DFL Gov. Mark Dayton, GOP candidate Jeff Johnson and IP candidate Hannah Nicollet are in Rochester tonight to debate for the first time. MPR News is on the scene and will be providing live updates and a live audio feed on the web. Follow @MPRPolitics and @tomscheck for Twitter updates. Tune in.
I like making predictions. Here are a few subjects I think will almost certainly come up during tonight's debate: taxes, the health insurance exchange, MNsure, and the state's economy.
Debate watchers are filtering into the Mayo Civic Center theater, but the crowd is still a bit sparse. There are roughly 780 seats on the first floor of the facility, and it appears to be about half full.
The candidates are walking on to the stage. Lot's of applause, and one person in the crowed yelled "Johnson." That's for GOP candidate Jeff Johnson, of course.
We're just waiting for the candidates to get set up. All three are on stage, but we're still about four minutes away from go time.
Debate rules: Each candidate has 90 seconds to respond to each question. The moderator will allow a 30 second response. There will be a lightning round, and then wrap up with a two minute closing statement.
GOP candidate Jeff Johnson drew the high card backstage, so he gets the first question. And that question is: How would you spend the expected budget surplus if elected governor?
Johnson says his priorities are different from Dayton's. He said he wants to reform taxes. "It should be low, broad and simple."
Johnson says that Minnesota is losing jobs to surrounding states.
Dayton's up now, and he reminded the crowd immediately that he eliminated the state's budget deficit - which included a tax increase on Minnesota's wealthiest. "We have spending under control, and we're making new investments in education"
Nicollet: She said she will get rid of the state's corporate tax, which is one of the highest in the nation. She also argues that the tax doesn't create much revenue.
Now, on to a question about local government aid, which I will abbreviate as "LGA."
Question: Would you make LGA a priority?
Dayton says he already has made LGA a priority, and will continue to do so. "When you cut LGA, the greater Minnesota cities have noted, there's no choice but for property taxes to be increased."
Nicollet: The state requires cities to provide services they don't pay for. If the state is requiring a service, then the state picks up the tab.
Johnson won't make a promise to increase LGA, but he will promise to direct LGA to the communities that need it most.
Johnson: He is arguing that the Twin Cities get most of the LGA, and weaves it into a pitch to rural voters: "Greater Minnesota has become an afterthought" under the Dayton administration.
Dayton is pushing back on Johnson's comments about pushing LGA to the wealthiest communities. He points to projects in Rochester, Mankato and other outstate cities as evidence.
On to a new question: MNsure, the state's insurance exchange. The moderator wants to know how the candidates will make rates equitable across the state. This is a particular problem for Rochester, where rates are especially high. The Mayo Clinic skews premiums here.
Nicollet: She said she wants to fix the website, which has been riddled with glitches since it launched about a year ago.
Johnson is up. MNsure has been a big talking point for Johnson during his campaign. "We have parents with babies who can't get their babies on insurance for months."
Johnson: He would demand a federal waiver to get out of the Affordable Care Act. In the short term, Johnson said he would fire every member of the MNsure staff "because they are incompetent."
Johnson's answer gets a positive response from the audience.
Dayton is touting the number of Minnesotans who are now insured because of MNsure. To be exact, about 40 percent more people who were previously uninsured now have coverage,
Lightning round! Yes or no answers, only!
Question: Do you support the broadband infrastructure task force's recommendation to increase funding for the service? Dayton: Yes, Nicollet: Yes, but focused on areas that need technology most. Johnson: No, wouldn't support exact number but the concept is a priority.
Question: Do you support the development of rail between Rochester and the Twin Cities?
Nicollet: Talks around the issue, says not enough money is being put into roads and bridges...
Candidates aren't abiding by the "yes" or "no" rule in the lightning round.
Johnson: "I haven't been a big fan of rail projects in general" and he's skeptical that this rail line would pay for itself.
Dayton: He agrees with Johnson, and wants to see a cost-benefit analysis for the Rochester-TC rail service. He also wants the analysis done in conjunction with the Destination Medical Center project, which is meant to revitalize Rochester.