MANKATO - Rep. Kurt Zellers, who announced Sunday his candidacy for governor, stopped in Mankato on Monday as part of his first campaign tour.
Zellers, a Republican who served as Speaker of the House in 2011-12, emphasized his preferred image as a "common man" who is best at home among Minnesota "hockey dads" and hard-working middle class citizens. He reiterated his opposition to the new taxes passed this session by the Legislature. He said Gov. Mark Dayton had campaigned on only raising revenues by taxing the top 2 percent of income earners, but Dayton broke his promise by passing taxes that disproportionately impacted the middle-class and the poor.
The six-term legislator from Maple Grove plans to differentiate himself from the growing field of Republican candidates and show his advantage over Dayton in a campaign by emphasizing that he is someone who worked and struggled as a middle-class Minnesotan.
"I don't fault Gov. Dayton for not having that experience. But, I also don't think it allows him to say he knows what middle-class Minnesotans need or that he can fight on our behalf," said Zellers.
Zellers on the issues
Regarding Minnesota's dwindling funding for its state transportation system, Zellers opposes recent efforts to raise the gas tax for more funding. He believes the gas tax is ultimately doomed as a funding source due to modern trends, and that the increase would burden Minnesotans during a time of already high gas prices.
He suggested actions like seeking more federal money, emphasizing "design-build" contracts and avoiding any form of "unnecessary metro projects" like establishing trollies for the Twin Cities. He believes important regional projects like Highway 14 can be dealt with through small, specific bonding bills. However, he said the emphasis needs to be on small communities outside the metro.
Zellers said he will try to repeal the newly passed Minnesota Health Insurance Exchange, which implements the requirements of the Affordable Care Act, if elected governor. He said the bill creates needless bureaucracy and spends millions just to enact the same function as existing insurance agents. He said the issue is better tackled by improved education and better showing Minnesotans the comparative costs and benefits currently available.
Factors in the
Zellers plans to run for the Republican endorsement, but he is expecting to run in the primary because the other Republican candidates have not vowed to honor the party endorsement.
Zellers must contend with criticism from fellow Republicans that he was part of the leadership that lost the party's majority control of the Legislature in the 2012 election by pushing controversial constitutional amendments.
He said it is easy for people to emphasize the "Monday morning quarterbacking," but glaze over the unexpected factors like how well President Barack Obama did in Minnesota and how Republicans were outspent two-to-one. However, he expects voters will remember that he helped create the Republican wave in 2010 that gained the majority control in the first place.
Another potential issue for Zellers is the criticism he faces from both sides of the Vikings stadium bill. Opponents of the bill have blamed him for letting it come up for a vote, while stadium supporters have criticized him for voting against the bill.
Zellers said he voted against the bill because he opposes these types of subsidies, but feels it was on the opponents of the bill to drum up enough support to stop it. He said he would have been a small version of a dictator if he had used his position to prevent a vote.
(Josh Moniz can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org)