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Issues like taxes, health care, education and roads are at the top of the to-do list for Minnesota’s next governor. But whoever wins the race between Democrat Tim Walz and Republican Jeff Johnson is also likely to face tough decisions over a set of contentious social issues.

The next governor will play a role in helping shape the public debate — and in some cases the public policy — of polarizing issues like abortion, guns and immigration. What exactly happens will also depend on which party controls the state House and Senate next year, but the governor often sets the tone of the debate, and will sign or veto bills with the stroke of a pen.

Interest groups on both sides are spending heavily and mobilizing volunteers to back Johnson, a Hennepin County commissioner, or Walz, a U.S. congressman.

Here’s a look at where the candidates stand on abortion, guns and immigration:


The confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh was widely seen as a victory for abortion foes nationwide who want to see the court overturn Roe v. Wade and allow states to outlaw abortion. But getting there would be tough in Minnesota.

That’s because Minnesota has its own version of Roe v. Wade. It’s called Doe v. Gomez, a decision in which the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that women have a fundamental right to terminate a pregnancy, and are also entitled to have it paid for if they are on state assistance.

The Minnesota Supreme Court could overturn this precedent, but that’s unlikely, at least for now. Of the seven justices on the court, five were appointed by Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton.

Walz favors abortion rights and the status quo on the issue in Minnesota.

Johnson, a Hennepin County commissioner, is anti-abortion. He has said that, if given the opportunity, he would sign into law abortion restrictions like one in Iowa, which bans abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected about six weeks into a pregnancy.

If Johnson is elected, he would likely appoint conservative judges to the state Supreme Court. But it’s not clear how long it would take to break the court’s current majority of Dayton appointees.

Johnson also said if the Legislature sends him a bill defunding Planned Parenthood, he would sign it, but would insist they divert resources to other health organizations serving women.

Planned Parenthood responds that there aren’t enough providers to do so and that women — and impoverished women in particular — would go without contraception, cancer screenings and other services.


Johnson said in a debate during the Republican primary that he would not support any new legislation restricting access to guns. Gun rights organizations are strongly backing him.

Walz has a tumultuous history on the issue.

An accomplished marksman who served for 24 years in the National Guard, Walz for years courted gun rights activists as he ran in Minnesota’s First Congressional District, which leans more Republican than the state as a whole. More recently, Walz publicly broke with the National Rifle Association after the mass shootings in Las Vegas and Parkland, Fla.

Walz now favors a Minnesota assault weapons ban, expanded background checks and a measure that would allow the authorities to confiscate a person’s guns after a court hearing declared him unfit to possess one, sometimes called a “red flag law.”


Johnson, who backs the hawkish immigration policies of President Donald Trump, has been relentlessly attacking Walz for his immigration stance since the campaign began.

At a recent debate, Johnson said Walz’s position would make Minnesota a “safe space for illegal immigrants who want to come here. We would become a magnet.” Johnson said this influx of undocumented immigrants would negatively affect Minnesota schools by increasing class sizes.

Walz says the federal government, not state and local law enforcement, should enforce immigration law.

“Why are we taking precious resources away when the federal government should be doing their responsibility” to enforce immigration law, he said.

If undocumented immigrants are afraid to talk to local police, they will be reluctant to report sex trafficking, domestic violence and other crimes often committed against people in their communities, Walz argued.

The two candidates also disagree about refugees.

Johnson said he would lobby the federal government, which administers resettlement programs, to no longer send refugees to Minnesota, at least until the state has a more thorough understanding of the costs associated with refugee resettlement.

Walz said the state needs immigrant workers and wants to keep the program in place.

J. Patrick Coolican • 651-925-5042