Few disagreements among GOP gubernatorial candidates at first forum

Kurt Zellers, Jeff Johnson, Scott Honour and Dave Thompson participate in a gubernatorial forum in Moundsview.


Kurt Zellers, Jeff Johnson, Scott Honour and Dave Thompson participate in a gubernatorial forum in Moundsview.

The four Republican candidates for governor introduced themselves to a group of several hundred of the party faithful at an event Thursday night in Mounds View. It’s the first time Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson, Orono businessman Scott Honour, state Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, and state Rep. Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, appeared on stage together.

They mostly agreed on tax and spending issues. Most said they would work to reduce the state’s tax burden and overall government spending. Where they differed was on style and their background. Johnson encouraged the partisan Republican audience to consider issues that would help them win independent and DFL voters.

“I don’t want you to think tonight just like a Republican activist.”Johnson told the audience. “I know this might be a tall order, but I want you to try to think like your independent or maybe even your DFL neighbors because to win this race we’re going to need a chunk of your independent neighbors and maybe even a handful of your DFL neighbors to actually win.”

And while Johnson is keeping an eye on the general election, the audience of several hundred Republicans, was focused on the issues important to them. They booed at the very mention of the Metropolitan Council, the federal health care law and funding for light rail transit. They also applauded when the candidates pledged to cut government spending.

All four candidates said they would work to end or limit the Met Council’s authority, would not fund additional light rail projects and would work to repeal the MNsure – the state’s health insurance exchange.

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Zellers said he doesn’t think the health insurance exchange can work.

“You can’t fix it,” Zellers said. “You start by defunding it. You start by pulling the staff away and then you offer a solution because as Republicans we can’t always be the party of no.”

Minnesota would have to rely on a federal health insurance exchange if the state exchange is repealed. DFL Governor Mark Dayton and the DFL controlled Legislature created the exchange – an online marketplace that allows individuals to buy health insurance.

The candidates avoided taking direct shots at each other. They instead directed most of their criticism at Dayton, who is running for re-election.

They pledged to take the state budget in a different direction. Honour said he thinks income tax rates should be reduced and government spending should be cut.

“Our government is getting out of control,” Honour said. “We have too much money being wasted. We’re not getting good outcomes. We’ll focus on results and absolutely reduce the total dollars spent by government. And none of this rhetoric about decreasing the rate of spending increases. I’m talking about really cutting what we spend.”

The candidates used a large part of the event to introduce themselves to the audience. Thompson told the audience that he was “a civil libertarian before being a civil libertarian was cool.” He said he’d be willing to work with Democrats on some issues but not on core issues.

“You have got to be willing to stand for your principles but not everything is a principle,” Thompson said. “You have to pick those things that are important, that you are willing to die on the hill for and not give in on and stand by them. And then you have to work in the other areas where you’re able to do that.”

The four candidates are split on whether they will abide by the party’s endorsement – all but ensuring that there will be a primary contest next August. Thompson and Johnson said they would drop out of the race if they don’t win party backing. Zellers and Honour both left open the possibility of running in the primary if Republican delegates choose another candidate at next summer’s party convention.