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Four DFL governor candidates make pitch in Cloquet

t092717 --- Clint Austin --- 092817.N.DNT.GOVERNOR.C02 --- Erin Murphy (second from left) speaks during a candidate forum featuring DFL candidates for governor at the Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College in Cloquet Wednesday evening. Other candidates at the forum were Tim Walz, Rebecca Otto and Tina Liebling. (Clint Austin /

CLOQUET—Four people passed microphones across a table, sometimes echoing one another, sometimes striking out on their own. One of them might be elected governor — in about 400 days.

DFL gubernatorial candidates Tim Walz, Erin Murphy, Rebecca Otto and Tina Liebling took questions in a moderated forum Wednesday night in front of about 75 people gathered at Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College last Wednesday, Sept. 27. The four made their appearance well ahead of caucuses and the eventual DFL endorsement for next year's governor's race. Two other DFL candidates, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and state Rep. Paul Thissen of Minneapolis, were not at the forum Wednesday night.

State Rep. Mike Sundin, DFL-Esko, moderated the forum.

Liebling, a state representative from Rochester, said she's a voice for Greater Minnesota.

"I've always made decisions that are for the ordinary people," she said.

Otto, the three-term state auditor who lives in rural Washington County, presented a clean-energy-jobs program and took a hard stand against sulfide mining.

"These multinational corporations have not been good players locally. They're there to serve their shareholders," she said. "We're nice but we're not naive."

Murphy, a state representative from St. Paul and former majority leader, came out in favor of single-payer health care and touted her time as a nurse and organizing with the Minnesota Nurses Association.

"Health care is a human right," she said. "It is time for us now to build the infrastructure behind that." Otto and Liebling also support single-payer insurance.

Walz, the First District congressman from Mankato, said he's a coalition-builder who understands well the "F" in DFL.

"I get the support of the corn growers, and I get the Sierra Club," he said.

Many of those in the audience were party insiders who could play an early role in guiding the DFL's endorsement, and the questions they submitted touched on regional issues such as mining, labor, water quality and pipelines.

Liebling sided with Otto against copper-mine proposals, saying, "The risk is too great." Walz and Murphy said that good science and the permitting process should guide the decision.

Asked about the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline replacement project — approval of which is up to the Public Utilities Commission and not the governor — candidates offered mixed feelings and only Walz appeared in favor.

"If we can do it safely we should build it," he said as a few audience members shook their heads and others clapped.

Pipelines and nonferrous mining represent a major identity crisis within the party, pitting environmentalists against labor unions and forcing politicians to take sides or walk a fine line.

One question posed was on what the candidates are doing to make sure union voices are heard — all responded they would veto legislation that would weaken collective bargaining or union rights.

Many questions focused on health care, education and working with divided government. While talking points differed, candidates agreed more often than not.

When asked if they would support legalizing recreational marijuana use for adults, each candidate except Otto said yes.

Brooks Johnson

Brooks is an investigative/enterprise reporter and business columnist at the Duluth News Tribune.

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