Although he was the first Republican to officially declare his candidacy for governor, businessman Scott Honour has consistently since trailed his three principal rivals for the nomination in terms of the most elemental of all political assets: name recognition.
In a June survey by Public Policy Polling, just 9 percent of likely voters said they have a favorable impression of Honour. That showing — which likely could have been achieved on the positive associations of his fortuitous surname alone — barely exceeded the numbers put up by Merrill Anderson, the fifth candidate in the crowded GOP field and the one who is hardly ever even mentioned in discussions about the looming primary contest.
But with that August 12 showdown considered too competitive to handicap, Honour enjoys a very significant advantage over Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson (the party’s endorsed candidate), former House minority leader Marty Seifert and former House Speaker Kurt Zellers: He possesses a seemingly bottomless reserve of personal wealth from which to replenish his campaign coffers whenever needed.
And, as he fights to separate himself from the rest of the field, he’s needed to. Over the first two quarters of the year, Honour loaned his campaign $401,000 and, as of the most recent filing, he had more cash on hand than all his rivals combined.
With a resume that includes an MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and a long career as a senior manager at the Gores Group, a Los Angeles-based venture capital firm, however, Honour’s wealth could prove a double-edged sword.
Already, Democratic operatives have sought to depict Honour as an out-of-touch plutocrat, the Minnesota version of Mitt Romney, for whom Honour headed up the Minnesota fundraising operations. They have gleefully highlighted symbols of Honour’s considerable wealth, most notably his sprawling waterfront estate on Lake Minnetonka. The annual property tax bill on that domicile — just under $100,000 — is about twice the per capita income of the average Minnesotan .
In an interview at his spacious campaign offices in Plymouth, Honour, 48, said Minnesota voters will come to view his considerable business success as an asset, especially when contrasted with the resumes of those “career politicians” he is competing against for the GOP nomination. Honour also insisted that internal polling numbers are now showing that he’s moved the needle on name recognition.
His comments have been edited for length and clarity.
Capitol Report: You’ve been on the campaign trail for a year now. What are voters saying that you have found most surprising or interesting?
Scott Honour: I’ve enjoyed getting out talking to voters and I’m more fired up now than even when I started. What I’m hearing, and maybe this is a little surprising, is how many different ways government is impeding on people’s ability to create opportunities for themselves. Yesterday, I was at the Dodge County Fair, talking to a farmer. I asked him, “What things are affecting you?’ He said, ‘Government regulations. The government made me change out my septic system because my current system was not up to code. I put the new one in and the next thing I knew my well water was getting tainted with sewage and my cows got sick.”
I hear story after story about the unintended consequences of government becoming more and more involved in people’s lives. Government needs to get back to the idea of just doing the things it needs to do — and doing those things well — and otherwise getting out of the way.
CR: Is it a handicap not to have that some sort of experience in politics before running for the state’s highest office?
Honour: I think it’s an advantage and I think voters see that. Our founding fathers were all business people. Business was different in those days but they were the business leaders. I have a great advantage in that I’m not looking for a career in politics. I will be free to make the best decisions to improve this state and not be beholden to making decisions that would be most likely to get me re-elected.
That’s why I’m for term limits. People would love to see more citizen legislators. They’re tired of these career politicians. I’m running against three who have dedicated their professional lives to a career in politics. And we don’t get the best decisions from that group.
CR: Should the governor be subject to term limits?
Honour: There should be term limits for all politicians. I’m not going to get into all the details of what they should be. But we should have real leaders who serve their tenure in government and then turn it over to the next generation. That makes sense. And it would lead to better decisions.
CR: Are you saying you’d just serve one term if elected?
Honour: To me, it would be no more than two terms. But it would be whatever it takes to get the job done.
CR: Can you identify specific policy differences with rivals?
Honour: I have a different view than the other three on MNsure. The fundamental idea of Obamacare is that private insurance signups are going to subsidize the public program signups. That’s not happening, and I saw it coming. The math wasn’t going to work. I was the only who said, “Look, I don’t think we should have state dollars and time and effort going to subsidize Obamacare in Minnesota.”
CR: It appears that the Minnesota Sex Offender Program will be ruled unconstitutional and the courts are going to start ordering that some of the people in the program be released. What is your strategy to deal with this problem that nobody – not the Legislature, not the governor — wants to deal with?
Honour: We need to make sure that we have laws that protect citizens from sex offenders. I would show leadership in figuring out how we keep folks who are not ready to be in society in a program — whether it’s incarceration or in some other treatment facility — that gets them the best treatment possible but also protects our citizens.
CR: Do you think the MSOP is unconstitutional?
Honour: I will always be an advocate for protecting individual rights, including the right to due process. But my first priority is to make sure that our citizens are not at risk.
CR: The Legislature passed a medical marijuana law this session. What’s your take?
Honour: I’d like to see it repealed. The reason is simple. The legislation that passed was about the medicinal use of marijuana. We have a process in place for approving drugs in this country. It’s the FDA. That’s the process we should use for drug approval. If you follow the logic of this program, the Legislation will be passing laws about Lipitor dosage. It doesn’t make sense to me.
CR: Last session, the Legislature also voted to raise the minimum wage, with a provision for automatic increases indexed to inflation. What’s your view on that?
Honour: This legislation is harming the ability of Minnesotans to get a job and get a start in life. I’d do everything I can to keep the minimum wage at the level it’s at once I get into office and not have any increases from there, and not have these escalators.
CR: You say you’d like to cut government spending by 10 percent across the board. Is that practical?
Honour: Our state can spend significantly fewer dollars and still get better results. I’m about getting big things done. We can cut government by 10 percent, or more. And the reason is, we’ve got too much government in this state and we’re not spending our dollars wisely. By the way, that would only take us back to the scale of government a few years ago. I think it’s completely doable.
CR: But if you’re elected, the Democrats will still control the Senate. Is there any way to do that sort of dramatic cost cutting in divided government?
Honour: Sure. The governor has the ability to reduce headcount. We’ll work on employee compensation. We’ll work on programs that will significantly reduce Medicaid expense. And we’ll pare government aid back to its original purpose and eliminate programs where government is subsidizing businesses and picking winners and losers. There are a whole slew of places where we can make meaningful movement. A lot of it can be done by executive order. Other parts can be done with a line item veto.
I’m optimistic that I can work with the Senate. I know they want good results too. I’m going to be the kind of leader who shows how we can achieve better results and spend less. People intuitively understand that’s a good thing for the economy.
CR: In your view, are any state programs currently underfunded?
Honour: Good question. Yes. This is one of the things we need to do, reprioritize spending. We’re clearly not spending enough on transportation. Our basic transportation needs aren’t being met for our current needs, let alone for the future. So I’d spend more on roads and bridges and make that a priority. That’s one of the core functions of government, to provide that basic infrastructure.
CR: What about light rail?
Honour: I’d get rid of that. It’s so obvious that it’s not the best way to serve the needs of Minnesotans. Buses are much better. This is the problem with career politicians. They fail to look at the larger picture and say, if you take a billion dollars to build that light rail from Minneapolis to Eden Prairie, you’re failing to use that money that could serve the citizens of the state in a much better way.
CR: Why didn’t you seek an endorsement from the Republican Party?
Honour: We need a candidate who can win a general election. The primary is the best test of that. We’ve been gearing ourselves up to win both the primary and the general election. We had to make sure we had both the plan and the resources to win and that’s where we dedicated our time and effort. And we wanted to give Republicans across the board a chance to vote in a primary, to give everyone a voice.
CR: No Republicans have won a statewide race in Minnesota since 2006. Why?
Honour: I make this point frequently. We’ve got career politicians who continue to play from the same playbook. We don’t get the best candidates nominated. The state party doesn’t have the resources — and the candidates have not been able to generate enough resources — to effectively get our message out. I see Republicans getting behind my candidacy because they understand we have the resources to be competitive.
CR: You’ve been campaigning for a year but, according to the most recent published polls, you still have relatively low name recognition.
Honour: We’ve been doing some of our own polling and it’s definitely going up. A majority of Republican primary voters are still undecided and these career politicians have relatively low name recognition, too. We think we’re in a terrific position. Our plan has always been to, at the point we’re at now, to start ramping up our advertising efforts.
We’re on air with radio ads and television ads. We’re the only campaign that’s doing that. And that’s what needs to be done to be able to compete against the governor. We’re running against the governor now. I’m very confident we’ll continue to build our name recognition.
CR: After Republicans lost control of the Legislature in 2012, the conventional wisdom is that it was blowback from the ballot question that would have amended the constitution and banned same sex marriage. Was that a mistake?
Honour: We missed an opportunity when we had control of the House and the Senate to showcase the conservative principles that make people’s lives better across the board. Jobs have to be a top priority. Education reform has to be a priority. The overall scale of government has to be a priority. As a political leader, you only have so many shots to take. Getting things done that showcase how our conservative principles can make people’s lives better is what we ought to focus on. That didn’t happen under our leadership.
CR: So was it a tactical error?
Honour: We didn’t have leaders with the right set of priorities. We’ve got to tackle things in a sequential way, starting with the things that matters most to everyone. I’ve made it very clear what my priorities are.
CR: What politician has most influenced you?
Honour: Ronald Reagan. He was president when I came of age politically, the first person for whom I voted. I had the chance to meet him. On my wedding day, he sent a letter to me and Jamie to congratulate us and it hangs in our kitchen. But aside from that personal experience, he was an optimistic advocate for the greatness of our country which I think is missing from our politics today.
CR: Anyone in Minnesota politics?
Honour: There are all kinds of great examples. I’m complimentary of Governor Quie. He sent me the first letter I got from a politician, congratulating me when I became an Eagle Scout. He had true, caring compassion. That’s an attitude we have to showcase. At the core of our Republican principles is the idea that we’re trying to improve lives for all citizens.
CR: What’s the last book you read?
Honour: “Before the Storm.” It’s about Barry Goldwater’s run for president, the storm being Ronald Reagan’s presidency and the rise of the modern-day conservative movement. It’s a very well-chronicled description of that time from 1960 to 1964 and what was going on in politics in the U.S.
I found it interesting that some of themes are the same ones we’re talking about now. Goldwater was getting on Eisenhower’s case for spending too much. Wisconsin was talking about being a right-to-work state.
CR: What’s your favorite movie?
Honour: I’m thinking of which James Bond [movie], but it’s Probably “Apollo 13.” My mouse pad at home has that quote, “Failure is not an option.”
CR: What music do you enjoy?
Honour: I’m still stuck in the early ’80s. Groups like Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Eagles.
CR: What are your hobbies or passions, things that people who know you might not know about?
Honour: Growing up, one of my favorite things to do with my mom was baking. I do that with my kids, chocolate chip cookies. My grandmother taught me how to make krumkaka, a Norwegian cookie that looks like an ice cream cone. My grandmother was 100 percent Norwegian, spoke Norwegian. It’s kind of like a crepe. We make it on holidays.
I’m also an avid fisherman but I don’t think that would surprise anyone. Every summer, we’d go out to the Rockies. I learned from a guy who flew [airplanes] with my father. He taught me how to trout fish and tie flies. It’s still something I love to do and, right now, I’d love to have some more time to do it.
CR: Our time is almost up. Anything you care to add?
Honour: This election is going to come down to the fundamental question: Do Minnesotans want to see a government that’s getting bigger and bigger and more involved in their lives? Or do they want to get back to the idea that government should do fewer things, do them well and otherwise get out of the way?
I believe I’m the only Republican who’s really dedicated to reining in the scale of government. One of the things I learned in the private sector is that an organization’s natural state is to always get bigger. If you leave it unchecked, that’s what happens.