By selecting John Gunyou as her running mate, House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher showed today that she’s not afraid of risk.
On the surface at least, the current city manager in Minnetonka and former state financial chief under Gov. Arne Carlson is a wildly untraditional choice, especially given the fact that Kelliher, the endorsed DFL gubernatorial candidate, faces a huge primary fight.
Gunyou, who has never run for political office, is not the sort of choice who would seem to galvanize the classic, liberal DFL base. He’s not a populist, who can walk into an Iron Range union hall and get the place rockin’. And he’s not, outwardly at least, an environmentalist, who can stir the imaginations of metro-area tree huggers.
And it’s not certain he’s really a DFLer.
‘A Kelliher Democrat’
“I’m a Margaret Anderson Kelliher Democrat,” he said this afternoon at a news conference where the House speaker announced his selection. “… I’ve voted Democratic more often than Republican. … I’ve always had problems with idealogues of either party.”
One more non-traditional fact about Gunyou: He’s not a woman. Minnesota hasn’t had a male lieutenant governor since Lou Wanberg served under Al Quie in 1983.
“I think it’s time to have a guy back as lieutenant governor,” said Kelliher, the first woman to be either party’s endorsed candidate for governor.
“I’ll break the gender barrier,” said Gunyou with a laugh.
What Gunyou does do for Kelliher is show that she’s not going to veer from a strategy of portraying herself as the person most ready to take over as governor.
“I will surround myself with the best and the brightest,” said Kelliher.
She also said that she believes that Gunyou will inspire many who would not otherwise vote in the primary to rally around the Kelliher cause.
Of course, Republicans were immediately attacking Gunyou as “a tax-and-spend liberal” for his recent call for a 25 cent-per-gallon gasoline tax. Gunyou, in response, said the issue is not about tax increases or tax cuts, but about tax reform.
As city manager, he has been a frequent critic of Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s anti-tax positions, saying, as many other city leaders across the state have said, that Pawlenty cuts of Local Government Aid have forced communities to raise property taxes.
Gunyou certainly wasn’t afraid to take on Pawlenty and the GOP’s endorsed candidate, Tom Emmer, in remarks this afternoon.
He said that “the radical Emmer will follow the same misguided path” that Pawlenty has followed.
Republican Party officials acted offended by those comments.
“They’re not running against Tim Pawlenty anymore,” said Michael Brodkorb, deputy chair of the Republican Party, who went on to say that Gunyou’s comments were very inappropriate and overly strident. (Brodkorb said that with a straight face — somewhat surprising, given his scorched-earth approach to politics.)
But Gunyou also took a shot at the man who appears to be the No. 1 obstacle standing between Kelliher and the November ballot, Mark Dayton.
“We can no more tax our way out of our problems than we can cut our way out,” said Gunyou of the deficit the next governor faces. He also repeatedly made references to “bumper sticker” campaigns, references that could be aimed at either Emmer (“cut government”) or Dayton (“tax the rich”).
More helpful choice for primary or general election?
Brodkorb said that Gunyou was a choice “geared to winning the primary, not governing.”
But that view doesn’t ring true.
Actually, Gunyou would seem to be the perfect November choice. He would appeal to moderate suburbanites. After all, he was Carlson’s finance whiz when Carlson followed Gov. Rudy Perpich into office and inherited a $2.5 billion deficit. It took two years of hard negotiations, Gunyou said, but the Carlson administration did find “a balanced approach” (cuts and tax increases) to fix the budget.
How would Gunyou compare Carlson and Kelliher?
“I’m happier,” said Kelliher, to laughs. (Even on his best days, Carlson was known as a grouch.)
“Other than personality,” said Gunyou, “they’re very similar.”
Go back, however, to the big question: Does Gunyou help Kelliher in a primary?
She finds herself in an ironic spot. Here she is, the first woman to have a major party’s gubernatorial endorsement and yet many see her as an “insider.” And insiders don’t seem to be very popular these days with many people.
Supporters of the candidates who Kelliher defeated at the DFL convention note out that it was the support of the party’s “super-delegates” (elected officials and other party insiders) that set up her endorsement victory.
Those in the DFL base upset by the way Pawlenty has been able to dominate the policy agenda despite the DFL’s huge legislative majorities, question her leadership as House speaker. In their minds, she was the “insider” who couldn’t get it done.
Joan Growe, former secretary of state, feminist and, in 1984, the first woman in Minnesota to win endorsement for a U.S. Senate seat, does find it ironic that now the first endorsed woman for governor should be burdened with an “insider” label.
“It just shows how hard she’s worked throughout her career to get into a position of leadership,” said Growe. “It shows how she always has been able to win the trust of people.”
Growe, a big supporter of Kelliher, is convinced that Gunyou is the sort of choice that will help in the August race.
“DFL voters will look at who can win in November,” she said. “This is a great choice.”
Kelliher was the first of the DFL primary candidates to name a running mate. Dayton reportedly will name his choice on Monday, and Matt Entenza is to announce his running mate in the middle of next week.
Emmer previously had named political commentator and conservative activist Annette Meeks as his running mate. The Independence Party’s endorsed candidate, Tom Horner, will have to name his choice before the election filings close June 1.
Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.