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Capitol chatter: Candidates go after Johnson in GOP governor race

Republican candidates for Minnesota governor (clockwise from top left): Jeff Johnson, Scott Honour, Marty Seifert and Kurt Zellers.1 / 2
Don Davis reports from St. Paul for Forum News Service.2 / 2

Jeff Johnson may feel like other Republican governor candidates are picking on him.

In an interview, Johnson made it clear that he was not happy that Scott Honour was critical of him in particular.

Then, during a Duluth radio station debate when candidates had a chance to ask each other questions, he told businessman Honour: “You have gotten a bit negative.” Johnson, a Hennepin County commissioner, asked him to say something positive about the other candidates.

“This is a great bunch of guys,” Honour replied, but not before denying he was negative. “I do think our voters deserve to know about us.”

Things got a little testy during the WDSM debate when state Rep. Kurt Zellers asked Johnson why he would consider taxing clothing and food, something he said “hits those people who can least afford it the hardest.”

Johnson said he has not decided he would back what is known as a broader sales tax, but said that if he did that, he would support lowering the tax rate. “Low, broad and simple is what I’ve been saying for 15 months,”

Zellers shot back: “Low, broad and simple is hard, mean and regressive.”

Former state Rep. Marty Seifert questioned why Johnson would tout the fact that he is the only one of the four to have been in a statewide race.

“It was the second worse performance” in a constitutional officer campaign in 20 years, Seifert said of Johnson’s 2006 loss to Lori Swanson in the attorney general contest.

Johnson was ready. He told Seifert that he would not run for attorney general again since it is an office Republicans have not held for a half-century.

Johnson is a favorite target since he has the backing of the Republican Party after being endorsed at its state convention at the end of May.

Cook changes lines

The nationally recognized Cook Political Report shook up Minnesota congressional politics a bit Friday.

Cook moved the 8th Congressional District race from “leaning Democratic” to “Democratic toss up.” That is the race between Democratic U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan and first-time Republican candidate Steward Mills in Northeastern and east-central Minnesota.

In western Minnesota’s 7th Congressional District, meanwhile, Cook changed the seat from “likely Democratic” to “leans Democratic.” That buoyed GOP challenger state Sen. Torrey Westrom’s effort to unseat longtime U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, a Democrat.

Republicans wasted no time promoting the new rankings.

Debating Dayton debates

Republicans are highly critical that Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton is limiting debate appearances to a half dozen this year.

“Mark Dayton announced he was ducking a second debate in as many days,” Republican activist Ben Golnik said. “This is yet another flip-flop from a politician who seems to be on every side of every issue. In 2010, candidate Mark Dayton said debates were ‘terrific for Minnesota.’ In 2014, politician Dayton says the debates in 2010 were ‘far too many.’”

Four years ago, Dayton and Republican Tom Emmer set what was believed to be a modern-day record of more than 30 debates. This year, the Dayton campaign said that it and the eventual Republican nominee will negotiate six debates.

Republicans jumped on Dayton turning down two traditional summer forums: one Tuesday at Farmfest and another during the Minnesota State Fair on Minnesota Public Radio. It is rare for a candidate to turn down either, but Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken also rejected the MPR invitation.

This year, Dayton is in office, while four years ago he and Emmer were free for as many debates and they wanted. Also, an incumbent generally tries to avoid giving a challenger the chance to get free publicity.

Ventura draws reaction

Jesse Ventura always has been a divisive figure, whether as a professional wrestler or Minnesota governor.

So it was no surprise that the trial of his lawsuit claiming a book defamed him drew strong reactions, mostly anti-Ventura. The Twitterverse was the place to watch after Ventura won the case on a split-jury verdict:

  • “The state of MN should file a class action suit against Ventura for damaging MN’s reputation”
  • “Jesse Ventura lawyers say Gov Ventura told them: ‘There are no winners here.’ Reputation w/Navy SEALs is ruined forever.” That prompted:
  • “Especially, perhaps, after suing the widow of a Navy SEAL.”
  • “I guess if you can get 773,713 Minnesotans to vote for Ventura for gov, you can get 8 of 10 to give him $1.8M for hurt feelings.”
  • “@GovJVentura was under the impression that he had a reputation to restore.”

Don Davis reports from St. Paul for Forum News Service.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.