By Don Davis
Former Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Zellers Sunday used a Maple Grove suburban setting to emphasize his middle-class roots and announce he is running for Minnesota governor.
During brief remarks, he emphasized his rural North Dakota upbringing and said he would love to lure business to Minnesota from his home state.
Zellers became the third suburban Republican to enter the race against Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton. Another suburbanite plans to get into the race this week, with several others on the bubble. At least two rural Republicans are considering the race.
The state representative told a hundred people gathered on a Maple Grove lawn not far from his home that while he considers Dayton a friend, he does not agree with tax increases of more than $2 billion that he and a Democratic Legislature enacted this year.
“Mark Dayton is taking us in the wrong direction,” Zellers said.
The new taxes are not needed, he added. “We have enough to run state government and pay the bills, more than enough.”
It is a story heard from other Republican candidates and would-be candidates, but Zellers said he has an advantage because as House GOP leader he traveled the state extensively.
Zellers and other Republican candidates will vie to take on Dayton in the November 2014 general election.
A handful of legislators past and present joined Zellers for his announcement.
Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, was among them. He said that by the time the election arrives, Minnesotans will understand that the Dayton-Democratic tax increases will hurt them.
That, he said, is influencing a large number of Republicans to fight for the nomination. “A lot of people see it as an opportunity. … There are a lot of things to fix.”
Even if they agree on the tax issue, Kelly said, “you will see some pretty stark differences.”
Zellers, 43, brings into the campaign better name recognition than his rivals. As speaker two years, until Democrats took over legislative control last November, he held what often is considered the second most powerful political post in the state, and received the publicity that goes with it.
However, he also brings a taint of not being able to retain a GOP House majority after two years in power. He was chief House negotiator in 2011, when state government shut down because legislative leaders and Dayton could not agree on a budget.
Kelly said the shutdown and Republicans losing the majority should not hurt Zellers within the GOP because Republicans know he works hard.
Liberal leaning Alliance for a Better Minnesota said Zellers failed as speaker and “presided over historic cuts to middle class priorities.”
“Zellers’ leadership was so bad that Minnesotans swept his party out of office in November,” Executive Director Carrie Lucking said.
Zellers appeared Sunday with his mother and stepfather from Webster, N.D., a small town near Devils Lake; his wife of 11 years, Kim, and their son and daughter; her parents; and many other family members.
He graduated from the University of North Dakota with a political science degree and almost immediately became involved in politics.
He worked for then-U.S. Sen. Rod Grams from 1994 to 2000 and was House Republicans’ communications director the next three years. In 2003, voters elected him to the state House.
Zellers joins the crop of announced and potential Republican governor candidates:
— Scott Honour of Wayzata, a businessman who never has sought public office before, was the first Republican to get into the race. A Fridley native, Honour was raised in a trailer, but now is wealthy, running a business as a venture capitalist.
— Jeff Johnson of Plymouth, who also has announced, is serving his second term as Hennepin County commissioner after being a state representative. He failed in an attempt to become state attorney general, but that gave him statewide campaign experience. Johnson is a Detroit Lakes, Minn., native.
— State Sen. Dave Thompson of Lakeville is expected to announce his governor bid on Wednesday.
— State Sen. Julie Rosen of Fairmont, who carried the Vikings stadium legislation last year, is considering running.
— State Sen. David Hann of Eden Prairie, the Senate minority leader, also is believe to be considering a bid.
— State Rep. Matt Dean, who was House majority leader when Zellers was speaker, is said to be thinking about it.
— Former state Rep, Marty Seifert of Marshall, a 2010 GOP candidate, is thinking about running.