Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer, who prides himself on being a political outsider, has selected longtime Republican activist Annette Meeks as his running mate.

Meeks brings extensive public policy experience leading several conservative think tanks, Emmer said Tuesday at a Capitol news conference.

"We had to find someone ready to govern on the first day," Emmer said. "I am looking for someone who can manage what we propose to do, and that is redesign state government and making sure government works the way it was intended, making sure the excess and the duplication is eliminated."

Meeks said she was honored to join the ticket.

"I am one of those behind-the-scenes people," said Meeks, of Minneapolis. "The more I thought about it, and frankly prayed about it, I realized this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We have a tremendous opportunity to shape state government for the next decade."

Emmer, a state representative from Delano, is in a close contest with fellow state Rep. Marty Seifert, of Marshall, for the Republican endorsement at Friday's state convention in Minneapolis. Both candidates have promised to drop out if the other gets the party's backing. Seifert tapped Anoka County Commissioner Rhonda Sivarajah as his running mate in February.

Meeks likely will help blunt criticism that Emmer has weak knowledge of public policy and the issues facing the state.

Meeks spent nine years at the Center of the American Experiment, where, in 1998, she helped write a review of state government limned by conservative principles.

"She hasn't just talked about it," Emmer bragged. "She's written the book."

Ironically, one of the group's recommendations was to eliminate the office of lieutenant governor.

Meeks is also a member of the Metropolitan Council -- a public body Emmer has singled out for criticism and once said should be abolished. Meeks now heads the Freedom Foundation of Minnesota, a nonprofit organization that espouses "individual freedom, personal responsibility, economic freedom and limited government."

The board is a who's who of Minnesota Republican leaders, including former U.S. Rep. Vin Weber and Republican National Committee member Brian Sullivan -- both early supporters of Emmer. Sullivan lost the Republican endorsement to Pawlenty in 2002 in what was widely considered one of the most divisive and bruising convention battles in the party's history.

Meeks served as deputy chief of staff for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and helped promote the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul.

Emmer's pick ended weeks of speculation about potential running mates, a list that included Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer, from Big Lake, and former lawmaker Linda Runbeck.

Seifert's campaign released information Tuesday that Runbeck had been the top pick, but that Emmer changed his mind at the last minute after an objection from the Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL), a powerful group that opposes abortion.

MCCL staffers did express concern to Emmer's people about Runbeck, said executive director Scott Fischbach.

In 1994, Runbeck was among several Republican lawmakers who changed their votes and tabled legislation that would have required women to wait 24 hours before having an abortion.

"That didn't square well," Fischbach said.

A last-minute endorsement by MCCL for Seifert could have tipped the balance in the tight contest.

"This is the person we chose, and I am not going to get into the detail of the process," Emmer said.

Baird Helgeson • 651-222-1288 Rachel E. Stassen-Berger • 651-292-0164