With the election a little more than two weeks away, the candidates vie for a powerful voting bloc.
As the race to be Minnesota's next governor heads into its final turn, all three candidates are trying to reel in a potentially powerful voting bloc: the state's many outdoors and environmental enthusiasts.
With just over two weeks until the Nov. 2 election, it is unclear which candidate is gaining traction among outdoors supporters. But it's clear they are jockeying for position.
When Independence Party candidate Tom Horner delayed his announcement of his conservation plan until Friday, DFLer Mark Dayton suddenly made public his own plan on Thursday. Both plans were intended to go deep, with Horner ticking off the percentage of vacant conservation officer spots while Dayton called for a renewed fight against Asian carp and proposed an annual governor's pheasant hunting opener.
GOP candidate Tom Emmer, meanwhile, is working hard to re-establish his credentials as an outdoorsman. Only a year ago, Emmer co-sponsored legislation to repeal the Legacy Amendment, which voters approved in 2008. It dedicates a portion of the sales tax to the environment, clean water, the arts, history, and parks and trails. At a debate in August, however, Emmer publicly ripped up the proposal to repeal the amendment and, to loud applause, said "that discussion is over."
"I think [outdoors enthusiasts are] a natural constituency for a candidate who actually hunts and fishes, which I do," Emmer said in a recent interview. "I've actually lived in a cabin in the middle of the woods without running water and outdoor plumbing. . . . I can guarantee you the other two guys haven't done that."
In an apparent attempt to contrast his stance with Emmer, Dayton also stressed his longtime support of the Legacy Amendment.
"Everyone in the outdoors community, I believe, is aware of Emmer's position on the Legacy Amendment and his actions in the past which, I think, speak louder than his words now," said Katie Tinucci, a Dayton spokesperson.
The varying approaches by the candidates have created some confusion among voters, according to some outdoors and environmental leaders.
Outdoor vote 'up for grabs'
"I think the outdoor community, which [by] tradition has been considered conservative, thus Republican ... is up for grabs," said Gary Botzek, executive director of the Minnesota Conservation Federation, who attended Horner's unveiling of his conservation plan. "That's why they're playing to them this late in the game."
Tim Lesmeister, who co-hosts an outdoors show on a Twin Cities conservative talk radio station, said all of the candidates are flawed in the eyes of outdoors enthusiasts -- and none seem as politically adept as outgoing Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty at winning their support.
Even Dayton, while getting nods of approval for his stance on the Legacy Amendment, will not get the votes of many outdoors supporters because of his low ratings from the National Rifle Association (NRA), Lesmeister said.
"Most hunters are shooters. Most shooters are members of the NRA. They think Dayton is the antichrist," he added. "Emmer [is] persona non grata for what he did with the constitutional amendment."
While that does leave Horner as an alternative, Lesmeister acknowledged, "I don't think there's a sportsman out there who thinks Horner has a chance."
For the candidates, the final weeks have been about showing they can talk in depth on outdoors issues.
Standing near an outdoor pavilion at Como Park in St. Paul on Friday, Horner said that 10 percent of the state conservation officer positions are currently vacant.
In an interview in the Minnesota Outdoor News, Emmer again defended his actions regarding the Legacy Amendment. "I know some people want to be critical and say, 'Well, you can't be on either side of this.' I'm not," he told the newspaper.
Points of contention
Some outdoors supporters say they remain wary of Emmer, especially over his attempted repeal of the Legacy Amendment and his disputed remarks over whether he would merge at least parts of the state Department of Natural Resources into the state Department of Agriculture.
Emmer said his proposal was never that far-reaching. But at a debate in early August at Farmfest, an annual gathering that focuses on agricultural issues, Emmer told the crowd that "I will work with you to take every enforcement and regulatory agency that touches on agriculture, whether it be the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the DNR -- you name it -- and put them under the Department of Agriculture."
Carl Kuhl, an Emmer spokesman, said Emmer "[was] not calling for the disintegration of the DNR," but might move some agriculture-related DNR activities to the state Agriculture Department.
Emmer, in a recent interview, said there was no confusion on his part.
"I didn't say anything about the DNR," he insisted.
Mike Kaszuba • 651-222-1673