Last night, the Hamline University chapter of the Minnesota College Republicans hosted a Minnesota Republican Gubernatorial Candidate Forum. Marty Seifert, winner of the Republican caucus straw poll joined three other candidates who have declared their candidacy: Minnesota Senator Dave Thompson, Minnesota school teacher Rob Farnsworth, and Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson.
The forum was moderated by Minnesota Young Republican Chair and law student Jeffrey Peil. Andrew Hasek, the Minnesota College Republican Chair and Adam Motzko, the Minnesota Young Americans for Liberty Chair asked a mix of their own questions and questions from the audience.
The four candidates typically echoed each other along party lines with themes about personal responsibility, federal government intrusion, and states’ rights.
Rob Farnsworth, who has degrees in History and Social Studies, distinguished himself early in the forum.
“I’m different,” Farnsworth said as he described his experiences as a Minnesota educator. “Minnesota has always had an independent streak. In the 1960s and 1970s, we elected a Rudy Perpich, a dentist from Hibbing. Later, we had Jesse Ventura, and now we have a sorta comedian, [Al Franken], I don’t think he’s that funny, in our Senate. It’s time for a different candidate on the conservative side.”
Farnsworth was also the most unguarded when talking about states’ rights. “I would say Abraham Lincoln,” he answered regarding his favorite president. “Even though he trampled on the constitution in regards to states’ rights during the civil war, and believe me, I hate that part.” Farnsworth didn’t clarify further on this statement.
Farnsworth, who is the youngest candidate at 35, also joked, “I found out tonight that I could be considered a young Republican. I thought you had to be under 30, but I guess not.” Minnesota Young Republicans consist of people age 18 to 40.
Jeff Johnson, often the dissenting voice of the Hennepin County Commission, reminded the audience that whomever is elected needed to be able to “share a positive, relevant message that inspires your non-Republican friends and neighbors to choose us over the promises they might get from the other candidates.”
He continued that sentiment when asked why the Republicans lost the majority in the Minnesota Legislature.
“Republicans tend to think from the inside out and it’s not working. We need to think about what people are concerned about and apply our conservative principles to them. We also have to be able to say ‘no’ to the federal government. They don’t mandate, they give us incentives, they give us money if we put their programs into place. We need someone who will be able to explain to Minnesotans why they are better off without the federal government aid.”
Farnsworth identified a group that Republicans have typically ignored. “One-fifth of Minnesota’s population are in unions. Those people are mad about the Democrats taking away jobs by halting mining, they’re mad about the Democrats taking away gun rights, they’re mad about losing jobs because of Obamacare. Yet, the Republicans have completely ignored this group.”
When asked about how much involvement the government should have over a person’s personal life, the candidates struggled to walk a line between not offending the young audience and keeping with party lines.
Marty Seifert said, “Life, liberty, and property are definitional depending on the person who is making the argument. I am what I am when it comes to the issue of the day. People don’t want to hear it and Republicans are as guilty as Democrats when it comes to these laws. I voted against the primary seat belt law. I figured law enforcement already had one hundred reasons to pull you over, they didn’t need one hundred and one. Let’s start repealing some of these laws.”
Dave Thompson, former KSTP radio personality, said, “The role of the government is to protect the young, the infirm, and the elderly. I’m not interested in telling people to wear helmets, seatbelts, what kind of firearms they need. Let them run their lives if they can make a choice.”
Interestingly enough, Dave Thompson sponsored legislation in 2011 to prohibit same-sex marriage and voted against same sex marriage in 2013. Marty Seifert voted against legalizing medicinal marijuana in 2009 and said earlier in 2014 that he is not in favor of legalizing marijuana.
Compared to many politicians, however, these candidates seem to have relatively consistent voting records and messages. Seifert, Thompson, and Johnson all voted against public funding for stadiums and have voted favorably for businesses and property owners to lower taxes. They hope to win by appealing to what they consider the sensibilities of the average Minnesotan.
“We need someone who can relate to those who, like me, were born and raised in Minnesota and worked hard like the average Minnesota family,” Seifert says.
Johnson adds, “We need politicians to understand that people work hard for their money and to treat it with respect. We need to let health care decisions be made between doctor and patient. We need to treat people with dignity, give them opportunities in the free market like many of us have so we can walk at the same level. We need to stop believing that the poor are poor and the rich are rich and the only thing we can do is redistribute the wealth. We need to give the poor opportunities to become middle class and the middle class opportunities to become rich.”
Perhaps the statements that most separated the candidates were their answers to the final question, “From your vast experience and knowledge, what advice would you give to today’s college students?”
Dave Thompson said, “Pursue your ambitions with reckless abandon. Don’t make the mistake I did. I regret what I didn’t do due to fear of failure.”
Meanwhile, Marty Seifert encouraged the audience to ”work hard, play by the rules, and take personal responsibility.”
“That’s the toughest question of the night,” Rob Farnsworth said before adding a bit of humor to his advice. “Don’t give up,” he told the audience and described his dejected feelings in elections. “I often have told my wife, let’s give up and move to Texas. But then I’ve seen victories, like when Chip Cravaack won. So, don’t give up. Stay here and suffer with the rest of us.”
Farnsworth clarified that he was referring to the weather. As the debates continue, we’ll hear more from candidates of all parties about how they will lessen our suffering.