Former Republican Speaker of the House Kurt Zellers has joined a growing field of candidates vying to take on incumbent DFL Gov. Mark Dayton in 2014.
Zellers announced his plans to seek the office on a sunny Sunday in the front lawn of a supporter in his hometown of Maple Grove. In launching his campaign, the six-term GOP lawmaker railed on the governor and DFL majorities for passing $2 billion in new tax increases this year.
“We all know government taxes too much, spends too much and it sure wastes too much,” Zellers said. “We need to renew focus on educational opportunity and personal opportunity and economic opportunity to turn our state around.”
Zellers joins Republican Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson and Wayzata businessman Scott Honour in the GOP field for governor, with other candidates expected to announce as early as this week.
Zellers tried to differentiate himself from the rest of the GOP field by talking often about his family and his personal struggles. “I worked hourly jobs, I dealt blackjack in college, I delivered pizzas, I bagged groceries. I don’t know if the rest of the folks in the race can say that,” Zellers said. “I think that’s what makes me different.”
Zellers said he plans to seek the GOP endorsement but is prepared to run in a primary election. “I’ll prepare for the convention first, the primary second and then Mark Dayton lastly,” he said.
With the increase in campaign spending limits passed this session, Zellers estimated he would need at least $5 million to run a successful gubernatorial campaign in 2014. Unlike candidates like Honour, who worked for an investment firm and raised money for Republican Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign last year, Zellers said he doesn’t have the personal wealth to back his own campaign.
“I consider myself an underdog candidate because of that,” he said. But Zellers touted his years fundraising for Republican House candidates. “One thing I can promise you is I won’t be outworked.”
Zellers was elected speaker of the House in 2010, after Republicans swept legislative races across the state and gained majorities in both chambers for the first time in nearly 40 years. During his time as speaker, Republicans hit an impasse with Dayton over a $5 billion budget deficit that ultimately led to a 20-day state government shutdown. Republicans also passed two controversial constitutional amendments and quarreled with Dayton over a financing package for a new Minnesota Vikings stadium.
“You don’t get to speak on behalf of what you personally believe, it’s what’s best for the caucus,” Zellers said of his time as speaker. “Sometimes that’s maybe not what your personal beliefs are, but something you have to do as a leader in the caucus.”
The two constitutional amendments proposed by Republicans — a photo identification requirement to vote and a ban on gay marriage — both failed with voters last fall. Democrats, once again in the majority, legalized gay marriage this year, and Zellers called the change the “law of the land now.” He said he wanted to switch the focus to “bread-and-butter issues.”
Republican Reps. Joe McDonald, Nick Zerwas, Tim Kelly and assistant minority leader Kelby Woodard were on hand at Zellers’ announcement. Zellers said he plans to start traveling around the state to campaign on Monday.