Republican lawmaker Kurt Zellers hopes that recruiting a former House colleague as his running mate will give a boost to his gubernatorial campaign. On Thursday afternoon, Zellers held a press conference on the Capitol steps to announce that Dean Simpson, a former three-term legislator from Perham and New York Mills, has agreed to serve as his running mate.
Zellers said he has been close to Simpson since both entered the Legislature in 2003, and had often relied upon Simpson, former longtime mayor of New York Mills, for advice. While Zellers eventually went on to assume the post of Speaker of the House, Simpson left office voluntarily in 2008. Since that time, he has focused on running the two grocery stores he owns. Zellers said Simpson’s experience as a business owner would bring a perspective that could be useful in spurring economic development, with an emphasis on opportunities for greater Minnesota.
“[Simpson] is what main street Minnesota is all about,” Zellers said. “He has been a grocer for over 40 years, a mayor for over 25 years.”
Prior to joining the contest as Zellers’ choice for the lieutenant governor, Simpson had been chairman of the campaign since its inception in the summer of 2013. Zellers said he had not initially planned to elevate Simpson from that job to the role of running mate, but explained that it became a “natural choice” as he found himself returning to Simpson to seek advice.
Simpson, who described himself as a political “moderate,” served on the House Taxes Committee and the commerce panel during his time in the lower chamber, and was an assistant majority leader under then-House Speaker Steve Sviggum. Simpson’s selection makes him the second former holder of that distinction to be introduced in as many days, following Wednesday’s announcement that GOP candidate Jeff Johnson had chosen former representative Bill Kuisle to serve as his running mate.
The announcement also brings a second team of two male candidates, marking a break from the tradition of pairing entrants of different genders. Zellers said the consideration of gender balance had not factored into his choice.
“There are a number of candidates, both male and female, that could provide another level [to the campaign],” Zellers said. “But Dean provided, for me, at least, as the governor, the perfect fit, and the best person for the job. That’s what I wanted, and not for me — but for Minnesota.”
Simpson said he hoped the state would take a more “pro-business” approach to governing, and mentioned over-regulation and unnecessary fees as burdensome for entrepreneurs. Asked if he would support the new $9.50 minimum wage, Simpson said he had no plans to work toward repealing the new level — which is scheduled to go into effect in 2016 — and added that he already paid his own employees more than the current state minimum of $6.15.
Zellers, who has not agreed to honor the Republican Party endorsement, is preparing to run in the August primary. On Thursday, Zellers would not commit to even entering the endorsement contest at the convention, saying only that he would “be in Rochester” during the party meeting.
A number of Zellers’ House colleagues were on hand for the press conference. GOP Reps. Tara Mack (Apple Valley) and Joe Hoppe (Chaska) were present for the announcement, as was Rep. Mary Liz Holberg (R-Lakeville), who has opted not to seek re-election this year after serving eight terms in the House.
Zellers’ decision means all but one of the top-tier Republican candidates has named a lieutenant governor: Scott Honour, former investment executive and political newcomer, has yet to publicly announce a choice for running mate.