Republican Jeff Johnson on Monday picked Donna Bergstrom, a retired Marine Corps intelligence officer and a guardian ad litem who lives in Duluth, as his running mate in the governor’s race.
Bergstrom is a member of the Red Lake Nation; she is also currently getting her teaching license. She has never held elected office. Johnson, a Hennepin County commissioner who is running on a message of changing how state government operates, said he sees that as a plus. He noted she has leadership experience as a commanding officer of a Marine support battalion in Panama.
Bergstrom ran unsuccessfully as a Republican for a Minnesota Senate seat in 2016 and a House seat in 2013 in Duluth.
“The fact that Donna stepped up in 2016 to run for a Senate seat in the middle of Duluth that has not been won by Republicans for decades says a lot about her guts and her character and her resolve. She is soft-spoken, but she’s a Marine,” Johnson said.
Bergstrom, 55, said her values as a member of a tribal nation align with the Republican Party’s stances on abortion and gun rights.
“We come from a people that have had our language taken from us, our guns taken from us, our land taken from us. So we’re very adamant about supporting our culture and our ways, and that lines up perfectly with the Republican Party,” Bergstrom said.
She also said the state is failing its American Indian students, and she wants to focus on education and improving graduation rates. When asked about Gov. Mark Dayton’s proposal to add $138 million to support schools with budget shortfalls, she said she would like to focus on streamlining the education system and making sure money is going to students, not the administration.
Johnson, of Plymouth, represents west-metro suburbs on the Hennepin County Commission, and is a former state representative. He ran for governor in 2014 and lost to Dayton. Bergstrom, a party activist, said she first became aware of Johnson during that race and backed his candidacy.
Johnson has said he wants to keep government spending in check and cut red tape. He believes agencies are too controlling and should be more receptive and public better servants. Bergstrom said she agrees with that message.
“The proper role of government is to serve, not bully,” she said.
Bergstrom grew up in Carlton and received her bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Minnesota and master’s at Loyola University Chicago School of Law. She lives in Duluth’s Lakeside neighborhood with her 12-year-old son and her husband, Walter “Skip” Fischer.
Johnson’s introduction of Bergstrom follows Republican competitor Mary Giuliani Stephens’ lieutenant governor announcement in April. She chose Rep. Jeff Backer, of Browns Valley, and was the first GOP candidate to announce a running mate. Giuliani Stephens and Johnson are up against former Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Phillip Parrish in the Republican contest for governor.