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Commercial real estate professionals tend to vote the same way as many other business people: Republican.

Commercial real estate pros backing Horner

The Star Tribune, Bruce Bisping)

Independence Party gubernatorial candidate Tom Horner, right, joins Republican Tom Emmer, center, and DFLer Mark Dayton at a debate Friday at the Minnesota State Fair in Falcon Heights. (AP photo: The Star Tribune, Bruce Bisping)

Commercial real estate professionals tend to vote the same way as many other business people: Republican.

But in this year’s Minnesota governor’s race, several notable names in the business are backing Tom Horner, the Independence Party candidate.

A Sept. 15 fundraiser will be co-hosted by a number of prominent industry players who are personally supporting the Horner campaign. The list includes Rick Collins, vice president of development for Minneapolis-based Ryan Companies; Whitney Peyton, senior managing director of the local office of CB Richard Ellis; Russ Nelson, principal and president of the Minneapolis-based tenant representation firm Nelson, Tietz & Hoye; Tanya Bell, vice president of acquisitions and development for St. Paul-based Wellington Management, Inc.; and Stuart Ackerberg, CEO of the Minneapolis-based Ackerberg Group.

Collins said he felt motivated to get involved after the August primary elections. Collins is the lead organizer for the event at the Interlachen Country Club in Edina and is among the 14 co-hosts for the event.

“After the primary, I realized that in my opinion, the two candidates for governor were on opposite ends of the political spectrum,” Collins said in reference to Republican Tom Emmer and Democrat Mark Dayton. “I’ve known Tom Horner, albeit not well, for more than 20 years and felt that Tom was a credible individual and I decided to look more into Tom’s position on the issues.”

When Collins talked about the issue with professional colleagues, he found that many people agreed with him. Collins acknowledges that there’s a general skepticism about the viability of third-party candidates.

“It occurred to me that the biggest way to get people to realize that there is a developing broad base of support for Tom Horner was to demonstrate to them that there are a group of leaders in our industry who represent both sides of the aisle,” Collins said.  “I intentionally reached out to people on both sides of the aisle who are recognizable people in our industry.”

Collins finds himself in new territory this political season.

“I have contributed to candidates on both sides of the aisle. I have never hosted a political fundraiser before,” Collins said.

Collins said that he thinks it’s an oversimplification to say that commercial real estate professionals vote Republican.

“It’s only correct generally – there are plenty of exceptions,” Collins said. “I’m not supporting Tom because of any industry-specific issues. My support is far more general.”

Peyton is another industry veteran who echoes the views of the political landscape outlined by Collins.

“I think that the Democratic left and the Republican right hijacked the party, and there’s room in the center like when Jesse the Body [Ventura] was elected,” Peyton said, referring to the 1998 election of third-party candidate to governor’s office. “It seems to take somebody in the center to solve the problems that we seem to be staring at.”

The front-burner issue for commercial real estate interests is generally property taxes.

“He’s not a no-tax guy, he’s a some tax guy,” Peyton said of Horner. “And if you analyze the issues, I think, unfortunately, some tax has to be added to the situation to balance the scale.”

Peyton added that he does not generally lend his name to political campaigns.

“I contribute, but I do not lend my name traditionally,” Peyton said.

A review of Horner’s campaign contributions through the end of July shows several recognizable business names on the list. Jim and Julie Graves contributed $1,000 to the campaign; Jim Graves is CEO of for the Graves World Hospitality. Stanley S. Hubbard, chairman and CEO of St. Paul-based Hubbard Broadcasting, gave $2,000 to the campaign.

The list also includes John Bergstrom of St. Paul-based RiverPoint Investments. Bergstrom is a member of the board of directors of The Dolan Company, the Minneapolis-based parent of Finance & Commerce newspaper.

“I think the reason why commercial real estate people are supporting my campaign is the same reason that I’m getting growing support from other members of the business community,” Horner said. “I think more and more business people understand that we all have to find some areas where we can work together. Everybody may have to give a little bit in order to make the kind of investments that Minnesota needs.”

Ralph Burnet, chairman of the Coldwell Banker Burnet residential real estate firm, is hosting another fundraiser for Horner on Sept. 22. Burnet acknowledged that over the years, he has tended to support Republican candidates.

“We’re conservative fiscally and socially probably a little bit more liberal so that kind of puts us in the middle,” Burnet said of he and his wife, Peggy.

Burnet said that Horner’s experience running his own business – the Himle Horner, Inc., public relations firm – resonates with business voters.

“I think it’s very important. Most politicians are professional politicians and they’ve never been in the real world. They think they understand it and they’re clueless,” Burnet said.

Developer Kelly Doran of the Bloomington-based Doran Cos., is a both a Democrat and a former candidate for office. In 2005, Doran announced plans to run for the U.S. Senate before switching gears and announcing a plan to run for governor in the 2006 race. Doran dropped out of the race in March 2006.

“There’s probably more than you think there are, but there are not a lot,” Doran joked about Democrats within the commercial real estate industry.

Doran says that the emerging industry support for Horner is a sign of frustration with the current slate of candidates.

“That would indicate to me there’s some dissatisfaction among that group over who the current Republican candidate is,” Doran said. “I think a lot of people are trying to figure out who to support in this election.”

Doran said that in the past he has given to many Democratic candidates no longer in the field: Margaret Anderson Kelliher, Matt Entenza, Tom Bakk, Susan Gaertner and Paul Thissen. Doran said that he’s not currently supporting anyone in the race.

“If the Democrats were smart, they would figure out a way to be more pro-business,” Doran said. “If the Republicans are not a little wiser about their policies, they’re going to potentially lose support from business.”

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