By Curt Brown

When Dr. Michael Osterholm steps in front of TV cameras, he usually warns the state about a wicked new strain of the flu or some other nasty disease.

But the former state epidemiologist and infectious disease guru endorsed Independence Party hopeful Tom Horner for governor Tuesday because he said the major parties’ endorsed candidates are so polarized “the health of our state is at risk.”

Osterholm said his first-ever political endorsement comes from “just a common Minnesota citizen” who thinks DFLer Mark Dayton’s plan to increase taxes and Republican Tom Emmer’s proposed cuts are too extreme.

Osterholm said Horner’s leadership skills are closer to a couple of his former bosses – the late DFL Gov. Rudy Perpich and former Republican Gov. Arne Carlson.

“Although they differed on issues, I saw what leadership was all about and that’s bringing people to the middle and planning for the future,” he said. “I represent a lot of people I know who are moderate Republicans and Democrats that believe the two candidates put up by the parties will not end the gridlock and that is just unacceptable. We’re looking for someone with common sense and moderate views that bring it to the middle.”

Osterholm says this is his first foray into politics after serving “as a general” under several regimes at the state Health Department. Campaign finance records show a $200 donation in 2000 to Ted Thompson, a former aide to DFL Congressmen Bill Luther and Gerry Sikorski who ran against Republican Michele Bachmann for the state senate. Osterholm later said that contribution came from his wife, Barbara Colombo, who used to work with Thompson.