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Who will take on Dayton in 2014? Some GOP names surface

State Rep. Kurt Zellers sends out news releases, independent of his caucus, criticizing the DFL’s tax and spending proposals.

State Sen. Dave Thompson appears at three congressional district conventions last weekend.

Wayzata businessman Scott Honour speaks at last week’s fundraiser in Edina for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

All three have joined the list of Republicans who are considering a run for governor in 2014.

thompson portrait

Sen. Dave Thompson

Thompson is the most direct about his intentions. “Yes” is his answer when asked if he’s looking at the governor’s race. “I believe that the current governor is taking the state in the wrong direction and we need to move in a fiscally prudent direction, which we are not now,” he said.

Besides fiscal issues, Thompson explains that his priority is education. “I would identify underperforming schools and give parents an alternative — school funding should follow the student not a school building,” he said. “The situation we have right now allows people with means to find alternatives. But people who don’t have discretionary income — their children are stuck and that is anathema.”

Zellers, former House speaker, is less specific about his plans but more pointed in criticism of DFL control of state government, which it gained after defeating Republicans in 2012.

‘Tax assault’

“Democrats in the Minnesota House proposed a massive new increase in government spending…,” he stated in a news release. “This all out ‘tax assault’ on middle class Minnesotans grows government but does nothing to grow the jobs people need.”

In an interview, he labeled the state’s new health care exchange “a wish and prayer. A $190 million bet that we can save money and help more people get health care.”

zeller portrait

MinnPost/James Nord
Rep. Kurt Zellers

Those sound like fighting words from a candidate-to-be, but Zellers isn’t ready to commit, yet. “I’m definitely not closing any doors,” he said, adding, “There are very few places that I haven’t held a press conference or raised money for a Republican cause.”

Like Zellers and Thompson, other Republicans in the mix as gubernatorial prospects – state Sen. David Hann, Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek, House Minority Leader Matt Dean, Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson — are elected officials familiar to Republican activists.

The outlier and outsider is 44-year-old Honour, who recently retired from the Gores Group venture capital firm. In a news release, the firm said Honour was leaving to “focus on public service and charitable activities.” In an email, Honour said he was not yet giving any interviews.

Honour raised money for Tim Pawlenty’s presidential run, then joined the Romney team, where Minnesotans involved in the Romney effort say he more than exceeded expectations. He’s considered politically astute if not experienced and well connected and respected. At the Chris Christie fundraiser last week at the Edina Country Club, political guru Vin Weber concluded the event by calling on Honour to give the last speech.

All the leading potential candidates have the ability to make it through the Republican gauntlet into a general election battle with Mark Dayton.  And they have weaknesses.

Pros and cons

Blois Olson, political commentator and public relations consultant, views Zeller’s frequent media outreach as a move to a bigger political stage. “He is the prototypical suburban dad and viewed as a conservative, a softer line conservative,” Olson said.

But, Olson said, Zellers may be too much the retail politician. “The media and others picked up that he was being particularly calculating on issues,” like the stadium and the right-to-work amendment.

Thompson doesn’t have that problem. He is a red-meat conservative with a gift for communication that he is using to flesh out the conservative message with inclusive issues like education. But Thompson, noted one Republican consultant, has weak support in the business community and a limited fund-raising base — factors that demand that he get the Republican endorsement.

honour portrait

Scott Honour

Honour would have the fewest problems with fund-raising and the most with getting a Republican endorsement. He and Zellers are seen as candidates who might even challenge an endorsed candidate in a primary, especially if the 2014 primary is moved to a date in June.

Ben Golnik, former executive director of the Minnesota Republican Party and a supporter of an earlier primary, believes a primary is the best path to a win in November.  “I would advise anyone right now to look at the primary,” he said.  “The endorsement is as weak as it’s ever been because of the debt the party is in.”

No one doubts that a Republican gubernatorial candidate is going to need that momentum.  “Dayton is going to be tough to beat,” according to Olson. “The Democrats are going to be so energized in the battle to hold on to the Legislature and the governor’s office.”

So Republicans are promoting a come-one, come-all approach to a list of candidates. Are they ideal?  Golnik laughed. “The ideal candidate — a female from the suburbs — she’s not out there,” he said.

But he and other Republicans say they are encouraged that their list of prospects offers the kind of scope and variety from which a viable Dayton challenger will emerge.

Comments (17)

  1. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 03/29/2013 - 08:11 am.

    They might as well sit down

    We have seen how ineffective Zeller’s management style is. When he had the chance to lead he worked what he wanted, not what the state needed. He had a chance to lead the state out of it’s problems and he chose to do the all important GOP social engineering. Hopefully he is not wondering why the GOP lost control of the legislature. He can look inward for the answer.

    Honour’s goose is cooked in that he supported the ineffectiveness of Tim Pawlenty while Tim was busy working his own career trying to look presidential. He failed!

    Anyone in the GOP talking or trying to act fiscally responsible, as Thompson is, is absolutely bogus. Fiscal Conservative George W. Bush ran the country into the financial ditch while the GOP stood totally in lock step and silently by. The Minnesota GOP can’t even pay their own bills, how do they expect to run a state? The title fiscally conservative was a name the GOP gave it self and it couldn’t be farther from the truth.

    The GOP still claims their principles are good. It is there presentation that is bad. Baloney, it is their failed principle based message and their messengers that are the problem with the GOP.

    It appears then GOP still doesn’t want to win elections given the road they want to go down.

  2. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/29/2013 - 09:01 am.


    Sure, he’s got a whole list of constitutional amendments he wants to put on the ballot.

  3. Submitted by Lora Jones on 03/29/2013 - 09:40 am.

    While Honour benefits from being less well-known

    I can’t see either Zellers or Thompson appealing very broadly. Having watched his appearances on KSTP’s At Issue, I’m surprised Thompson got elected to the legislature. The man will need some serious coaching to overcome a sneering, superior and just plain mean demeanor. Some of the more rabid GOP rank and file may love that red meat “all government is evil we must cut social programs” cant, but most people won’t swallow it if it’s presented with as much gleeful malice as Thompson frequently displays.

    I can’t help but agree with Tom regarding Zellers’ history as a bumbler. He might go farther with the broader public, being less blatantly mean-spirited, but my perception of the GOP is that bumbling is okay only so long as you’re not caught at it — and I suspect Zellers’ been “caught” enough to have trouble getting endorsed. No matter which of this crop may seem strongest, I suspect the GOP faithful are praying for a better choice.

  4. Submitted by Tom Knisely on 03/29/2013 - 10:15 am.

    Sivarajah Best GOP Choice

    Anoka County Chairwoman Rhonda Sivarajah is the best choice hands down. Articulate suburban mom with rock solid conservative credentials.

  5. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 03/29/2013 - 11:54 am.

    Now THAT is a depressing list

    I’m not by any means a DFL stalwart, nor a long-time Minnesota resident. If this list is the best the Minnesota GOP can do, I’ll be voting for some other party’s candidate, especially given the party’s alleged performance in 2010-2012, and what I’ve read about former Governor Pawlenty’s similarly alleged performance while in office before I arrived. The job he took after leaving office says a lot about Mr. Pawlenty’s ethics and view of representative government. Offhand, I have to endorse Tom Christensen’s critique, though he’s more polite that I would be.

  6. Submitted by David Broden on 03/29/2013 - 01:16 pm.

    Seeking to Govern Minnesota or Have Another Ideological Debate

    The subject above is what the next gubornatorial eleection in Minnesota must be focused to have a purpose and vision for the future of Minnesota. The Mn GOP has a simple choice– if winning and governing for the benefit of all of Mn is the goal then the candidate selected must be one who captures the moderate progressive views of Mn GOP governors of the past. The GOP has clearly provided the governors who have had a vision of “buiding a stronger, bettter educated, and efficient statewide approach to government. On the other hand the GOP could select another ideological candiate and think that speaking of some vague set of principles will win. People vote for candidates who connect with them in all aspects-not on ideological views. Wise Minnesota continue to express that MN is a fiscal conservative– social moderate population – a population willing to take financial and other risks that will be benefit the common good thru Good Government first–not good politics first. Moving the candidate selection process to an early June primary- which is open to all voters regardless of party preference will be an eye opener for many. Another consider for all candidates is to not be driven by all of the exploding number of special interest–non- profit- study groups that are multiplying across Mn– each has value and an agenda but candiates should only listen and learn and then lead with a vision. With that approach Mn will be a Leader again and maybe even with a GOP governor.

    DAve Broden

  7. Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 03/29/2013 - 01:45 pm.

    Maybe an earlier primary would help the Republicans

    But why is that the DFL’s problem? If the caucus/convention system is so bad, why isn’t the DFL is in the same sad shape as the MNGOP? Each uses essentially the same process. It’s not how caucuses and primaries are run, it’s the candidates. The Republicans nominate crackpot ideologues and then ask what’s gone wrong.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 03/29/2013 - 04:20 pm.

      Lookin’ Good

      Yeah, the current system is working great for the DFL, as long as they like winning the governor’s office every generation or so.

      • Submitted by Lora Jones on 03/29/2013 - 06:45 pm.

        Oh, my — I think you may be confusing a few things

        but the caucus system hasn’t worked very well for either party for awhile. Carlson — primary winner and last minute sub for righter than right GOP endorsed Grunseth was the last 2 way race “winner” — in a close race against a DFL endorsed Perpich. Dayton was also a primary winner, and not the endorsed candidate — who squeaked through in a three way race as did Pawlenty and Ventura. Granted Pawlenty was endorsed, but the GOP drifted back into the righter than right Grunseth territory again in endorsing Emmer. Remember, despite his abjuration of all things moderate afterwards, T-Paw ran as a moderate. Seems to me that the lesson is that so long as we keep having three way gubenatorial races, a primary will be more likely to produce an electable candidate than the caucuses and conventions of either “major” party

  8. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/30/2013 - 09:14 am.

    The slide into irrelevance continues.

    After 40 of years of anti-intellectualism the republicans are stuck with mediocrity they cannot escape. None of these people has a clue. The best of them seem to think this is a “branding” problem than can be solved with female candidates and slightly different magic.

    This slide into irrelevancy will continue until some republican somewhere realizes that they have to participate in our collective effort to make coherent public policy rather than discipline voters into accepting their ideology. The idea is to participate, not dominate. All these guys seem to be doing at best, is re-work the bait-n-switch.

    • Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 03/31/2013 - 07:30 pm.

      DFL – no new ideas

      Paul – so DFL tax and spend is intellectual? I have a pull-tab you can buy.

      • Submitted by Tom Christensen on 04/01/2013 - 08:03 am.

        You are right!

        The democrats are known for taxing and spending because they have to fix everything after the Republicans have been in office and worked their magic on the state. Pawlenty left a 6 billion dollar debt in his wake and yet balanced the budget, in the Republican manner, by stealing from education. That is equivalent to the farmer eating his seed corn. George W. Bush, if you remember him, didn’t pay for anything and we are still cleaning up his Republican mess. There isn’t any room for Republican criticism as the rest of us try to help the state we were left with. Thanks for being fiscally conservative, but it’s only meaning is disaster.

      • Submitted by Jackson Cage on 04/01/2013 - 08:05 am.

        Sorry Ron…

        repeating a Fox News mantra of Tax & Spend doesn’t qualify you to critique intellectualism.

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 04/02/2013 - 09:33 am.

        Tax and Spend

        “Tax and spend” strikes me as better fiscal policy than “spend, borrow, and kick the can down the road.”

        • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 04/02/2013 - 10:46 am.

          Thanks for example

          I won’t mention any names but I appreciate the example of cliche masquerading as critique. On a very basic level the whole function of government is to tax and spend. A huge chunk of the Constitution is dedicated to describing how that is to be done. Without taxes there is no spending, and without spending there is no government. This is a mundane observation that completely escapes Republican leadership. It’s no wonder that people lacking such an elementary understanding of government have no capacity to run it efficiently or use to solve problems and address public policy.

  9. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 03/31/2013 - 01:13 pm.


    You have nailed it. I suspect the Republican porch light is on but nobody is home. A party of zealots can not survive. They are a long way from figuring it out. How many more elections are the Republicans willing to lose by going down the path to irrelevance?

  10. Submitted by Kenneth Kjer on 03/31/2013 - 06:49 pm.

    Those Three are Dreamers

    The GOP in MN has managed to become the party of few. It is inclusive and isn’t interested in what anybody but the chosen have to say. They make Rush Limbaugh look moderate. They said it isn’t their message that is the problem, it is communicating it. Well if they keep the average middle class Republican from having a say, they will find out by losing another election big time. They will also find out that there are a lot of moderate Republicans like myself who are finding the Democratic message is closer to what I believe. I have a pretty close relationship with my son who is 42 years old and I spend quite a bit of time talking with him and his friends. I know for a fact that the GOP message is not what they want to hear. That is one of the reason their amendments lost, moderate Republicans like myself don’t want to hear about this religious zealotry and don’t tax the rich. They don’t respond to us in any form, so they have successfully alienated a good part of what was the GOP. Now there are two GOP’s the zealots and those of us who have been driven to vote for Democrats because we are not included in the party. None of have a say in who is the party candidates. If we did it sure wouldn’t be Zellars and his ilk.

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