Former House Minority Leader Marty Seifert kicked off his gubernatorial campaign today. He's the latest prominent Republican bidding to succeed Tim Pawlenty, who's not seeking a third term.
Seifert began a statewide tour in Fridley Tuesday morning, on the same factory floor where former President George Bush made the economic case for his re-election in 2003.
Marty Seifert has picked pickles, hauled rocks from farm fields and delivered Domino's Pizza for a living. He said that's the kind of real-world experience Minnesota needs in its top executive.
"The values that I grew up with have everything to do with my run for governor; frugality, humility, service to people," Seifert said. "And most of all, common sense is missing from our government today. And I intend to make sure that from top to bottom our government reflects those values and doesn't wish them away."
Seifert led the House Republican caucus from 2006 until he stepped down last month to explore a run for governor. He highlighted a long list of changes he'd like to make in the state, including restraining state spending, trimming health and human services benefits and improving the state's business climate.
His kickoff event was hosted by Harold and Eleanor Hamilton, owners of Micro Control Company, which makes testing equipment for semiconductor manufacturers.
"We pay 49 cents of every dollar of gross income to the government -- local, state, federal," Harold Hamilton said. "So we feel like we're taxed too high. The consequences are that we don't get to spend as much money on capital equipment, hiring people [and] expanding our business."
Harold Hamilton also said the recession has made it doubly hard to keep employees, and to maintain the business he and his wife have run for 37 years.
Seifert said he'll push for tax reform, and that Minnesota needs tighter controls on property taxes.
He said cities and counties should have the same restraints as school districts, which usually have to win voter approval to raise taxes.
"Our current system punishes those who create jobs, and it pushes them away," he said. "A comprehensive overhaul of Minnesota's property tax system is long overdue. Families are paying too much in property taxes. The system is too expensive, it is too complicated and it is too regressive to be fair to the average Minnesota."
Seifert speaks from some experience. He and his wife Traci own some rental housing in their hometown of Marshall.
Those rural roots separate Seifert from much of the gubernatorial pack. If he wins, he would be the first governor from outside the Twin Cities and its suburbs since DFLer Rudy Perpich left office in 1991.
Geography has been a key factor in Minnesota politics. Conservative Iron Range Democrats have clashed with Twin Cities liberals, for instance.
But professor Joseph Kunkel, who chairs the political science department at Minnesota State University in Mankato, said Republicans have a better chance to close ranks.
"I think having someone from western Minnesota would have a certain attraction to outstate Republicans," Kunkel said. "The center of gravity politically in the state is in the suburbs. But I don't think the urban/rural or suburban/rural split has been as marked in the Republican Party as in the DFL."
But suburban Republicans are filling the field. They include Reps. Tom Emmer of Delano and Paul Kohls of Victoria. Former lawmaker Bill Haas of Champlin, and State Sen. Mike Jungbauer of East Bethel, also say they're running.
Others, including Sen. Dave Hann of Eden Prairie and Rep. Laura Brod, of New Prague, are exploring a run.
And much could depend on what former U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman does.
Kunkel thinks he's probably weighing a second gubernatorial run. Coleman lost to Jesse Ventura in 1998.
"He would have a lot of advantages in terms of a network of support, and would far exceed the name recognition of any of these other candidates," Kunkel said. "On the other hand, going for a party endorsement, I think there's going to be some feeling that he's had his shot and lost."
Coleman is expected to make an announcement soon about his political intentions.
There is some urgency to the Republican political calendar. The party's off-year convention is coming up this fall.
It's usually reserved for housekeeping matters, but because of Pawlenty's early announcement that he won't seek a third term, the convention will have a key straw poll this year to gauge support for the 2010 nomination battle. That may up the political pressure on GOP contenders in coming weeks.
Democrats are also lining up for the wide-open gubernatorial race. At least 10 are either running or exploring a run for governor in 2010.