Attacking Gov. Mark Dayton for “super-sizing” government, former Speaker of the House Kurt Zellers said Sunday he will challenge the incumbent Democrat in next year’s election.
Standing on a neighbor’s front lawn in Maple Grove, Rep. Zellers attacked the $2 billion tax increase Dayton signed into law, and took credit for stopping Dayton’s initial tax hike proposal.
“State government takes too much, spends too much and sure wastes too much,” Zellers told a handful of reporters and dozens of neighbors, friends and family members. With a green ash tree and sunny blue sky above him and his wife and young children a few steps behind, Zellers said he would focus on small business needs and seek “a renewal of personal opportunity, educational opportunity and entrepreneurial opportunity” to help middle class families like his own.
The other two announced Republican candidates are Orono businessman Scott Honour and Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson, like Zellers, both from suburbs west of Minneapolis. Zellers and his wife, Kim, a public school teacher, have a daughter, 8, and a son, 7. Zellers was born in North Dakota and got his start in politics as an aide to former Minnesota U.S. Senators Rod Grams and Norm Coleman.
Zellers became House speaker, generally viewed as state government’s second-most-powerful post, in 2010 when Republicans took over the Legislature. Endorsed six times by his party, Zellers has strong Republican connections and name recognition. But his high profile wasn’t always positive. His budget battle with Dayton sparked a three-week government shutdown in 2011. His final year as speaker included an election that cost Republicans control of the Legislature.
DFL Chairman Ken Martin Sunday cited the shutdown as an example of the former speaker’s “lack of leadership and uncompromising partisanship.”
Zellers, however, said as speaker he stopped Dayton’s attempts to raise taxes. He credited the Republican-controlled legislature with transforming a $5 billion state deficit into a $2.8 billion surplus in two years by “asking the government to cut the waste and do a little more with a little less.”
Other Republicans weighing a run include 2010 candidate and former House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, state Sen. Julie Rosen, Senate Majority Leader David Hann and House Majority Leader Matt Dean. And state Sen. Dave Thompson of Lakeville said that he plans to launch his campaign this week.