State Sen. David Osmek is joining Minnesota’s race for governor with a promise of some Trump-style political brawling that he says Republicans are thirsting for after more than a decade of defeats in statewide races.
The Mound Republican was elected to the Legislature in 2012 as a conservative insurgent and is known at the Capitol as a forceful and at times impolitic voice on behalf of his views.
“I’m a no-nonsense fighter. I fight for the values I believe in. And people are ready for someone who will take the fight to St. Paul,” Osmek said in an interview Monday. He will officially launch his campaign on Tuesday.
Osmek, 52, is also a project manager for a division of UnitedHealth Group. He said his focus as governor would be making living in the state more affordable for all Minnesotans, chiefly through lowering taxes and cutting regulations that increase energy costs and other bills.
“The taxpayer in Minnesota has been relegated to third or fourth or fifth class status, and that needs to change,” he said.
Osmek sees a path for a candidate who learned lessons from the 2016 election.
“It was an indictment of politics as usual in Washington and St. Paul,” he said. “I will tell you exactly what I believe.”
The second-term senator was raised in the Glencoe area and graduated from St. Cloud State University. He said President Donald Trump’s unexpected win showed that voters “wanted people who are direct, and maybe a little more unvarnished.”
Osmek has shown this trait in the Legislature.
When a citizen wrote imploring him to support the Southwest Light Rail Transit project, Osmek fired back, calling the project “your liberal wet dream.” Osmek has been among the Legislature’s most pointed critics of light-rail projects.
The Alliance for a Better Minnesota, an independent group aligned with the DFL, said reactions like these make Osmek unfit for the office: “The last thing Minnesotans want is more divisive, extremist conservatives who will continue to tear apart our communities and prevent us from working together to build a Minnesota where we all prosper,” said Joe Davis, the group’s executive director.
Osmek welcomes this opposition, clearly relishing provocative ideas that will enrage liberals.
“I will abolish the Met Council,” he said, referring to the regional wastewater, planning and transportation agency loathed by many suburban Republicans who see it as unaccountable, overbearing and undemocratic.
Despite the bluster, Osmek — who served as a City Council member in Mound before his election to the Senate — said he is willing to compromise to get the job done. He said he has voted for bills he didn’t like because the good outweighed the bad, like bringing the state into compliance with the federal Real ID law so that his constituents could enter military facilities or board commercial airliners with a Minnesota driver’s license.
He backed a sales tax increase in Excelsior because he said he favors local control, and residents had supported the tax overwhelmingly at the ballot box.
(Osmek also supported a bill in 2017 that would prohibit local governments from setting their own minimum wage, sick pay or other labor standards.)
David Hann, former Senate minority leader who also represented the western Twin Cities suburbs, said he is not backing any candidate at the moment. But he can imagine Osmek’s appeal.
“The lesson for Trump in Minnesota is that he was able to say things directly that many people thought but had never heard anyone say. He was able to tap into unexpressed concerns,” Hann said.
Osmek joins more than a half-dozen Republicans running for governor, including Rep. Matt Dean of Dellwood, 2014 gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson, former GOP Party Chair Keith Downey and Ramsey County Commissioner Blake Huffman.
A similarly crowded DFL field includes U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, State Auditor Rebecca Otto, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and three House members: Rep. Tina Liebling of Rochester, Rep. Erin Murphy of St. Paul and Rep. Paul Thissen of Minneapolis.
Osmek said he will seek the GOP endorsement for governor at the Republican state convention next spring and will leave the race if he doesn’t get it.