Walz, Jensen face off in only TV debate in governor's race
ROCHESTER, Minn. – Gov. Tim Walz and Dr. Scott Jensen faced off in their first and only televised debate Tuesday night, clashing on issues from abortion to education.
It came three weeks before Election Day as early voting is already underway. Walz, a Democrat, leads GOP challenger Jensen in the latest MinnPost poll by five percentage points.
Early on, each candidate was asked about his positions on abortion access in wake of the fall of Roe v. Wade, making the issue a key factor in races across the country. Jensen acknowledged abortion is a right protected by Minnesota's constitution because of a 1995 Supreme Court decision and if elected governor, he won't - and can't - ban the procedure.
"In Minnesota, abortion is a legally-protected right. It is not on the ballot in November," Jensen said at the debate at KTTC in Rochester, hosted by a group of TV stations in Greater Minnesota. "What is on the ballot in November is - without question - skyrocketing inflation, crime out of control, and our kids aren't getting the education that we think they need."
Walz struck back, accusing Jensen of shifting stances on the issue. Jensen, a family doctor from Chaska, said earlier this year in radio interviews that he would support banning abortion, without exceptions for rape and incest.
"This is about life and death. This is about providers making the most personal decisions with a woman with nobody else in between them," Walz said. "I've made it very clear in every single thing I've done. I didn't have to practice the 40 years of medicine to change a position on women's healthcare in the final weeks once we saw how unpopular this was."
FEEDING OUR FUTURE SCANDAL SPILLS INTO DEBATE
This marked the candidates' second debate this election cycle, following the forum at FarmFest, which focused heavily on agriculture and other issues important to rural communities.
The event, held in August, predated the explosive indictments of more than four dozen people connected to the Feeding our Future scandal, which federal authorities called the "largest pandemic fraud in the United States." Jensen went after Walz and his administration for alleged food fraud scheme that stole $250 million in federal funds, accusing him of not being forthcoming with information.
"Gov. Walz and his team could've stopped this anywhere along the line," Jensen said. "Basically it appears there was a cover-up. Two questions are huge on all of our minds: What did Gov? Walz know and when did he know it?"
Walz defended the Minnesota Department of Education for alerting the FBI of their concerns about the request for payments. He also praised school districts and other providers who participated in the federal child nutrition program that did "an incredible job" delivering meals to kids during the pandemic.
"No one agrees with the fraud," Walz said. "We'll make sure that these people who have already pled guilty to go to jail. They'll continue to do the investigation. We will continue to put things in place, as they've already done at the federal level, rolling and putting back in some of those safeguards. And I think the after-action on this is for us to strengthen some of those."
RIOT RESPONSE AFTER GEORGE FLOYD MURDER
Jensen also attacked Walz for his response to the civil unrest and riots following George Floyd's murder. He argued he would've better coordinated the response with state, local and federal agencies.
"This was arguably the biggest crisis we've experienced in my lifetime and Tim Walz was absent," he said.
Walz defended his actions during that time and took a shot at Jensen for "sitting on the sidelines and critiquing" those decisions when he wasn't governor having to make them in real-time during an unprecedented moment. He said the state's actions have since informed future state preparations for protests that could escalate.
"There have been several occasions from Derek Chauvin's trial to the murder of Daunte Wright where the potential for this to happen again was there. It did not because of the lessons learned," he said.
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