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Expected wave of GOP candidates for governor starts with a ripple

A large media delegation arrived at the Capitol this morning, expecting to see the first official wave caused by Gov. Tim Pawlenty's announcement that he will not seek a third term.

Instead of a wave, the journalists got a ripple.

Rep. Marty Seifert, the House minority leader from Marshall, announced that he was stepping down from that position. He did NOT, however, become the first Republican to officially announce candidacy for governor.

"Kicking the tires," the 37-year-old former schoolteacher said. 

Certainly, he was taking some very firm kicks. He made it clear the reason he was stepping down as minority leader — though he is not stepping down from his House seat — is that he didn't believe he could do justice to that job while even thinking about a run for governor.

"I'm considering running,'' he said, adding that so far he has received considerable encouragement from a cross-section of county party chairs. He added that what follows "consideration" is "exploration" before beginning a "full-fledged run."


Seifert, who has served as minority leader since 2006, is a rock-ribbed, small-government conservative known for his honesty, integrity and even humility. 

In his mind, it would be impossible to remain as minority leader and seriously consider running because there simply would be potential conflicts of self-interest versus the interest of the caucus. He didn't see how it would be possible, for example, to raise money for the caucus — one of the leader's major jobs — while trying to raise money for a gubernatorial campaign.

House Minority leader Marty Seifert
House Minority Leader Marty Seifert

Seifert's decision does put the spotlight on House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, who has said she's considering joining the long list of candidates seeking the DFL nomination for governor. She has not said whether she would give up her powerful position if she decides to join the race.

"I'm not going to lecture her on what she should or should not do," said Seifert, when asked if Kelliher should follow his example.

In fact, Seifert had kind things to say about the Minneapolis DFLer.

"I tip my hat to the leader for treating me as an equal," he said. "In public, we have had our moments, but in private, there's a great deal of affection for each other."

He urged his successor as minority leader to maintain an open-door policy with DFLers, despite the substantial policy differences and some lingering anger over the DFL's last-second passage of a tax bill on the final night of the session. That bill, to no one's surprise, was vetoed by the governor.

The House Republican caucus meets June 24, which Seifert said prompted his announcement now. There will be three weeks, he said, for members to take over what is a very difficult job.

In addition to raising money, the leader is a key figure in recruiting new candidates and holding the caucus together. Certainly, Seifert was successful in the last of those duties this session. DFLers needed just three Republicans to join them to override Pawlenty vetoes, but not a single Republican broke ranks on the major bills.

In talking about his political future, Seifert managed to cite both Ronald Reagan and President Obama.

If he is to run for governor, he said he will not criticize any of his fellow Republicans.

"Ronald Reagan's 11the commandment was: 'Don't speak badly of another Republican,' " Seifert said.

Then, he talked about his own background. "A German in a Scandinavian state, a Catholic in a Lutheran state, a former union member (which doesn't fit Republican stereotypes)," he said. "But I take a page from Obama's book: I don't think people care about that stuff anymore."

If — more likely, when — he does decide to run, Seifert said he'll abide by party endorsement.

Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.

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