This past week, the Granite Falls area played host to several gubernatorial candidates making their final pitches before the August 14 primary election. On Friday, former State House Leader Erin Murphy (DFL) hosted a meet-and-greet’ with local residents at the Granite Grinder. There were roughly 25 people in attendance for the hour long event.

During her opening remarks, Murphy confronted the urban-rural divide, and argued for an alternative vision for the future that focused on cooperation rather than division. “The Minnesota Miracle wasn’t, ‘We are going to compete against each other,’” she said, alluding to the period of economic growth in the 1990s and early 2000s, “it was, ‘We are going to share.’ Our fortunes rise and fall together.”

Murphy also addressed specific policies she would enact to funding disparities between urban and rural communities. She talked about the lack of access to broadband internet in many rural areas, and elaborated on her ‘Connect MN’ plan. Under her proposal, the state government would “provide a dedicated investment of more than $100 million each year into Minnesota’s Broadband Development Grant Program.”

To pay for this added expense, Murphy would dedicate the new revenue generated by internet sales taxes (the United States Government Accountability Office estimates that this tax will generate between $132 and $206 million per year). Murphy underscored during the event that equal access to high-speed internet was vital to ensuring equitable economic development across the state.

One policy priority that Murphy has repeatedly raised during the campaign is her support for a single-payer health care solution. Under her plan, the publicly funded health care provider MinnesotaCare (which currently has income restrictions) would be opened up to everybody. Murphy explained her role advocating for the creation of Minnesota Care in the 1990s, adding that she looked forward to when “Minnesota would lead the nation like we did 26 years ago.”

Murphy also answered questions from the audience. Granite Falls resident Dick Jepsen asked Murphy about electoral security. Murphy replied that she had confidence in the State Secretary of State to uphold the integrity of our electoral system, though she expressed her concern at the repeated efforts by foreign powers such as Russia to influence domestic elections.

After the event, and in a follow-up interview, Murphy took questions from the Advocate Tribune about how she would address the serious problem of farmer suicide. She explained how she would invest more in rural mental health care, enact red flag laws to temporarily restrict access to firearms for individuals who are suicidal, and work to restore economic security for farmers struggling in one of the worst market downturns since the 1980s.

In a follow-up exchange, Murphy also elaborated on why it was important to tackle the stigma associated with suicide and other mental health issues. “As a nurse, I understand that mental health is one more iteration of the human condition,” she explained, adding that it should be treated just like any other health problem. Murphy also addressed the ongoing trade dispute between the United States and China, arguing that President Donald Trump’s trade policies were hurting American agriculture and creating more uncertainty for already nervous farmers.

She also blasted the administration’s recently announced $12 billion aid package for farmers hurt by retaliatory tariffs, explaining that most of the money would not go to small and medium sized operations and that the response “isn’t a real remedy.”

Jeff Johnson the underdog

In contrast to the jumbled DFL primary fight to replace incumbent Governor Mark Dayton, public interest in the Republican primary fight has generally centered around former Governor Tim Pawlenty. According to a June poll conducted by BK Strategies, Pawlenty remains a strong front runner among Republicans, but Hennepin County Commissioner (and 2014 gubernatorial candidate) Jeff Johnson. In between campaign stops in southwestern Minnesota, Johnson spoke with reporters from the Advocate Tribune about why he was the best candidate to represent the GOP in November’s General Election. He credited his “grassroots support” for making him a better candidate than Pawlenty, adding that he wanted an election “about issue, not Pawlenty.”

When asked about the ongoing furor surrounding buffer strip ordinances, Johnson called the controversial policy “a poster child for arrogance,” adding that replacing the measure would be a priority if elected. He stressed that farmers already operate at very thin margins, and he would work with agriculture to create alternative solutions that protected the environment. Johnson also criticized MNSure, explaining that he believed Minnesota did a better job at delivering health care before the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (popularly referred to as Obamacare). He says that he supports “more choice for those receiving subsidized care,” adding that one way to do this is allowing insurers to compete across state lines.

He also promised to roll back health care mandates, saying that “the government needs to back off.” One area that Johnson said was particularly troubling for him was the unfair distribution of state spending between urban and rural communities, highlighting transportation and Local Government Aid as examples.

He also called the education funding process an “abomination,” adding that “nobody understands the funding formula, which was not created to benefit kids.” Instead, Johnson is advocating a per pupil funding scheme, which he thinks would rectify the regional funding imbalance.

On the issue of broadband, Johnson agreed that there was a serious lack of high-speed internet access in rural communities, but he explained that he didn’t think the government should become a direct provider. Instead, he supported the current granting process, though shied away from supporting additional state investment.

Johnson also answered questions about the national political climate. He said that he broadly supports President Donald Trump, explaining that he agrees with his efforts to “roll back regulations” and “limit the power of bureaucrats.”

However, Johnson added that he disagrees with Trump’s trade policies, saying that “tariffs are generally bad.” Both Jeff Johnson and Erin Murphy are on the ballot for the August 14 primary election. The winner from each party will go on to face each other in the gubernatorial election to be held on November 6.