is better because of immigrants. Walz was asked if he supports creating a “sanctuary” state for illegal immigrants.

“The responsibility for immigration reform lays with the federal government,” said Walz. “…In communities where people feel the trust to go to the police when crimes are being committed while they are still trying to work on their status, they are more apt to go. In those communities crime is lower, statistically that is factual.”

Johnson replied to Walz saying the real issue in regards to sanctuary states is about cooperating with the federal government.

The midterm election is on Nov. 6.

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