Even though the 2008 U.S. Senate race hasn't been resolved yet, the 2010 race for governor is already ramping up.
Several DFL candidates for governor attended a forum Thursday night that focused on the environment, just a week after Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty announced he was not seeking a third term. And one of the better known Republicans considering a run has decided against it.
The Minnesota Environmental Partnership invited 17 possible candidates from both the DFL and Republican parties to attend the forum. Only six - all Democrats - participated.
One of those participants, Minnesota House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, downplayed talk of a possible run for governor during this year's legislative session. But she sounded like a full blown candidate at several points in the forum, most notably when talking about investing more money in transit projects.
"You need a governor who has a proven track record and capacity to get this done and stick with the tough conversations when it gets very hard with the partners who may not want to do some things," she said.
The forum focused primarily on environmental issues. There were no questions on Minnesota's budget problems or about education. Instead, questions centered around global warming, eliminating dangerous chemicals and growing green jobs.
Since all of the candidates are from the same party, the differences on issues were mostly around the edges. All six said steps need to be taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Former state Senator Steve Kelley called it a moral issue that everyone should be concerned about.
"When I'm talking to conservatives about this issue, I point out that being thrifty, avoiding wasting things, ought to be something we can do even if you don't believe in climate change or global warming," he said.
The candidates were also asked about their plans to reduce toxic chemicals. Some said better labeling would help. State Senator John Marty of Roseville said manufacturers should have to prove that products are safe before they put them on the market.
"With foods and drugs, you're not allowed to sell them until there's some pretty clear evidence that they're safe," he said. "With chemicals, you're allowed to use them until it's proven, almost beyond a reasonable doubt, that they're dangerous."
Marty also said he would not take any contributions from PACS or lobbyists. None of the other candidates made a firm commitment on whether they would take money from energy, car dealers and chemical company PACS.
Former state Representative Doug Peterson, who also heads the Minnesota Farmer's Union, said he wanted to hear a better definition of an energy lobbyist.
"Wind energy is good," he said, "so are you going to limit from wind energy lobbyists at that point?"
Several candidates also stressed the importance of encouraging family farms and sustainable agriculture when asked how they would balance agriculture with environmental protection.
Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner said she would use the bully pulpit to influence policy.
"What the governor needs to do is set a tone for buying locally," she said. "For respecting organic farming. For respecting sustainable farming because I think it can make a difference."
All six candidates also said the state needs to invest more money in transit and rail projects. State Representative Paul Thissen said he'd like to see a statewide rail plan in place by 2020.
"We need to expand transit statewide much more effectively and do that in ways that fit the various regions that people are living in," he said. "So it won't look the same everywhere and we have to get out a mindset that St. Paul knows best and leave a lot of that to the local folks to develop but support it with funding."
While a bipartisan group of candidates was invited to attend this event, it's highly unlikely that any Democrats will be in Brooklyn Center this weekend, where Republican Party leadership will elect a new party chair. Any serious candidate for governor will also be striking up conversations and talking to potential delegates.
Businessman Brian Sullivan won't be one of those candidates. Sullivan, who lost the party endorsement to Tim Pawlenty in 2002, says he's decided against running next year. He said he couldn't simultaneously be an effective candidate and build his medical services business.
"To run for governor is a full-time occupation and it just wasn't possible for me step out of my business and dedicate the time necessary to be successful in a run," he said. "There's nothing worse than pursuing something in a way that you know won't lead to a good outcome."
Sullivan's announcement surprised some Republicans because his personal wealth would have made him a serious contender for the office. He said he won't back any candidates at this point.