Where Minnesota gubernatorial candidates stand on core issues
Republican Scott Jensen, a doctor and former state senator, is running against DFL Gov. Tim Walz, who is seeking a second term.
ST. PAUL — Minnesota’s governor faces a challenge this November from a Republican family practice physician who made a name for himself as a critic of measures intended to stop the spread of COVID-19 before clinching his party's endorsement earlier this year.
Scott Jensen, a doctor and former state senator, is running against Democratic-Farmer-Labor Gov. Tim Walz, who is seeking a second term in office. Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan have presided over an eventful first term that saw a global pandemic and widespread unrest and a national reckoning over race and policing following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police in 2020. Walz's record on both have shaped much of the conversation in 2022.
In a sense, the race for governor was already underway in March 2021, when Jensen announced his candidacy and started touring the state capitalizing on resistance to Walz’s orders to shut down businesses as a measure to stop the spread of COVID-19. Jensen had already started to campaign well before any other prospective Republican nominees had even declared their intentions to run.
While COVID has all but faded as an issue in the race after the virus’ omicron variant caused cases to surge earlier in 2022, rising crime and inflation remain at the center of the race, as does abortion following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade in June.
But despite Jensen's significant following on social media, support from opponents of pandemic measures, and polling earlier this year that suggested the race could be a toss-up, Walz has enjoyed a considerable advantage in campaign fundraising and spending from allied political groups such as Alliance for a Better Minnesota, which has spent millions on advertising since August.
As of Sept. 20, Walz’s campaign had more than $3.2 million in its coffers, versus Jensen’s roughly $864,000. That has allowed Walz to purchase more airtime than his Republican rival. So far this year, Walz has spent $4.6 million on campaigning for his second term as governor. Meanwhile, Jensen has spent $2.8 million.
Polling, while never a final predictor of an election, has generally shown Walz in the lead in the past month. A recent poll from Minnesota Public Radio, KARE 11 and the Star Tribune found 41% support for Jensen and 48% for Walz. The remaining 11% were undecided or gave another answer.
Who will hold the state's top office following Election Day Nov. 8 may come down to how Minnesotans feel about several key issues.
Crime is front and center in the Minnesota gubernatorial race, with Jensen taking aim at Walz for an increase in violent crime that happened during the COVID-19 pandemic, in line with an overall national increase in crime.
Minnesota saw a 21.6% increase in violent crime last year, following a jump of 17% between 2019 and 2020, according to the state public safety department. And while the state did not track car jackings as a separate crime until 2021, an apparent surge in the crime in the Twin Cities Metro led officials to tally the jackings — more than 700 last year, with all but a handful in the Twin Cities.
In a 10-point public safety plan released this June, Jensen backed tougher penalties for repeat offenders, creating a specific offense for carjacking and new rules that would keep judges from handing lighter sentences to violent offenders.
Walz has not advocated for the same stiffer penalties Jensen and Republican legislators have promoted, but he has proposed significant funding for law enforcement agencies. In the 2022 legislative session, Walz proposed $300 million in funding for law enforcement agencies across the state.
In the final days of the 2022 session, Walz, the Republican-controlled Senate and the DFL-controlled House had reached a tentative agreement on spending $450 million on public safety, but negotiations fell apart and a more than $9 billion surplus remains on the table.
Walz over the summer announced his administration had directed state law enforcement to assist police in the Twin Cities metropolitan area in addressing dangerous offenses such as street racing as well as violent crime. Those state law enforcement officers will remain in the metro until at least the end of the year , Walz said.
Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade in June, abortion has become a significant issue in races across the country. In Minnesota and across the U.S., Republicans have attempted to downplay the issue’s significance in the election, and Jensen has pivoted on abortion since earlier this year.
In the past, Jensen and his running mate, Matt Birk, have both said they oppose abortions in all cases except when a mother’s life is threatened, something the Walz campaign and other Democrats pounced on. Incumbent Walz has pledged to protect abortion rights in Minnesota following the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
Jensen in early September released an advertisement insisting his Democratic opponent is “weaponizing” the issue in the campaign. Despite the end of federal abortion protections, rights remain protected in Minnesota under the 1995 state Supreme Court decision Doe v. Gomez.
“In Minnesota, it’s a protected constitutional right, and no governor can change that,” Jensen said in the ad, holding his newborn grandson. “And I’m not running to do that. I’m running because we need safe streets, excellent schools, parental rights and more money in the family budget.”
Jensen has softened or limited his statements on abortion since earlier this year, before the August primary and the June overturning of Roe. In a Minnesota Public Radio interview this spring, he said he would try to ban abortion and did not support exceptions. On the day the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Birk told an anti-abortion group he did not support abortions for rape victims because “two wrongs won’t make a right.”
But in July, Jensen and Birk appeared in a video in which Jensen described his past comments on his abortion positions as “clumsy” and outlined a plan to support women, including policies like adoption tax credits and support for family and maternity leave.
Walz, meanwhile, has positioned himself as a protector of abortion rights and called Jensen's past statements on abortion bans out of step with most Minnesotans’ views on the issue.
"The stakes are clear and they could not be higher. The governor's office is now the last line of defense against an abortion ban in Minnesota," Walz said at a news conference days after the decision on Roe. "If my opponent Scott Jensen is elected, those rights are gone."
Economy and inflation
As consumer prices soar, Jensen has made addressing the impacts of inflation a central theme of his campaign, and Thursday, Oct. 13, announced a jobs and economic development plan aimed at addressing soaring costs of living. Part of the plan included supporting copper-nickel mining and timber production in Minnesota, as well as encouraging state capital investment in hard-hit rural and urban areas of the state and tax credits for job creators.
Jensen and Birk have floated the idea of eliminating the state individual income tax as one way to boost the incomes of Minnesotans. However, they did not provide specific details on how the state would recoup the lost revenue, with Jensen instead saying the state had ought to look at mining as a potential way to bring in more revenue.
Minnesota would lose about $15 billion in revenue without state income tax — around half of its annual revenue. DFLers say the losses would mean cuts to critical social programs and education.
Walz has said he does not believe the governor is in a position to directly address national and international inflation trends, and expressed skepticism about Jensen's plan. To provide families relief from soaring costs of living, Walz has proposed using the state's historic budget surplus to send payments of up to $1,000 per individual and $2,000 per family.
Republicans have called that an election-year gimmick, and with control of the Legislature split between the GOP and DFL, the odds of Walz's proposal actually happening are slim to none. Still, over the summer, the governor repeatedly called on lawmakers to return to the Capitol to pass the payments.
Walz has signed some tax cuts and new tax credits while governor.
Energy and the environment
Gov. Walz has called for urgent action to address human-caused climate change, and his administration in 2019 had Minnesota adopt clean car rules first implemented by California that would require automakers to offer more electric and hybrid vehicles.
Transportation is the top contributor to greenhouse emissions, according to the state's environmental agency. But that move has been criticized by Republicans and the Minnesota Auto Dealers Association, who say it places unfair restrictions on dealers to carry vehicles consumers won’t want.
Walz in September released an ambitious climate plan that aims to significantly curb Minnesota’s greenhouse gas emissions in the coming decades, with the ultimate goal of making the state have zero net carbon emissions by 2050, which included continuing the clean vehicles rule.
In July Jensen and Birk released an energy plan that included ending the California emission standards and lifting Minnesota’s moratorium on new nuclear power plants, though the policy proposal did not mention human-caused climate change. At a debate with Walz in August at Minnesota Farmfest, Jensen expressed skepticism about the extent to which human-caused climate change has generated severe weather events.
“I think we need to separate weather from climate. We see weather happen all the time and we're impressed with it, we're impressed with this storm or that storm. Climate, we need to be careful, as scientists we need to make certain that we're not arrogant about what we think is happening.”