Although the economy and job creation are already key issues in the 2010 governor's race, the head of Minnesota's largest business group says he's concerned that none of the candidates have much of a business background.
In mid-September, the agribusiness Syngenta Seeds announced its new North American headquarters in Minnetonka. The event featured key policy makers, including Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
Before the event started, David Olson, director of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce shook hands and shared small talk with guests. He also said he's worried that there haven't been enough business groundbreakings in recent months.
"Minnesota faces some big issues and we have to get beyond these deficits every other year and move into how do we get the economy to grow and get companies like Syngenta to stay here."
Olson praised Pawlenty for working to keep business taxes and government regulation down during his two terms as governor. But he says he's concerned about the candidates running to succeed him.
“I don't want to insult any of them, but I think the list isn't done yet.”David Olson
"There's a few candidates that I'm sure we can work with from the current list," Olson said. "But is it more of the same and is it time for somebody to stand out from the group? I don't want to insult any of them, but I think the list isn't done yet."
That list is unlikely to include Olson, who initially expressed interest in being governor. He now says he won't run unless he doesn't like the final list of candidates.
Olson's comments comes at a time when candidates are fighting to stand out in a crowded field. It also reflects poorly on the slate of Republican candidates already running. The Chamber endorses and contributes to candidates of both parties but aligns itself more with Republicans.
Several Republican candidates say they're puzzled by Olson's comments. State Rep. Marty Seifert R-Marshall says he owns a small business and has been a friend of business during his 13 years in the Legislature.
"I'm not the CEO of Target but at the end of the day, I have probably one of the most sterling records in the Legislature on behalf of job providers," Seifert contended. "It's been my number one issue - job creation and economic growth under the theme of common sense."
Another candidate, State Rep. Paul Kohls R-Victoria said he's not too concerned about Olson's comments. He said he hopes business leaders across the state like his plan to slash state spending by about $3 billion to balance the budget and cut taxes.
"My goal is to make sure that anyone who wants to start a business or grow a business starts in Minnesota," Kohls said.
Minnesota Republican Party Chair Tony Sutton disagrees with Olson's comments. He said the current slate of candidates either have business experience or have been friendly to business during their time in elected office. By raising the issue so early in the campaign, Olson may be trying to remind the candidates that a strong business community is critical to the state's success. Sutton says the GOP candidates understand that.
"If he's sending the message, it is received because we know that in order for us to be successful, we have to foster a better business climate."
Sutton said it's possible that several Republican candidates could wait until October to enter the race. One potential candidate is Charlie Weaver, Tim Pawlenty's former chief of staff. Weaver is a former state lawmaker and current director of the Minnesota Business Partnership, a group of CEOs from the state's largest employers. Another is state Rep. Laura Brod R-New Prague, who describes herself as a small business owner.