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Our View / Endorsement: Johnston offers best shot at robust public debate

From the editorial: "With a good grasp of the issues and with political experience, in spite of his past, Johnston ... can be the Republican pick in the primary to once again challenge DFL state Rep. Liz Olson."

Art Johnston.jpg
Republican legislative candidate Art Johnston of Duluth.
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During his eight years on the Duluth School Board, Art Johnston was an oft-contentious voice of divisiveness and negativity. An independent investigation in 2015 determined that Johnston attempted to use his position as a School Board member to influence a private personnel matter in which he had no business intervening; that he instigated not one but two anger-fueled, physical altercations involving the district superintendent and School Board chairman; and that he was "intimidating," "threatening," "abusive," "disruptive," and "in public derogation."

Nonetheless, in the Republican primary on Aug. 9 in western Duluth’s Minnesota House District 8A, Johnston — who has long refuted the criticisms — offers voters the best chance for a healthy and robust airing of legislative matters ahead of Election Day on Nov. 8. With a good grasp of the issues and with political experience, in spite of his past, Johnston, a semi-retired consulting engineer, can be the Republican pick in the primary to once again challenge DFL state Rep. Liz Olson.

“I’m mainly running against the DFL,” Johnston said in an interview this summer with News Tribune Editorial Board members. “It’s important that we look at what the DFL is doing nationally and also locally. I don’t think they’re a good fit for Duluth anymore.”

Johnston blames Democratic policies for the recent spike in inflation, rapidly rising gas and food prices, and our nation’s loss of energy independence. He said Democratic policies shortchanged students by locking them out of schools and keeping them home during the pandemic.

“There was a lot of angst caused by the lockdown, by the closing of schools, particularly by the DFL,” he said. “I find it really sad that when we look at COVID, and, definitely, if you’re a Republican you think one way, and if you’re a DFL or Democrat you think another way. I think that’s really sad. It should be a medical issue. … We have to have some rationality.”

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He criticized the Democratic-led canceling of the Keystone XL pipeline project. And he said the Democratic-led canceling of the Twin Metals mining project near Ely was “disastrous for us locally from an employment point of view and I think also from an ethical point of view. We need these minerals. We use these minerals in our computers, in our cars, and in generating our electricity. I think it’s irresponsible for our society to import minerals, say, from China. …

“We should be supplying energy, which is in our backyard, and we should be supplying minerals, which is in our backyard. And to not do that, I think, is very irresponsible for the DFL and, of course, for the national Democratic Party.”

Johnston supports giving the state’s record budget surplus back to Minnesota taxpayers. “It’s nice that we do have a surplus. That is a positive thing, of course. It means that our economy in Minnesota has bounced back. A couple of years ago we were pretty worried what was going to happen to our economy because of COVID,” he said. “Just because we have a surplus doesn’t mean we should expand the state government. I think we should take that money (and) put it back to the people, in particular the people who need it right now. And there are a lot of people who are hurting.”

Johnston’s opponent — West Duluthian Allan Kehr, a retired civil engineer — didn’t respond to interview requests from the News Tribune Editorial Board.

All the more reason for voters in the Republican primary to pick Johnston and his promise of a thoughtful airing of important issues ahead of Election Day.

ABOUT: This News Tribune endorsement was determined solely by the newspaper’s Editorial Board.

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