Ramsey County Commissioner Blake Huffman said Wednesday he would run for governor next year, pitching himself as a Republican whose local government experience shows he can get things done.
Huffman, 52, becomes the first elected official to join the Republican field of candidates hoping to succeed DFL Gov. Mark Dayton, who is not running again. Huffman has served as a county commissioner since 2012 and before that served on the Shoreview City Council for 16 years.
A former Wells Fargo executive, Huffman also operates a nonprofit that provides housing to veterans and victims of domestic abuse. He said he’s a Republican who can work with DFLers and that he would focus on creating good-paying jobs in the state.
“I’m not a purist,” Huffman said. “I’m focused on getting things done.”
Huffman joins a growing list of gubernatorial contenders. While he is the first Republican with a political résumé to join the race, he won’t be the last: House Speaker Kurt Daudt, Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek and a number of other elected Republicans also are considering it. Frequent candidates Phillip Parrish and Ole Savior have also filed to run as Republicans, as has Redwood Falls resident Jeffrey Wharton.
Huffman said he would seek the Republican Party endorsement and would abide by it unless he feels unfairly attacked by opponents.
“I reserve the right to run in the primary,” he said.
DFL candidates in the race so far are state Rep. Erin Murphy of St. Paul, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, State Auditor Rebecca Otto, U.S. Rep. Tim Walz and Rep. Tina Liebling of Rochester. More DFLers are also expected to join the race.
Minnesota Republicans have not won a statewide political race since 2006, when former Gov. Tim Pawlenty was re-elected. Huffman said he plans to launch his campaign with a listening tour of the state.
“What I want to do is start talking about how we build Minnesota,” he said.
Huffman pointed to economic development projects underway in Ramsey County as examples of his ability to achieve results.
Fellow Ramsey County Commissioner Rafael Ortega, who is active in DFL circles, said he has enjoyed working with Huffman during their time on the County Board.
“We’ve worked well together,” Ortega said. “He’s a good guy. He has a sense of humor and I appreciate that.”
Asked if Huffman would be qualified to be governor, Ortega said he was, pointing to Huffman’s experience holding elected office. “He knows his way around,” he said.
Soon after Huffman’s announcement, the DFL-aligned Alliance for a Better Minnesota circulated documents showing Huffman has twice faced tax liens for individual income taxes that totaled more than $30,000 — $22,006 in 2009 and $10,141 in 2013. The documents, confirmed by the Star Tribune, show the liens have been released.
Huffman said the liens stemmed from his time working for Wells Fargo in Iowa. State taxes from his paychecks, he said, went to Iowa and not Minnesota, where he maintained his residence. He said he should have caught the situation sooner, and said he took responsibility for the confusion. He said he is current on his taxes.
“I paid Iowa taxes, not Minnesota taxes,” Huffman said. “It’s as simple as that.”