Voting has already begun in Minnesota, with control of every state-level office on the line in November. The four major constitutional offices – Governor, Attorney General, Auditor, Secretary of State – are on the ballot. So are all 201 seats in the Minnesota Legislature.
The NFIB Minnesota PAC made endorsements in many races this summer and fall:
Governor: Dr. Scott Jensen
Attorney General: Jim Schultz
Minnesota Legislature: 45 Senate Candidates, 79 House Candidates
The NFIB MN PAC endorsement is an important signal to voters across the state that a candidate will stand with small business. Learn more about the Power of the Small Business Voice.
Below we’ll look at the races for Governor and Attorney General, and dive into a major issue that’s shaking up both races.
Governor: Dr. Scott Jensen (R) v. Gov. Tim Walz (D-inc.)
This race features family doctor and former state Senator Dr. Scott Jensen against incumbent Gov. Tim Walz. Numerous third parties (Independence, Legal Marijuana Now, Grassroots-Legalize Cannabis, Socialist Workers) are also in the race.
Jensen is a longtime family physician and was the 2016 Minnesota Family Doctor of the Year. His small business experience includes starting a primary care practice group and co-owning several local restaurants.
Jensen is also a former one-term state senator, where was awarded the NFIB Guardian of Small Business Award for scoring 100% on the 2017-18 and 2019-20 NFIB MN Voting Records. His legislative record includes supporting significant small business tax cuts and opposing heavy-handed government regulation.
Prior to his election as governor in 2018, Walz served for over a decade in the U.S. House of Representatives. While there, he routinely voted against the NFIB position on important issues ranging from the Affordable Care Act to Cap and Trade.
As governor, Walz has pursued policies harmful to small business. Over the past four years, Walz supported a new 5th tier income tax that would be third highest in the country, a 70% increase in the state gas tax, billions in payroll tax increases, and a slew of employer mandates and penalties (paid sick leave, 24-week government-run paid time off, higher OSHA penalties, etc.).
In addition, the Walz Administration implemented the “California Cars” rules, a set of emissions standards and electric vehicle requirements that are wildly unpopular with NFIB members in Minnesota. More recently, Walz has not ruled out following California’s lead on fully banning the sale of gas-powered cars by 2035.
Recent polls show indicate the race leans toward Walz, but is still in play:
Sep. 29 (Cygnal/Jensen Internal): Walz 47.6%, Jensen 44.2%
Sep. 14 (Alpha News/Trafalgar): Walz 47.7%, Jensen 45%
Sep. 14 (Star Tribune/Mason-Dixon): Walz 48%, Jensen 41%
Attorney General: Jim Schultz (R) v. Keith Ellison (D-inc.)
There are no third-party candidates in this race.
This is Jim Schultz’s first run for public office. He is a 2008 graduate of the University of St. Thomas grad and 2011 graduate of Harvard Law. His legal resume includes time as an associate at the law firm of Dorsey & Whitney, and as an attorney for Minneapolis-based investment fund Varde Partners.
Schultz’s central campaign themes are re-establishing the criminal division within the Attorney General’s office to assist local prosecutors and de-politicizing the office, which has been under DFL control since 1972.
Ellison was first elected as Attorney General in 2018, following six terms as a U.S Representative from Minneapolis. During his last term in Congress, Ellison scored 0% on the NFIB Voting Record. Among other positions, Ellison voted against the 2017 Tax Cuts & Jobs Act, against the 2017 federal health care reform bill, and against the 2017 Regulatory Accountability Act. As Attorney General, Ellison supported and enforced COVID-19 emergency orders that shuttered small businesses while big box stores remained open (despite previously opposing the Emergency Powers law).
Ellison’s record on public safety is deeply controversial. He supported the Minneapolis Charter amendment to disband the city police department.
Recent shows a tight race, with the momentum shifting toward Schultz.
Sep. 14 (Alpha News/Trafalgar): Schultz 49.3%, Ellison 45.7%
Sep. 14 (Star Tribune/Mason-Dixon): Ellison 46%, Schultz 45%
Food Fraud Scandal Rocks Races
In a scandal that will likely reverberate in November and beyond, the United States Attorney for Minnesota last month announced the indictment of 47 individuals in connection with an alleged $250 million fraud scam.
Two more indictments were later announced – including one suspect stopped at a Chicago airport – and more are possible.
The charges follow a January raid by the FBI of Feeding Our Future (FOF), a nonprofit group alleged to be the ringleader in a fraudulent taxpayer-funded meal reimbursement scam. The suspected schemers siphoned federal COVID-19 relief funds intended to increase the availability of free meals for low-income children during the pandemic. Federal investigators allege dozens of fraudsters billed the program for meals they never served.
The news has impacted the races for Governor and Attorney General in Minnesota, with both incumbents struggling to explain how the fraud lasted for so long and grew so large.
State workers who administer the meals program first suspected fraud in July 2020. Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) employees says they reported the problems to the U.S. Department of Agriculture in October 2020, but felt the concerns weren’t being addressed.
In December 2020, MDE and the state Attorney General’s Office agreed to a court settlement with FOF in December 2020 that required them to make quicker decisions on meal site applications. Not until April 2021 did the state report the concerns to the FBI.
Following the indictments, Governor Walz suggested that a state court judge be investigated for allowing the payments to continue. In a rare rebuke, the judge fired back with a statement highlighting inaccuracies in the governor’s comments and clarifying that MDE was never ordered to continue making payments it suspected were fraudulent.
Much is yet to be learned about the scandal, but it’s clear the state did not do enough to prevent hundreds of millions in taxpayer funds from being siphoned off by fraud.
This scandal carries echoes of past taxpayer-funded fraud scams, like the Community Action Minneapolis (CAM) scandal which also featured the abuse of taxpayer funds meant for low-income families. That scam resulted in prison time for the CAM CEO. Now-Attorney General Keith Ellison served on CAM’s Board of Directors while the CEO diverted taxpayer funds toward a car loan, golf, beach vacations, and other travel.
With continuing news coverage and many lingering questions, the issue is sure to impact the race for Governor and Attorney General. Governor Walz took a lower profile on the scandal following the flap with the judge. Ellison has insisted his office acted properly and deflected questions by invoking attorney-client privilege as his office represents MDE.
Beyond the election, the meal fraud scandal will shake up the 2023 Legislative Session. Already, the Minnesota Senate Majority Leader has called for the resignation of the state Education Commissioner. If Gov. Walz wins re-election, it could set up a big confirmation fight over the MDE post.
Given the long history of alleged and definite fraud in the state, there should also be a big appetite for agency reform and greater oversight of nonprofits that receive taxpayer funding. Many lawmakers will be leery of increasing funding for welfare programs and may be reticent to provide additional funding for agencies they suspect of being lax on fraud.
Past legislative efforts resulted in minor reforms, but larger efforts have fizzed in the face of resistance from state bureaucrats.