Meet the Candidates: Republican gubernatorial candidate Paul Gazelka

man speaks in front of microphones
Then-Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka talks to reporters on Feb. 11, 2020, in St. Paul. Gazelka stepped down from that post to make his run for governor this year.
Tim Pugmire | MPR News 2020

Republican senator and former Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka is running for Minnesota governor. During his conversation on Politics Friday, Gazelka discussed his disapproval of Gov. Tim Walz’s use of emergency powers, improving public safety and how he might go about cutting spending if elected.

The following transcript has been edited for clarity. You can listen to the full conversation using the audio player above.

Why do you want to be governor?

Well, our state is completely off track because of Tim Walz. So whether it's the streets of lawlessness or frustrations of parents with education, not knowing what's going on, or having closed them for so long, with no real opportunities and people falling behind there. Or the fact that our economy's got to get back on track — I realized we've spent trillions and trillions of dollars nationwide, but it's caused 8 percent inflation.

And people are frustrated. They're frustrated with wanting to make sure that we have fair elections, they're frustrated with wanting to make sure that their liberties are protected. And we have an opportunity as Republicans to win House, Senate and governor all at the same time. And we have not done that for about 55 years.

Some of your opponents say you've been too willing to compromise? How do you respond to that?

Well, first of all, in divided government it's even more difficult. And prior to Virginia, we were the only divided legislature in the whole country. And in Minnesota, you have to pass a two year budget that balances. Every two years, you got to pass it. And you can't just do nothing. And so you have to compromise on some of those things. But we protected core Republican values. And that's I think, what people need to know as well.

But the experience really, really matters. I mean, when people say that they can just day one come and become governor when they've really done nothing in the political arena. That's a huge mistake. And I'm a lifelong successful business person. I have had my own insurance agency, I've been a manager, I've been an executive. But the real skill of governing our state came when I was leader, the Senate. And both Benson and Jensen picked me to be that leader multiple times.

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With all that experience, should you be running away with this thing?

No, I think there's a real mood of just being frustrated with anybody that's in government right now. And that's where make the case that as people settle into it and think about, do you want somebody that's running something that they have no experience doing? And that's what I believe is going to happen in the end. I believe in the end, people will recognize that you can't just come in brand new and think you're gonna do anything. And you know, they point to Trump, and you know I've spent a little bit of time with Trump, and I think most people will acknowledge that he was one of a kind. Whether you liked him or didn't like him, nobody's like Trump.

You mentioned the governor’s COVID restrictions. Should any governor have any emergency powers?

They should be limited. And that's something, in the Senate we passed a bill that said, you only get 30 days and if the House and Senate agree to continue them, you can. And you know, a governor if it's an emergency, he can call a special session, bring the House and Senate together. And if it's an emergency Democrats and Republicans in Minnesota will come together. And so we do need to take a look at reforming them. I think it's a good idea.

Think about all the decisions he made on his own, whether it was closing schools or churches or businesses, forcing masks, all of the things that were one person deciding, I don't think that's good government.

But you could envision a scenario under which you would use emergency powers as governor to protect the health and safety of Minnesotans?

Not the way he did it. And you know, I was the front page of the Star Tribune, four or five months into the pandemic, trusting the people to make more decisions on their own. And John Hopkins University within the last few months, did a study and basically said that lockdowns did not make a difference. And I remember early on when the governor made the decision to walk down everyone in a Zoom, I said, governor, that's a big mistake. Because there were so many other things we had to measure. Kids education and mental health, the economy and what it would do for them, drug addiction. I mean, all of the different things that were gonna be impacted besides COVID.

And I was said COVID was serious if you're older. It's just when you force people and take away their liberty, that you have a major problem. And other states that didn't do that fared better than Minnesota, and the people were a lot happier, being able to make their own decisions.

Some states though, that didn't do that had higher death rates.

By very little difference. So Wisconsin, for example, the governor wanted to do the same thing, the Democratic governor, but his courts would not let him. And the numbers are virtually the same. As far as hospitalization rates or death rates. But the economy or kids education, or spiritual well, being of the communities, those are all better.

And that's the part where, you know, that's why I said, we have to be able to look at these things. Not in just one part of it. But the entire impact that it's going to have suicide rates were way up, a depression way up, kids education and what they learned way down. And you know, these are difficult decisions. But I would have made them differently and I said that early.

You got a big endorsement this week from the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association. What have you promised them that you would do about public safety?

Well, what I've been talking about the last couple years, you know, that we would not defund the police. Like at first, every Minneapolis city council members said they would do. I always said that is a bad idea. We need to make sure they have the tools and resources that they need to do their job. I always said that we would not take qualified immunity away from them, which would basically drive more police out of the profession.

And this year, I'm talking about, I know that we're going to have to pay police more because we are significantly short on the number of police out there. And so hiring bonuses for new police, retention bonuses for police to stay a little longer when they could retire. And we need to get tougher on the criminals. We're somewhere around the 49th state for the least amount of jail time.

And so I'm talking about two different bills that I put in the Senate. One is if you're carjacking, you're gonna go to jail. And if you're a felon with a gun, and you have a second felony with a gun, minimum jail time of five years, you don't get to be let out. And that one I got from talking to a Black community pastor in north Minneapolis area, he was the one that gave me that idea. Nobody that is bent on crime, should be able to take a walk.

You and other Republicans in the Senate have proposed an income tax rate cut and eliminating the taxes on Social Security. Let's say if a big tax cut passes this year, would you propose another tax cuts next year if you're governor?

It depends on which spending we can reduce. And that's what we'll take a look at. I mean, I want to look at every single agency every single board for their effectiveness. Are we spending the money in the way we should?

In 2011, we had passed a language that was called the sunset commission to look at every agency every board over a 10 year period. And when Democrats cut House, Senate and governor they the only thing they got rid of was a sunset commission. So I really want to take a look at every part of our government, I want it to be efficient, I want to make sure that it's doing the things that they need to do. But if we can save money, that should go back to the taxpayer.

Any ideas now where you would cut spending if you're governor?

Yes, but I don't really want to talk about that at this point. The big issues that I think most people care about right now, one is public safety. They want to make sure that their kids are safe in the streets, and that they can go to their business or they go to theater or game and feel safe. The second one is education, and it's a desire.

If you're talking about parents in Minneapolis and St. Paul, more and more parents of minority communities are saying our kids need more choices, their schools are not meeting their needs. And across the state people are frustrated about what is being taught in schools. And I want to make sure that parents have more access to the curriculum. So education is a big piece.

And then like I mentioned the economy. And we want to make sure that we're not overburdening some of our small businesses with mandated requirements when they are struggling right now. So getting the economy going, having good education for our kids, and then making sure the streets are safe. That's what people want to talk about.

Yeah, but you're going to have a lot of issues on your desk if you're governor. Is it fair to say you're just not going to talk about where you would cut spending if you're proposing a big tax cut?

Well, if I'm talking about looking at every agency, that's kind of your first step, is who is doing what? And are we getting the bang for the buck that we want? Or what regulations are we requiring that maybe we don't need to have whether you're an individual or business, an educator, medical profession, churches?

I mean, just looking at what is it that we're doing that still makes sense? And because we haven't been willing to look at that. That's kind of the first step is how do we start looking at where we spend our money? How many employees have we added at the state level — they're called FTE or full time employees, how many of those are not even filled, but those dollars are going to those agencies. And so that's all we'll start looking at.

Would you sign bills that restrict abortions if you were governor?

So I'm pro-life. I've defended life from conception to natural death. I've really tried to work on the the pro-life legislation that people all would agree to. And so for example, the parents’ right to know if their child is pregnant so that they can help them navigate through that. A woman's right to know, which means she can have an ultrasound and make sure if she's going to have an abortion, she wants an ultrasound, so she could actually see what's in her womb.

Things like that is what we've been doing over the years. Positive alternative act, creating resources for pregnancy centers to help women bring their baby to term and then help them in their mothering. In Minnesota, we have Doe versus Gomez. It's a court ruling from 1995 that if Roe v Wade goes away at the federal level, it's still in place here. And I believe that at this present time that would then be unconstitutional. But I am working towards protecting and valuing life. And I think ultimately, it's winning the hearts and minds of people first. And that's what I want to do.

Was the 2020 presidential election fair or was the election stolen from Donald Trump?

I focused on Minnesota, that was where I was responsible. And there are definitely things that I don't think were fair. I think there was intentional big tech filtering out stories of Hunter Biden, for example, they admitted to it after the election. I think sometimes the media went pretty aggressively against Trump, but not against Biden.

I think mail-in ballots are ripe for fraud, but it's difficult to prove. And I think we need to clean up and make that tighter. So that's where I focused on is Minnesota. In Minnesota, I believe that Biden won in Minnesota. Beyond that, I'm not an expert. And I follow the Electoral College process. That's what you have in really close elections. And across the state, across the country, the Electoral College verified that Biden was going to be president and that happened December 6, and I've accepted that.

I don't like it. I want to do everything I can to make sure people feel that their elections are safe and secure. And one of those things that we push for is voter ID for voting. Why people think that's a bad idea, really, I just wonder why do you think that's a bad idea? And we promised to give IDs free to anybody that can't afford it because it's not about disenfranchising voters. It's making sure every vote is a valid vote.