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Former Speaker Kurt Zellers becomes third Republican to challenge Dayton in 2014

His middle-class, working-class background will distinguish him from his opponents, he said.

State Rep. Kurt Zellers announcing his candidacy for governor on Sunday in Maple Grove.
MinnPost photo by Brian Halliday

“Smack dab in the middle of the middle class.”

With these words Sunday, state Rep. Kurt Zellers described both his family and his campaign theme as he announced his bid to be the Republican nominee for governor in 2014.

Zellers, the former House speaker until Republicans lost the majority in 2012, repeated the frequent criticisms of Gov. Mark Dayton’s budget decisions that he voiced in the Legislature.

More than $2 billion in new taxes and fees, he said, will “impact every Minnesota family and employer.”  To a crowd of about 100 supporters, he said, “We’ve got to get the yoke of government off the backs, out of the pockets and out of the way of these small business owners.”

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The optics matched the rhetoric.  Zellers made his announcement in Maple Grove in a yard splashed with sunshine and accessorized with babies and small children. 

His middle-class, working-class background will distinguish him from his opponents, he said. “I’ve worked hourly jobs. I dealt blackjack in college. I delivered pizzas. I bagged groceries,” he said.  “I don’t know if the rest of the folks in the race can say that.”

The rest of the folks, to date, are: Scott Honour, an Orono businessman, and Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson. State Sen. Dave Thompson of Lakeville will announce his candidacy on Wednesday. Another state senator, Julie Rosen of Fairmont, is also expected to join the field.

Zellers is the most quantifiable of the candidates, with well-documented positions and votes. His decision while House speaker to allow a vote on public funding for a new Vikings stadium while voting against it himself still rankles some of the conservative delegates he needs to court to get the GOP endorsement. 

But that’s the role of the speaker, he said. “There maybe may have been some things as an individual [that] maybe wouldn’t have been my position, but on behalf of the caucus, I would lead us that way,” he said.  On the stadium, “I promised a fair process.” 

Another controversial vote resulted in legislation proposing to amend the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage. The defeat of the amendment contributed to the loss of the Republican majority in both chambers and led to approval of same-sex marriage this year.   Zellers indicated he would not revisit the issue.

 “It’s the law of the land now,” he said. “If you ask most Minnesotans and anybody that’s here today, I think they’re fed up with the issue on both sides. I think they want us to get back to what are the bread-and-butter issues.”

Zellers said he will seek the Republican endorsement but will go to primary if he fails.

“One of the candidates in this race has already indicated that he plans to go to a primary, so I think it’s incumbent upon me on behalf of a lot of the folks here who won’t go to convention, who’ve never been a delegate to a convention, to give them that opportunity to vote for me as well,” he said.

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“I’ll prepare for the convention first, the primary second, and then Mark Dayton lastly.”