MANKATO — Four of the five leading contenders to replace retiring Gov. Mark Dayton are scheduled to be in Mankato next week in what's likely to be the most complete gubernatorial forum yet in the competitive race for Minnesota's top elected office.
Forums for local contests have been announced for the following two weeks, including crowded races for open seats on the Blue Earth County Board and the Mankato City Council.
The gubernatorial forum, co-sponsored by Greater Mankato Growth and the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities, will be part of the Coalition's summer conference in Mankato. Free and open to the public, the 90-minute forum will begin at 7:30 p.m. July 26 in the Grand Hall of the civic center complex.
Candidates who have promised to attend are Rep. Erin Murphy, the DFL-endorsed candidate, Democratic Congressman Tim Walz of Mankato, Democratic state Attorney General Lori Swanson, and Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson, the Republican-endorsed candidate, according to Coalition spokesperson Julie Liew.
Only former Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty declined to participate in the 90-minute forum, which will be televised live on KTV and live-streamed online.
"I'm pretty sure this will be the biggest forum so far ...," Liew said of the governor's race.
Forums featuring candidates from both major political parties are uncommon in advance of the Aug. 14 primary election, when voters will pick which Republican and which Democrat will advance to the Nov. 6 general election.
With the primary election less than a month away, Greater Mankato Growth has also scheduled forums in non-partisan local races. The first on July 31 will feature candidates for Blue Earth County Board, including the three women seeking to replace retiring Commissioner Drew Campbell in District 1: Katie Boone, Tamera Marie Hansen and Colleen Landkamer. Unopposed District 2 Commissioner Vance Stuehrenberg has also been invited.
On Aug. 8, the focus turns to the Mankato City Council. All 13 candidates for various council seats have been invited to participate in the same forum. Seeking to replace Mayor Eric Anderson, who is retiring after two terms, are Najwa Massad, Bukata Hayes, Honey Burg, Toby Leonard and Nick Tracy. Candidates to succeed retiring one-term Council member Trudy Kunkel representing the city's west side are Jessica Hatanpa, Tyler Meihak-True and Taryn Surdy.
Longtime Council member Mark Frost is seeking re-election but has two challengers: Fardousa Jama and Aronn Oakland. Unopposed Ward 1 Council member Karen Foreman has been asked to participate as well.
Both the July 31 and Aug. 8 forums will run from 7 to 8:30 p.m. with a 30-minute "open house style meet and greet with the candidates" preceding the events at 6:30 p.m., according to GMG. They will be held on the second floor of the Centennial Student Union at Minnesota State University.
This story has been updated.