Governor Candidates Hold First Televised Forum at AFSCME Convention


Six DFL candidates for governor all vowed Friday to support union rights, public pensions and make sure everybody gets a fair shake at the AFSCME Council 5 Convention, the first televised forum of the campaign season.

The candidates included:

  • Saint Paul Mayor Chris Coleman
  • Rep. Tina Liebling (District 26A, Rochester)
  • Rep. Erin Murphy (District 64A, Saint Paul)
  • State Auditor Rebecca Otto
  • Rep. Paul Thissen (District 61B, Minneapolis)
  • U.S. Rep. Tim Walz (First District, southern Minnesota)

Council 5 president Judy Wahlberg told several hundred delegates, alternates and guests gathered at the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center that labor must elect a worker-friendly governor.


“Our survival depends on it,” she says. “Nobody knows it better than our labor movement. We have zero-tolerance for politicians like Scott Walker who want to take away our rights.”

The candidates largely agreed about the need for access to affordable, quality health care for all; the importance of public service and public workers; and the crucial nature of unions in protecting worker rights and our larger democracy as a safeguard against rule by the wealthy few.

“There is a war against state employees, against public employees, not just in this state, but in this country,” says Coleman. He says he’d shut down government for a while if needed rather than balance a budget on the backs of workers. “I want to lead the war against people who don’t respect you, who don’t value you for what you do.”

Otto says she’s running against the politics of “unfettered greed” that’s threatening our quality of life, fueled by propaganda, dark money and a view that all taxes and governmental protections are inherently bad.  “That’s nonsense,” she says. “There’s a better way, the politics of the common good.”

Thissen made mention of the Janus case before the Supreme Court, which will likely make the entire nation “right to work” for the public sector. “We need you to be there, and we shouldn’t be undermining your ability to protect the people you serve. I will be right there with you,” he says.

The candidates expressed alarm about the budget tricks played by the Minnesota GOP-controlled House and Senate in the last legislative session, including tax breaks for big tobacco, giant corporations and the estates of multi-millionaires. Those tax breaks could quickly bring Minnesota back into a deficit and require cuts to public services.

“You can’t cut the taxes of the wealthy and shift the burden onto lower income folks,” Liebling says. She suggests including the cost of inflation in budget forecasts and better informing the public about the services their taxes provide, such as a sign thanking taxpayers for the gas tax that fixed the road they’re driving on. “We need to find better ways to let Minnesotans know how important their taxes are and the wonderful things they pay for.”

The DFL candidates agreed that they’d roll back those tax breaks for the rich to ensure fiscal stability. Before DFL Gov. Dayton was elected and balanced the budget, GOP leaders ran up huge deficits. Murphy says cutting taxes for the rich and funding transportation from the General Fund like the GOP did last session takes funding from schools and other public services, now and in the future.

"Retirement security is something we earn," Murphy says. "Under my watch, we will not, you will not lose your retirement security, you will not lose your pension,"

AFSCME believes all workers have the freedom to join together and negotiate a fair return on their work, a principle all the candidates agreed with. When asked how to stop the CEOs and the wealthiest few who are trying to take those rights away, Otto replied simply, “Veto.”

“That is right, the governor can just say no,” says Thissen, who also called for transparency in government. “I will not sign a single bill when governor that is not negotiated in public and done in a legislative process so people know what they’re voting on.”

Walz says the gubernatorial candidate must win across the state, and pick up DFL legislative seats across Greater Minnesota. Part of that is helping the public understand how much public workers and unions do to improve their lives. He points to people going out to campaign against union rights.

“The damned weekend you gave them by collectively bargaining, they are using our weekends against us,” he says.

All the lawmakers vowed to protect defined-benefit pensions: “A pension is a sacred promise that can’t be broken,” Walz says. “You’ve earned this, and it’s your money.”

The candidates also spoke out in united opposition to privatization, especially the ongoing GOP attempt to give private prison companies a toehold in Minnesota.

Coleman points out that for privatization to work, corporations have to either pay workers less money or provide fewer services so they can make a profit.

“Privatization only works when you strip away people’s wages, when you strip away people’s benefits, their hard-earned pensions,” he says. “Privatization is a sham … It doesn’t work unless you treat people without dignity.”

Most of the candidates pledged to honor whoever eventually wins the DFL endorsement for governor.

“We all need to work together,” Liebling says. “We must have a DFL governor. If we don’t, it’s game over for worker rights.”

AFSCME Council 5 is one of Minnesota’s largest and most politically active unions with 43,000 members. The forum begins AFSCME’s screening and endorsement process. AFSCME members will continue one-on-one conversations about issues that matter to working people. At a later date, our Executive Board will screen and endorse a candidate for governor.