Gov. Tim Walz, left, and Republican nominee Scott Jensen. Courtesy photos.
The final debate between Gov. Tim Walz and his Republican opponent Scott Jensen on Friday had one rule: No talking over one another. Neither candidate adhered to it.
The candidates for governor didn’t hold back on their attacks during their final debate, which was broadcast on MPR radio. MPR’s debate moderator Mike Mulcahy had to break up arguments between the candidates and reminded Walz and Jensen to refrain from talking at the same time. The overall result for listeners: a garbled and noisy din.
Here are five key moments from Friday’s debate:
Jensen doubles down on COVID-19 conspiracy theories
The candidates for governor went back-and-forth about the state’s response to COVID-19 for nearly eight minutes, and the virus was a major topic throughout the hour-long debate. Jensen deplored the state’s pandemic restrictions, while Walz emphasized Jensen’s unconventional views about COVID-19 and its treatments, which he called dangerous.
The Chaska family physician has downplayed the virus’ severity and decried measures to contain it, like universal mask wearing. Jensen likened public health measures to Nazism and last year signed onto a lawsuit to block vaccines for children.
Jensen defended his past remarks and mentioned a new culprit: ventilators.
“The ventilator was a deadly problem,” Jensen said. “We actually reduced death rates once we stopped using the ventilators.”
It’s unclear what he’s referring to. COVID-19 was the third leading cause of death in America in both 2020 and 2021, according to the National Institutes of Health.
The Washington Post reported in 2021 that ventilators were likely overused early in the pandemic, but that misconceptions about the dangers of ventilators were potentially killing British patients who were refusing them.
Walz then apologized to the families of the more than 13,000 Minnesotans who have died during the pandemic for having to hear Jensen’s comments.
“I’m deeply sorry for your loss and know that the state of Minnesota put that as a top priority, not some internet (theory) … but the best science,” Walz said.
Walz emphasizes Jensen is not endorsed by his fellow physicians
Walz touted the endorsement of Minnesota physicians, who declined to support their colleague Jensen.
“The entire medical establishment in Minnesota is with us on this — an unprecedented step,” Walz said.
Last month, the Minnesota Medical Association’s political arm endorsed Walz for governor. Jensen denounced the Minnesota Medical Association as a “liberal organization.”
Jensen was a member from 1979 to 2010, according to the CV on his clinic’s website.
Candidates differ on how to improve Minnesota schools
Jensen said Minnesota schools are not performing well and Minnesota is pouring too much money into a failing school system, echoing a previous comment in which he called school funding a “black hole.” He said parents feel left out, and teachers don’t feel safe in school, though he offered no evidence.
“I think teachers are feeling absolutely smothered by the administrative dictates,” Jensen said. “The kids are struggling. Teachers don’t feel safe in the environment of schools now. This isn’t a good situation to be in.”
Jensen is correct that student proficiency in Minnesota has declined. Minnesota’s fourth and eighth graders’ test scores steeply declined over the past year, largely mirroring the results of every other state. Despite the decline, Minnesota students mostly tested higher than the national average.
Walz said the state has been investing in summer school and support staff for students. Walz, who often speaks swiftly and sometimes bungles words, was expanding his answer when Jensen interrupted him.
“Every parent out there knows, especially in Mankato —,”
Jensen interrupted: “Take a breath, Tim. Take a breath.”
After Mulcahy intervened, Walz completed his answer. Mulcahy then asked Jensen for his rebuttal.
“Thanks, I almost fell asleep,” Jensen replied.
Jensen says he has no specifics for tax plan
The GOP nominee has campaigned on eliminating Minnesota’s personal income tax, which would create a $15 billion hole in Minnesota’s annual budget. When asked how he would make up this deficit, Jensen backtracked.
“I never promised that we would be able to get rid of our personal income tax,” Jensen said. “I said we should have a big discussion.”
He said he’s never given specifics, although he regularly talks about decreasing state spending by 10% and backfilling the holes in the budget with the state’s $9 billion surplus.
“I am simply saying this is an opportune moment in Minnesota’s history where we … should have this discussion,” he said.
Jensen attacks Walz for Feeding Our Future scandal
Mulcahy asked Walz when he first knew about potential fraud in the COVID-19 federal child nutrition program, and Walz said it was in November 2020. He repeatedly highlighted that the FBI’s investigation is ongoing, so he didn’t want to say anything that could jeopardize it.
Jensen called Walz’s response “hogwash” and said Walz was dodging the question.
Walz decried the theft of taxpayer money and said multiple people have already pleaded guilty.
Jensen, in his closing statement, said Walz was a “polished politician” who was pandering for Minnesota’s vote.
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