Johnson seeks to join DFL discourse

ST. PETER – The three candidates vying in the Minnesota House district 19A special election are taking dramatically different approaches to messaging and spending in their campaigns. A detail analysis of these elements provides rich details on each candidate’s view on legislative topics.

Come and join the party

Clark Johnson, the DFL candidate for the 19A election, is seeking a move from a long-time Nicollet County DFL activist to an active voice in the DFL majority’s legislative discussions this year with a win in the Feb. 12 special election.

He has argued he is the only candidate that will have his voice heard, if elected, by being part of the controlling party in the Minnesota Legislature and Governor’s office. He said this is vital for getting 19A concerns, like a Highway 14 four-lane expansion, into hearings.

Johnson, a faculty member at MSU-Mankato, has focused on making the proposed overhaul of the state budget based on long-term funding through progressive taxes and emphasis on education funding. He has primarily kept his campaign messaging focus on these factors, only segueing into social issues to clarify his positions.

He has repeatedly argued the “no new taxes” pledge of Republican lawmakers only resulted in budget unbalance that underfunded schools and pushed costs onto taxpayers. He said there needs to be a return to the “Minnesota Miracle” of the 1970s through fair taxes mixed with reasonable spending cuts. He said he disagrees with Republicans that government cannot create jobs, pointing to its work in building infrastructure, educating future workers and creating access to capital for fledgling businesses.

See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil

The 19A district is weighted towards the DFL on paper, but its complex voter base goes beyond cursory examinations and provides a challenge for Johnson’s run.

The 19A voters have elected DFL legislators equally as much as Republican legislators, though the DFL votes are more recent.

Allen Quist, Johnson’s Republican opponent in the race, was elected in the district’s old layout three times in the 1980s, and he carries most of his infrastructure from his unsuccessful congressional bid last November. The Republican Party has been working extensively with him on “Get Out the Vote” drives.

Johnson himself has largely given his campaign over to the state and local DFL parties for most of his campaign actions. This has given his access to the DFL’s immensely powerful voter data bases in the district, but cost him in having generalized messaging instead of any distinct positions.

On the two major issues facing the Legislature, he has repeatedly refused to clarify how he would vote on the particulars of gun control bills or Gov. Mark Dayton’s budget. He has only definitively said he supports raising taxes on the top 2 percent of Minnesota’s income earners. These actions may muddy the waters in DFL or independent voter enthusiasm for him, which is important in turning out voters for the traditionally low attendance special elections.

However, it is worth noting he has shown signs of departing from purely DFL positions. For example, he has found his only point of agreement with Quist in objecting to Sunday liquor sales on the basis Sunday should be kept as a “traditional day of rest.”

Finally, Independence Party candidate Tim Gieseke is running in the race. He is expected to draw votes from both parties, with more of the votes coming from the DFL since there are more of those voters in the district. The question is the degree to which Gieseke will draw more votes, since he aligns with many DFL positions on major issues. DFL letters to newspapers warning that voting for Gieseke is voting for Quist may reveal the party has its own concerns about him.

Finally, Johnson has focused on the heavily DFL-leaning student voters at Gustavus Adolphus College, which represent the single biggest voting precinct. The problem is student voters traditionally have low turnout for special elections and Gustavus students will not return to campus until today. Johnson’s campaign appears to be trying to address this by hosting a rally featuring Gov. Dayton and U.S. Rep. Tim Walz on that day.

Johnson on legislative agenda

On gun control, Johnson provided minimal details, but emphasized the complex issue deserves civil discourse. He said focus should be background checks and preventing dangerous people from obtaining guns, but did not provide details.

On education, he emphasized strong investment in early education and on control rising tuition cost for higher education.

On same-sex marriage, he has been loudly outspoken that he considers it “an equality issue” and would vote for its passage.

The special election will take place this Tuesday in the 19A district.

Josh Moniz can be e-mailed at

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