1. Opening Remarks.
Jeff Johnson is running for governor to
give people back the control government has taken over the past 50
years. Johnson said he wants to give people more control over
their own money, health care and businesses. He said his guiding
principle is his belief that we as a society have become more
focused on institutions than on people. For example, he said, we're
focused on the school, instead of what's best for the student, or
the union or company, instead of what's best for the worker.
Focusing on the gas tax for long-term
financing of transportation doesn't make sense. Johnson made
that remark and said revenue from the gas tax will continue to drop
because of more fuel-efficient cars and the possibility that people
will be driving less. "We're building towards today rather than for
50 years from now," he said. "We are going to have to rely on at
least some money from the general fund."
An interviewer asked why the general fund
is so attractive for transportation, when there are all kinds of
opportunities for user fees. Johnson said transportation at the
state level is funded almost solely from user fees now. "But as we
talk about needing to spend more, an argument can be made for
dipping into the general fund," he said. Everyone, even those who
don't drive, relies on freeways for emergency vehicles and for food
to get to grocery stores.
Johnson supports spending more money on
improving the bus system and is not in favor of light-rail transit (LRT).
He said he supports transit options for those who need them, but
he believes the cost/benefit ratio for LRT is not favorable. "The
tremendous cost far outweighs the very small congestion-relief
benefit," he said. Instead, Johnson supports spending more money on
a better bus system. "It's much more flexible, much less expensive
and can get people where they need to go," he said.
"Fixed rail lines are not the future of
transportation," Johnson said. "We must look more long term." He
said we must look at the bigger picture. "When we look at what
futurists are predicting 15 or 20 years forward, transportation will
look nothing like it looks right now. At some point, it will
probably be the case that few people will be driving their own
An interviewer asked how the
transportation system could be a tool to enhance the ability of
lower-income people to get to work. "That's an argument for beefing
up the bus system," Johnson responded. "You can move a bus line to
get to new development. Buses make more sense."
3. K-12 Education.
Johnson questions whether we should be
basing the measurement of K-12 student achievement solely on tests
and grades. He made that remark in response to comments and
questions by an interviewer about the disagreement over what
"achievement" means for students and what "performance" means for
schools. The interviewer said that public opinion surveys show that
people most want schools to provide students with character
development, behavior standards and workforce readiness. Only 35
percent of schools are doing well on those measures, the interviewer
said. And polls show that eight out of 10 Americans want students to
be engaged in learning in schools. The interviewer asked to what
extent student engagement rather than student performance should be
the route to measuring school success.
Johnson said he tends to agree that we
focus too much on standardized testing in comparing schools. He said
we do need some level of standardized testing, but students also
learn from extracurricular activities, such as sports, music and
community service. Academics are the primary reason kids are
in school, but we can't ignore these other forms of learning.
Johnson said practical and technical
training based on employers' needs should be available in high
schools. He said small employers can't find people with the
training they need to fill jobs. When asked by an interviewer what
students would say should be changed in schools, Johnson said his
sons and their friends say there should be more focus on
extracurricular activities and practical learning.
The education funding system has been
built on the political deals necessary to pass education omnibus
bills, not on what's good for students. Johnson gave that
response when asked about what he sees as the most effective way to
fund schools in Minnesota and what role equity should play in the
funding system. He said he focused on education when he was in the
Legislature. "The K-12 finance system is horrific and so complex,"
he said. "Only a handful of people truly understand it. The more we
can simplify it, the better."
Johnson's goal as governor is to focus on
the education achievement gap in Minnesota. "It's ridiculous
that we're one of the worst in the country," he said. "But when
we're talking about the achievement gap, it's not necessarily about
funding." There is high per pupil funding in some of the schools
doing the most poorly, he said. "It's not about the money. That's
not the solution."
Johnson said we must bring in teachers and
administrators who've been involved in turning failing schools
around. And he said giving people more choices is part of the
Johnson would extend school choice beyond
just public schools to include private schools, at least for
families whose children are enrolled in schools that are not
performing. He spoke about a parent trigger program in New
Jersey that goes into effect for parents of children in a school
that is failing, however that is defined. The parents can make the
decision about what happens next, whether they choose to change the
administration of the school, become a charter school or receive
vouchers to send their children to private schools. "Most people in
Minneapolis don't want to open-enroll their child in Woodbury or
Wayzata. They want to improve their neighborhood school, but they
feel powerless to make change," he said.
The measure of school performance
shouldn't be solely based on standardized tests, but also on
graduation rates. Johnson gave that response when an interviewer
expressed frustration over measuring achievement exclusively through
student performance on standardized tests. Another interviewer took
issue with measuring school performance by graduation rates, saying
the rates are easily manipulated by schools.
Hennepin County has started to work with
K-12 schools in the county. Johnson explained that community
members and Hennepin County staff meet quarterly with
superintendents and school staff to review how students who are
within the county's system are doing in school. The biggest problem,
he said, is sharing data. "We're trying to talk and coordinate as
best we can," he said. "In some cases, having a county presence in
the schools might make sense." That could possibly include county
child-protection workers and other staff sometimes meeting with
students at their schools, rather than requiring the students to
come to the county.
Johnson favors using the scholarship
format for preschool education to get children ready for
4. Higher Education.
Should we reinstate the Minnesota Higher
Education Coordinating Board (HECB)? An interviewer asked that
question saying the board could look at the question of getting
students ready for the real world through both vocational-technical
programs and four-year colleges. The interviewer also said the board
could look at the question of whether we're getting what we're
paying for in our state public postsecondary system.
Johnson responded that he did not know the
background of the elimination of HECB, but would be open to possibly
bringing it back. One interviewer commented that the state's public
postsecondary institutions thought HECB had too much power in making
decisions. Another interviewer commented that over the years, the
Legislature took away the policy role HECB used to play. Today, the
surviving Office of Higher Education's (OHE) role is focused mainly
on financial aid and on regulation of private nonprofit and
for-profit postsecondary institutions, with a very limited role in
budget recommendations for the University of Minnesota (U of M) and
Minnesota State, formerly known as the Minnesota State Colleges and
Universities (MnSCU) system.
(Note: The Minnesota Legislature started a
state-coordinating role in higher education in 1965, with the
creation of the Minnesota Liaison and Facilities Commission. The
Commission was renamed the Higher Education Coordinating Commission
(HECC) in 1967, which was renamed the Higher Education Coordinating
Board (HECB) in 1975.
HECB was a citizen board responsible for
statewide planning and, in its earlier years, for reviewing new
program proposals from postsecondary institutions in the state and
reviewing and recommending system budget proposals for the U of M
and MnSCU. HECB was abolished by the Legislature in 1995 and certain
of its duties were transferred elsewhere. It was replaced with the
Higher Education Services Office and that office was replaced in
2005 by the Office of Higher Education (OHE), which was designated a
5. Public-Policy Process.
Leaders who succeed are able to find areas
we can agree on. Johnson gave that response to an interviewer's
question about what characteristics a governor would need in order
to change the partisan atmosphere in state government. Johnson said
he has worked with Democrats both when he served in the Legislature
and currently as a Hennepin County commissioner, since he is the
only Republican on the county board.
Johnson believes that if Minnesota elects
a Republican governor in 2018, we will likely have a Republican
House. (The Senate is not up for election in 2018.) "But I don't
think in the long term it'll be successful for the governor if
everything passes strictly on party lines," he said. "My job will be
to find Democrats who agree with me on my priorities and enlist
their help--and offer them cover, if necessary."
Johnson stated that he is the only
gubernatorial candidate who can address the rural/urban/suburban
divide. He has a background in Greater Minnesota, has represented
the suburbs and has had an emphasis on urban problems during his
time on the Hennepin County Board. "I have tried to spend time in
North Minneapolis with community leaders--business people, teachers
and principals," he said. "We talk about what government is doing
that's working and what government is doing that's making things
Where are policy ideas generated today?
Johnson said for Hennepin County, many good ideas come from
county staff members, because they see what's happening every day in
implementing county policies. An interviewer commented that there is
a lot of pressure on the county commissioners to see they have
diversity among the county staff, so that they're getting diverse
views. "It's important to get ideas from staff, but you must pay
attention to how you bring staff on board, so that it's more
representative of the broader population," the interviewer said.
Maybe we should move the planning function
of the Metropolitan Council to a state agency and put elected local
officials on the Met Council. Johnson gave that response to an
interviewerís question of whether we need a State Planning Agency
"I think all of what the Met Council was
created to do still makes sense today," Johnson said. "But they have
gone so far afield of that. They have taxing authority, even though
theyíre not elected, which I just have a fundamental problem with.
"Part of their job is planning. So, if we
could take that part of their job and move it to an actual state
agency that is funded through the normal legislative process,
through elected officials, that might be part of the solution to my
Met Council problem."
An interviewer asked whether the Met
Councilís members should be elected, to which Johnson replied, "I
think one of two things should happen. It either should be electedóI
donít love the idea of directly electing them, but I at least think
it should be populated with elected officials.
The interviewer commented, "Youíre not
elected unless youíre elected to the seat in which youíre voting."
"Then to me, thatís probably not the best
answer," Johnson responded. "The better answer is the Met Councilís
budget should go through the Legislature as if itís a state agency."
"It is a state agency now," the
interviewer said. "The chair came off the governorís staff."
"But they arenít necessarily funded that
way," Johnson replied. "They still have that taxing power and they
have the power of eminent domain, which I have problems with.
Ideally, they would be elected, but I think a better way to do it
would be if they were county commissioners and city council members.
Otherwise, take their taxing authority away."
Johnson said he doesnít believe we can
tinker around the edges of the Met Council but need to actually
eliminate it and start over with a regional body that has very
limited powers and is either elected or does not have taxing
How can the governor impact the
legislative process in a positive way? An interviewer asked that
question and pointed particularly to the problem of omnibus bills
being negotiated by a select few. Johnson said legislators are
taking things that would never pass on their own and putting them in
"Every session ends the same way, with a
few people behind a closed door doing the negotiating," Johnson
said. "These bills have 700 pages and legislators have no idea
what's in them. The Legislature ends up in special session time
after time. There has been a 57 percent increase in state spending
from the general fund over the last eight or 10 years. Nobody knows
what he or she is voting on in these huge bills. We get so much bad
law because of what's happening."
The governor can fix the omnibus bill
problem through the veto pen. Johnson said he would veto any
bill not meeting the state Constitutional requirement that each
legislative bill be restricted to a single subject. "I don't know
how else to make it more enforceable, if the courts won't do it," he
said. And he said he would veto any bill not posted for at least 48
hours before debate on that bill begins.
"This is as bipartisan an issue as there
can be," he said, noting that Sen. John Marty (DFL-Roseville) is
also behind enforcing the single-subject requirement.