Matt Entenza, a one-time rising DFLer whose 2006 attorney general bid ended after he was found to have done opposition research on his party's eventual gubernatorial candidate, launched his own bid for governor on Thursday, declaring that he has the vision to reinvigorate the state.
From his hometown of Worthington, Entenza, a former House minority leader, said he would build his campaign on clean energy and job growth.
Entenza acknowledged that his proposals might require higher taxes for the state's wealthy but said that he would seek "balance" in employing tax increases versus spending.
While Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty has not yet announced whether he will seek a third term, Entenza is already fashioning rhetorical assaults against the man with whom he frequently did battle while in the Minnesota House.
"The core question facing voters is, are we better off after six years of Tim Pawlenty?" Entenza said. "Clearly, no."
During that time, Entenza said, many of the elements that allowed him to transcend a childhood of poverty and disadvantage have eroded. "I lost my father at 15 to alcoholism, yet I had a great school to go to," he said. Now, he said, "that school no longer has the opportunities it had. There are fewer language programs, fewer extracurriculars. Class sizes are larger. That has to change."
Entenza enters a field already bristling with challengers, including former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton, state Senate Taxes Chairman Tom Bakk, state Sen. John Marty, state Rep. Paul Thissen, former state Sen. Steve Kelley and Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner. House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman have also been mentioned as possible candidates but have made no firm decision.
Entenza has the means to self-finance thanks to spouse Lois Quam, who made millions as an executive with UnitedHealth Group and who recently left Piper Jaffray as alternative investments chief to create a business that will develop start-ups in clean energy and health care.
Entenza said he does not intend to self-finance, however, and has already started fundraising, although he declined to say how much he has raised.
And while he is seeking his party's endorsement, he is reserving the right to run in a primary should other candidates do so. Party endorsement has proved to be a mixed blessing in the past, with candidates for higher office frequently winning the endorsement but losing the primary. No DFLer has succeeded in winning the governor's office since Rudy Perpich in 1986.
Lanky, with a quick smile and a sharp tongue, Entenza was elected to the House from St. Paul in 1994 and rose to minority leader in 2003. Adept at delivering the DFL message and lancing Republicans, he became a prominent Democratic voice and, together with Quam, one-half of a powerful and wealthy political tag team.
In the 2004 election, he and Quam donated $300,000 to a national Democratic organization that in turn spent thousands on Minnesota legislative races -- funds that helped push the DFL to a majority in the House.
But Entenza's rise was halted abruptly in 2006, after he hired an opposition research firm to dig into then-attorney general and DFL gubernatorial candidate Mike Hatch. The Chicago firm did a deep background search.
Entenza apologized for the overreach, but withdrew from the attorney general race hours before filings closed, leaving DFLers scrambling for a replacement.
Entenza said he pulled out after the issue became a distraction that threatened other DFL candidates. "My goal was that as a party we were together," he said. He said that while the firm went too far, "the reality is everyone does research." Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Al Franken, he noted, was "frequently criticized for not doing enough opposition research on himself."
A year after his fall from grace, Entenza created Minnesota 2020, an influential think tank that has supplied DFLers with talking points on transportation, energy and a host of other issues.
"My interest is about policy," Entenza said. "I've shown Minnesotans that I know how to build an organization, find solutions to our problems and build coalitions, and now I want to bring that to the governor's office."
Patricia Lopez • 651-222-1288