Political notebook: GOP race for Minnesota governor off and running

By Don Davis

Minnesota’s 2014 governor race is underway.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton long has said he plans to seek a second term, and at least a half-dozen Republicans want the chance to knock him off. One GOP wag joked that every Republican legislator was thinking about running.

So far, the main Republican in the race is rich businessman Scott Honour, who announced his candidacy via email and Web video.

“Like you, I love Minnesota,” he said in the email. “But I fear that our state is headed in the wrong direction, and under the wrong leadership. I know that the same people with the same political resumes are not going to solve our problems.”

The 46-year-old Orono resident quickly offered the Wall Street Journal an interview about his candidacy, and a day later offered to talk to several Twin Cities-based media outlets.

Honour leads an international investment firm.

While Honour may be the first serious GOP candidate, he will not be the last. Serious contenders include:

– Former state Rep. Jeff Johnson, now a Hennepin County commissioner, is expected to announce his candidacy Sunday.

– Sen. David Thompson of Lakeville says he will announce if he will run soon after the Legislature adjourns May 20.

– Sen. Julie Rosen of Fairmont probably is the only potential GOP candidate besides Honour who could finance her own campaign.

– Senate Minority Leader David Hann of Eden Prairie ran for governor the last time around.

– Rep. Kurt Zellers of Maple Grove was House speaker for two years made contacts around the state.

– Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek is a former state representative who has met with the president on gun control issues.

Good Dayton chance

An incumbent always has a good chance to win a new term, so most might think that Dayton’s re-election odds must be pretty good.

University of Minnesota political blogger Eric Ostermeier, who delves deep into the political numbers, says political watchers should not assume that.

“Slightly more than one in five Minnesota gubernatorial incumbents in state history lost their re-election bids, or nine out of 42 attempts,” he reported on his Smart Politics blog.

Democratic governors, like Dayton, have won just six of 11 re-election bids, Ostermeier reports. Only two Republican governors have failed to be re-elected when they ran again.

Nursing home fights

One of the strongest legislative debates this year has been over nursing home funding.

Rural legislators, in particular, have fought for more nursing home money, especially for the workers who have not received raises in four years.

Freshman Rep. Jay McNamar, DFL-Elbow Lake, is an example.

“The major concern I had throughout this session with health and human services was the need to get nursing home and long-term care workers a pay increase,” he said. “The work these people do is honorable and it requires a lot of sacrifice.”

The House does better than the Senate when it comes to giving nursing home workers raises. The debate likely will be a prime concern as negotiators merge House, Senate and governor health funding plans.

Goodbye, Capitol

Capitol reporters have been told they will be booted from their hot, stuffy and moldy basement offices this summer if lawmakers approve a $109 million Capitol renovation request in May.

They will be gone at least two years as renovators work their way through the Capitol.

Their temporary location, “swing space” is what state officials call it, will be in the Centennial Building, about a block away from the Capitol but connected via a tunnel.

Everyone will be moved out of the Capitol at some point.

House votes safety

Minnesota state representatives voted Friday to protect children from some toxic chemicals.

They approved on a 113-13 vote a measure to ban companies from intentionally putting formaldehyde in child care products. They backed a second bill 115-11 to keep bisphenol A out of baby and toddler food containers in the state.

Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, offered the formaldehyde bill because the substance is toxic and can cause cancer.

“A 1-ounce dose will kill a human being,” Persell said.

The bill deals with items such as skin care products.

Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, said the Persell bill requires products to have a lower formaldehyde level than occurs in nature and lower than the federal government requires.

Persell, however, said his bill applies only to formaldehyde intentionally put into products.

The bill gives businesses until next year to remove the products from their shelves.

Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights, said the bisphenol A prohibition would be on top of existing bans on using BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups. This would keep the chemical out of containers of formula and baby food.

Similar bills are awaiting Senate consideration.

Spill calls required

Spills of potentially hazardous chemicals must be reported to both the state and local authorities under a bill that the House passed 125-1 Friday.

Rep. Dan Schoen, DFL-St. Paul Park, said spills already must be reported to a state official, but local 911 centers also should be in the loop so they can better respond.

To respond to concerns that a citizen may not know he needs to call two places, Schoen’s bill also requires the proper state official to let the caller know he also needs to contact local authorities.

Reporter Danielle Killey contributed to this report.

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