After years of hinting at a run, former Republican House Speaker Kurt Zellers declared his candidacy to unseat DFL Gov. Mark Dayton Sunday.
"All of you who are friends of ours, everyone who's here today, make me who I am," Zellers told supporters gathered on the lawn of a friend's house in his hometown of Maple Grove. "And it makes me believe it is absolutely incumbent on me and it is my job, my goal to declare to declare, and to become the next governor of Minnesota."
Zellers listed his credentials as a member of the middle-class. A grandmother who taught in a one-room schoolhouse during the Depression showed Zellers how to be frugal. A grandfather came from Germany to work in steel mills in Pennsylvania and Ohio, and later started his own milk-truck business -- he taught Zellers the importance of small businesses. Another grandfather taught him how to drive a pickup, shoot a .22, and value nature.
The six-term GOP state lawmaker described himself as a middle-class dad who's lost a job, bagged groceries, dealt blackjack in college, and delivered pizzas. Zellers said he understands the struggles of individual Minnesotans by reducing taxes and shrinking government.
"I bet Mark Dayton ... never had to call five different stores to find a deal on a set of 20-inch Cooper tires for his car, like Kim and I did to save our budget," he said.
Zellers was speaker in 2011 when budget negotiations between Governor Dayton and the Legislature broke down, causing a 15-day state government shutdown. Last year, he hung on to his seat while Republicans lost the House majority.
With a field that's expected to be crowded, Zellers said he would seek the Republican party's endorsement for governor. But then he suggested he'd run in the primary even if someone else wins the GOP endorsement at the party's convention.
"One of the candidates in this race has already indicated that he plans to go to the primary, so I think it's incumbent on me, on behalf of a lot of the folks here who won't go to a convention, who've never been a delegate to a convention, to give them that opportunity to vote for me as well, so I'll prepare for the convention first, the primary second, and then Mark Dayton lastly," he said.
Wayzata businessman Scott Honour declared his candidacy in May and hasn't ruled out a run against the party's endorsed candidate in the primary. Honour chaired Mitt Romney's Minnesota finance team in 2012.
In a statement, Honour congratulated Zellers and said, "We can't solve the problems we face with the same old ideas. It's time for new leadership."
DFLers were more blunt.
"Zeller's middle class record is a record of failure, which is why his party was swept out of office in 2012," said Carrie Lucking, executive director of Alliance for a Better Minnesota. "Zellers is advocating policies like the failed policies of Tim Pawlenty or Wisconsin's governor Scott Walker, both of whom saw job losses and small businesses close."
Two other GOP candidates are in or about to enter the race.
Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson announced his bid in early May. Johnson served in the Minnesota House for six years before losing the race for Attorney General to Lori Swanson in 2006. He was re-elected to his seat as county commissioner last fall without opposition. Johnson has said he'll abide by the GOP endorsement.
Republican State Sen. Dave Thompson of Lakeville said he will officially announce his run for governor Wednesday.
"Right now I'm just letting people know the rumors are over. It's true, I'll be running," said Johnson.
Dayton's campaign spokeswoman, Katie Tinucci, told MPR News the governor is not commenting on the individual Republican candidates.