GOP looks to business leaders as candidates

Scott Honour
Wayzata businessman Scott Honour, a Republican who will run for governor in 2014, during an interview Thursday, April 25, 2013 at Crown Plaza in St. Paul. Honour is a former investment banker, and he managed a private equity firm in California before moving back to Minnesota three years ago.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

Republicans have long been linked to big business, but this year in Minnesota some top candidates for statewide office and Congress are actually business people.

Republican candidates have emerged in races for governor and the U.S. Senate, and a Minnesota Chamber of Commerce official said that organization is actively recruiting business people to run for the Legislature.

One example is Scott Honour, who is running for governor in 2014. Honour is a former investment banker, and he managed a private equity firm in California before moving back to Minnesota three years ago. When he announced he was running, Honour played up his business credentials.

"When you look at the task at hand, it's about managing an organization and running a budget," Honour said. "I've got the kind of experience that's relevant to that. I think we have real issues that we face. We need good solutions for them. My experience is in building teams of people to effectively evaluate issues, create solutions and have them executed."

Mike McFadden, who was the chief executive officer of a Minnesota investment bank, also talked about his business experience when he announced his campaign for the U.S. Senate seat held by Al Franken last month.

"I think I understand the economy and what helps drive it and will work to implement to help drive this economy and help move it forward," McFadden said. "We need to increase our rate of growth. It's imperative. And then we have to responsibly attack our debt."

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Another business executive, Fleet Farm chief executive officer Stewart Mills, is reportedly considering a run for Congress in Minnesota's 8th District.

Mike McFadden
Republican businessman Mike McFadden announces that he will run against Democratic Sen. Al Franken in 2014 during a news conference Wednesday, May 29, 2013 at the State Capitol. McFadden was the chief executive officer of a Minnesota investment bank.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

Candidates with a background in business aren't new for either political party. But the number of Republicans with business backgrounds stepping up to run this year is a bit unusual.

To Minnesota Republican Party Chair Keith Downey, that's a positive development.

"With the issues that we have . . . I think having good, strong business people in the mix is a good thing," Downey said.

Laura Bordelon, with the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, says her organization is actively recruiting business leaders to run for the Legislature. She said candidates with business backgrounds have a heightened awareness of the impact government has on business.

"I think there is significantly more interest in doing that and we are interested in seeing those people. We think that type of perspective is needed in policy debates."

Both McFadden and Honour say they intend to spend their own money on their campaigns, reflecting another possible reason Republicans are looking for candidates who are business executives.

The ability of candidates to finance themselves will help a Republican Party that is more than $1 million in debt. And candidates who haven't held elective office before don't have a voting record that can be cherry-picked for criticism by their opponents.

But DFL Party Chair Ken Martin says business candidates do have a record. He and his DFL allies have been quick to condemn McFadden and Honour for business dealings that involved job losses.

"They do have a paper trail as it relates to their business dealings and how they've conducted themselves in the private sector and the decisions that they have made as the CEOs of their respective companies," Martin said.

"There's no doubt that all of that will come to light in the coming months of the campaign trail particularly if they're the nominee of their party."

Martin downplays promises that candidates with a deep background in business will necessarily make effective public servants. He said business leaders worry about the bottom line while lawmakers have to focus on the needs of the entire state.